Japanese Grand Prix 2011: Vettel takes pole in Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel took a giant stride towards winning back-to-back titles by clinching pole position in Suzuka

By Gareth Llewellyn
japanese grand prix 2011
Vettel took his 12th pole of the season in Suzuka Photo: Getty Images, courtesy of Red Bull Racing

japanese grand prix 2011

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel produced another last-gasp effort to take his 12th pole of the season ahead of Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.

The championship leader, who needs just one more point to secure back-to-back titles, was there to steal pole by just 0.009s with a time of 1m30.466, ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, who had dominated free practice.

In the sister McLaren, Lewis Hamilton was third quickest with a 1m30.617, despite topping the timesheets early in Q3 as he botched his final run leaving him unable to complete a final flying lap.

“What a qualifying,” Vettel said. “Yesterday I went off in free practice and damaged the wing, so it wasn’t ideal in the afternoon to prepare the car for today.

“We suffered a bit this morning in particular where we were kind of coming back regarding car balance but we were too slow.

“We sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together and were able to get every single bit out of the car in qualifying.

“It was crucial, there’s not much between Jenson Button and myself. It was a tough qualifying, but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a long lap, you have a mega first sector, every time it is a challenge, it’s hard to get it right. I had a bit of a wobble in the first sector but got it right in the second sector.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa out-qualified team-mate Fernando Alonso as the Italian team took fourth and fifth ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who despite setting the quickest time in sector one, was seven tenths slower than his team-mate.

Michael Schumacher was seventh, ahead of Renault duo Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov, and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, as the four drivers opted not to stay in the garage and save tyres in Q3.

The Japanese driver had topped the timesheets in Q1 ahead of Force India’s Adrian Sutil, but with race performance at Suzuka likely to come down to tyre management, only the front runners felt compelled to run at all in Q3.

Sutil missed out on the final session by just eight hundredths of a second as he qualified 11th ahead of team-mate Paul di Resta, who was three tenths slower.

After a disappointing day in Friday practice, Williams found some pace as Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado qualified 13th and 14th respectfully.

Toro Rosso gambled with saving tyres in Q2 after good early running, and were shunted down to the eighth row of the grid as Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari sat in the garage.

Sauber’s Sergio Pérez was troubled by a hydraulic problem, and will start 17th after being unable to set a Q2 time.

Lotus kept up their control as the best of the backmarkers over Virgin as Belgian rookie Jérôme d’Ambrosio out-qualified Timo Glock.

Mercedes Nico Rosberg was the biggest casualty as a hydraulic issue prevented him from running at all leaving him to start 23rd, while HRT’s Tonio Liuzzi was also unable to set a time, and will start 24th and last.

Japanese Grand Prix 2011 – Starting grid

1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1min 30.466secs

2 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1:30.475

3 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1:30.617

4 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:30.804

5 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:30.886

6 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:31.156

7 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:32.116

8 Bruno Senna (Bra) Renault 1:32.297

9 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:32.245

10 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1:32.380

11 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:32.463

12 Paul Di Resta (Gbr) Force India-Mercedes 1:32.746

13 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams-Cosworth 1:33.079

14 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Cosworth 1:33.224

15 Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:33.064

16 Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:33.427

17 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:34.704

18 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Renault 1:35.454

19 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Lotus-Renault 1:35.514

20 Jerome d’Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth 1:36.439

21 Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth 1:36.507

22 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Hispania-Cosworth 1:37.846

DNQ:

23 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP

24 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Hispania-Cosworth

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