Saturday 29 October 2011

India Qualifying: Vettel adds the spice

Once again, Sebastian Vettel has claimed a pole position for a Grand Prix in 2011. He'll start tomorrow's inaugural Indian Grand Prix from the front, a state of events which never appeared under serious threat.

In truth, it was a slightly bitty and disjointed qualifying session, and the three-place grid drop for Lewis Hamilton, in place before the session began, took away a lot of the tension as Lewis looked to be the only guy out there that could threaten Seb's lap times. As it was, he ended up second, which converts into a net fifth on tomorrow's grid.

Sebastian Vettel took yet another pole position
Credit: Morio / CC
The session was also deprived of its usual crescendo by an accident for Felipe Massa on his last run, after damaging his suspension clouting a kerb and the sleeping policeman within it, bringing out the yellow flags and depriving many of a final effort. We also had the usual problem of many not attempting as many laps for the grid as they could have. Something seriously needs to be done about that.

The qualifying records continue to tumble for Seb and his team. Sixteen poles for a single team in a season is a new record and testimony to Red Bull's dominance, and Vettel only needs to claim pole in one of the two remaining races to equal Nigel Mansell's record set in 1992 of 14 poles in a season. I wouldn't bet much against him getting that one.

Fernando Alonso could be one to watch tomorrow
Credit: / CC
Still, there is some evidence that tomorrow's race could make up for the slightly underwhelming qualifying. Ferrari continue to be right there, continuing their Friday form, and Fernando Alonso lines up third and was but one hundredth of a second shy of Mark Webber's time, who starts second. The Ferrari always goes better on a Sunday than a Saturday, and Alonso has achieved his own target of qualifying on the front two rows to be able to fight for victory. Still, they'll have a headache of how to factor in the hard tyres tomorrow. They'll have to run on them at some point, and in the past have been brick slow on them due to not getting sufficient heat into the rubber. These sets could well spoil their fun tomorrow.

Lewis Hamilton was Vettel's only
threat on lap times
Credit: / CC
Then there's Lewis, who's shown good pace all weekend and will surely make progress from his fifth place grid slot in tomorrow's race, especially at a track where overtaking looks extremely doable. He'll hope though that his grid penalty won't have left him with too much to do to fight for the win.

His team mate however seems rather subdued. Jenson Button will start fourth tomorrow, has seemed to struggle for grip since his car turned a wheel in India and has cut a rather frustrated figure out of the car. His words after qualifying indicated a man looking to make the best of things tomorrow rather than necessarily looking ahead to claiming a podium finish. His mood may be darkened further by a possible penalty for not slowing down for a yellow put out by Massa's smash.

Massa will start sixth, despite his late drama, and I reckon he only has himself to blame for the crash. While you wouldn't necessarily expect a car's suspension to break as easily as it did, and the kerbing is harsh, surely it's the job of a racing driver to avoid hazards and therefore avoid damaging his car (after all, you wouldn't clout a barrier at Monaco then say it was the barrier's fault for being there). His only defence would be if the kerbing was damaged.

Jaime Alguersuari and Toro Rosso
continued their good form
Credit:  Alex Comerford / CC
Toro Rosso continued their good form seen in Korea, and will start ninth and tenth with Buemi ahead. And Adrian Sutil provided some local glory of sorts by qualifying eighth. This is timely for Sutil who, rumour has it, will be out on his ear at Force India at the end of this season and all of a sudden is fighting for a race slot for 2012.

However, it was again the case that none of the three set a lap time in the final qualifying session, wanting to save tyres for the race even though this weekend the sofer tyre is the prime and therefore more abundantly available. This is something that needs to be sorted, so that teams don't feel they're at an ultimate advantage by not running in qualifying. It looks ridiculous and seriously deprives the fans of action. Let's hope Pirelli get their way on bringing back quailfying tyres, which would solve this probelm at a stroke.

But the main issue for tomorrow, yet again, is who can stop Sebastian Vettel. He'll have strong challengers behind him, but we know that if anyone is a master at controlling an F1 race from the front, it's Seb.

Qualifying results

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