Saturday 27 October 2012

Buddh Qualifying: As you were

It wasn't exactly unforeseen was it? Sebastian Vettel claimed yet another pole position today, in what appears more and more like just the latest step in his inexorable march towards his third drivers' championship.

From early stage of the weekend in India the Red Bull looked by far the most nailed-on thing out there, just as it has everywhere in recent weeks, and that continued into today's qualifying session. And has also been the case in recent times Seb seemed to have the crucial edge on his team mate Mark Webber.

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull look dominant again
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
There was only the most minor missing of a beat, when on Seb's first Q3 flying lap the rear of his car twitched and he ran off the track. But anyone who thought that this was Seb showing chinks in his armour were swiftly disabused. On his second, effectively his only, run he sneaked ahead of Webber to top the timing screens again. And Webber was compromised by traffic on his own last run, so that was that.

Even better for Seb is that in addition to his stable mate he's got two McLarens lined up conveniently between him and his championship rival Fernando Alonso on tomorrow's grid. As promised, the Scuderia brought a few upgrades to India, and indeed they appear to have brought the red cars closer to the charging Bulls. But as yet it's not close enough, and Alonso admitted that fifth place on a Saturday is their par score right now.

Indeed, the grid is a model of predictability, the top six in a perfect Noah's Ark formation of two Red Bulls, two McLarens, two Ferraris. If prior to qualifying you'd been asked for a pecking order it probably wouldn't have been far off that. It's not quite formation dancing, but it appears pretty close.

And we're reminded with galling regularity that if there's any driver on the grid you'd select to win a race from pole to save your life then it's Seb. And while both McLaren and Ferrari appear to, relativity speaking, be much stronger on race pace than in qualifying, as we saw in Korea if you're at the front from the start it's a massive advantage as it allows you to control the race.

Will tomorrow be another case of
damage limitation for Fernando Alonso?
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
Of course, tomorrow's race will be a long one, there's many a slip between cup and lip as the saying goes, and F1 has a wonderful uncanny ability to bite those who think they've got it mastered. But right now it's very hard to envisage how the metronomic Red Bulls, and Seb, can be bettered tomorrow. If we're being honest with ourselves only freak occurrences, such as unreliability or similar, will likely do it. And for Alonso it'll probably be another matter of damage limitation. But as we've also seen repeatedly Nando's very good at that. Getting in front of the McLarens will be his core race objective.

And a point of interest further back is that it's reckoned that one-stop strategies may just about be on for those prepared to chance it. The usual suspect in that regard, Sergio Perez, may have been a victim of his own success as he starts eighth and will have to start on the soft tyres he qualified on. But his team mate, Kamui Kobayashi, is down in P17 and thus may be tempted to try it (particularly given he needs a strong result pronto for his future), as might Bruno Senna and Nico Hulkenberg who appear a little out of position in midfield.

Yet all of this is likely to be a side show. In the title battle, races are running out and the momentum looks more and more set. Of course, no points have been handed out from India yet. But you'd be forgiven for expecting the latest in a line of Red Bull demonstration runs tomorrow.

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