Saturday, 5 October 2013

Yeongam Qualifying: The same, only different

So, Sebastian Vettel's on pole. And while he didn't sit out the final run à la Singapore, he could have done, as no one could beat his initial Q3 mark. Just like last time then. Yawn.

Well, not quite. The opposition gave Seb a lot more of a challenge in Korea's qualifying session than they did two weeks ago. The young German seems as usual the man to beat, but this time there was none of the borderline insulting superiority that was on show under the Singapore lights. He had to abort his final quick lap, due to an inconveniently placed Kimi Raikkonen, but Seb it transpired had pace in hand. Even the man himself, with all of his usual sang-froid, described things in qualifying as 'fairly close'.

Sebastian Vettel claimed yet another pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
The Mercedes were the closest of all, and Lewis Hamilton always seems to be in good form around this track. And so it was this time as he was best of the rest, with a quickest time a couple of tenths over Seb's. He'll thus line up alongside the Red Bull on row one tomorrow.

Some hoping for variation from the ongoing Vettel-parade point out that the pole-sitter has never won around this Yeongam track. Without wishing to act as bad fairy at Sleeping Beauty's christening though that is something of a statistical quirk, reflecting that Seb - invariably the pace-setter here - was pipped for pole unexpectedly in the last two visits (and had reasserted himself within a few corners of both race starts) as well as that his engine went pop while leading in the other. But there is a little bit in it, as on the two straights early in the Singapore lap whoever is second has a good opportunity to slipstream past whoever is leading on lap 1. And if Lewis does get ahead tomorrow he seems to have enough to give us a good race. Lewis is hopeful too: 'I felt like I got the most out of the car...I really hope that tomorrow we're able to fight with them (Vettel/Red Bull)'.

Mark Webber was next quickest, despite having to abort his final effort after making a mistake. And of course he adds ten to his starting position after getting his third reprimand of the season in Singapore. Still, watching his progress tomorrow - with his car trimmed for overtaking - will be fun. Webber admitted that his qualifying setup was compromised with the race situation in mind, and he was about 5km/h faster than his stable mate in the speed traps.

Lewis Hamilton was best of the rest, and will
likely keep Vettel honest tomorrow
Photo: Octane Photography
Next up we have Romain Grosjean. Lotus has also looked like it has the potential to at least distract the Seb demonstration run this time, especially on race pace. And Grosjean with fourth fastest time turning into third on the grid looks to have given himself a chance of making good on it all. The Frenchman sounded satisfied with his effort afterwards, noting that 'the race is going to be long, it's going to be interesting with the tyres and the degradation...'.

And it continues Grosjean's personal renaissance, which can be traced back all the way to Silverstone after a first part of the year wherein he looked lost. For all of its well-publicised head hunt, Lotus may already have its Kimi replacement for 2014 in-house. Kimi meanwhile, starts down in tenth. He apparently made a mistake on his final run (and may have been on scrubbed tyres too), but to be brutal he's not looked terribly on form this weekend so far.

Nico Rosberg is next, and only then do we find Fernando Alonso. Of course, we can look forward to all of Alonso's undiminished fighting spirit being on show tomorrow, along with his lightning starts and prodigious opening laps. But beyond that you wonder if even he won't be able to overcome the Ferrari's lack of performance. And Alonso isn't bothering to hide it: 'this weekend we are not particularly strong, also in the race pace yesterday we saw some problems, so we're a little bit less optimistic in terms of winning the race or a podium finish'.

Romain Grosjean continues recent good form,
and will start in third
Photo: Occtane Photography
And Sauber has continued its recent upturn, with both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez making it into the top ten (particularly traumatic for McLaren as it meant both of its cars were shunted out in Q2). This makes it three good showings on the bounce and on three very different tracks for the Swiss squad, and while its good Monza run seemed to befuddle the team as much as anyone we can feel safe in the conclusion that Sauber has found something in its C32.

But while there are clearly more credible contenders for victory in tomorrow's race than was the case a fortnight ago, just like then there seems to be a resolute favourite in Sebastian Vettel. If anyone can usurp him tomorrow they'll be doing very well - even if they can stay with him we know that extracting Seb from first place is never the work of a moment, and his RB9 looks quick on the straights too. It's a little different this time, but it seems the fundamentals remain the same.

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