Sebastian Vettel takes pole in crash-hit session (Japanese Grand Prix qualifying)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel steered clear of crashes to claim pole at Suzuka
Sebastian Vettel steered clear of crashes to claim pole at Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel is on pole position for the fourth time this season after leading the field in a chaotic qualifying session at Suzuka.

Three crashes forced the session to be stopped at different points, including a particularly worrying accident for Timo Glock.

And Brawn duo Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello could face penalties after improving thier times while the yellow flag was out in Q2.


Form was difficult to predict heading into qualifying. Friday practice has been largely washed out by rain, leaving the drivers with just the 60 minute Saturday morning session to get their race and qualifying set ups sorted.

Sebastien Buemi was fastest throughout most of the final practice session until he was demoted by a late flying lap from Jarno Trulli. Toro Rosso admitted Buemi had been light on fuel.

But Mark Webber had to miss qualifying after crashing at the Degner curves during final practice. The team weren’t able to get his car repaired in time.

Buemi was one of the first drivers out but made a mistake on his first lap and hit the barrier. He got too far onto the kerb at the exit of Degner 1, which spat him off at the second part of the corner. Fortunately he stopped short of the barrier and was able to recover to the pits.

The Toyotas came on strong early in the session, with Trulli setting the fastest time ahead of team mate Timo Glock.

Vettel beat Trulli’s time and the pair swapped places at the head of the leaderboard twice, trading times on the hard tyres.

The first drivers to try the soft tyres were those at the bottom of the board – Giancarlo Fisichella and Romain Grosjean. Fisichella struggled to get within a second of team mate Raikkonen, and with less than two minutes to go both remained outside the top 15.

Buemi finally got a clean lap in with one minute to go and jumped up to fourth behind Vettel, Hamilton (revelling in the fast Suzuka track) and Trulli.

Kazuki Nakajima looked set to escape the drop zone with his final effort. But the home driver had a poor final sector, and failed to improve on 17th.

Meanwhile Heikki Kovalainen improved to 12th with his last run to guarantee both McLarens in the second part of qualifying.

Fisichella once again failed to reach Q2 for Ferrari, falling short by 0.13s as Jaime Alguersuari took 15th.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16. Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari – 1’31.704
17. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota – 1’31.718
18. Romain Grosjean, Renault – 1’32.073
19. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India-Mercedes – 1’32.087
20. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault – no time


Having made it into Q2 Alguersuari unfortunately didn’t last very long. Four minutes into the session the Toro Rosso driver went straight on at Degner and hit the barrier hard.

The red flags came out, stopping the session while Alguersuari lingered in the cockpit. After getting out he was taken to hospital as a precaution.

Qualifying resumed after a short delay but within four minutes the red flags were out again. This time it was for Glock, who’d crashed on the corner leading onto the pit straight.

Glock’s extrication took longer, and word came through that the Toyota driver had suffered a leg wound. Replays showed him understeering off at the turn and going a long way into the tyre barrier.

There was just under eight minutes left to run when Q2 restarted, but many drivers waiting until the final moments before going out to do a time – including both the Brawns.

It was a risky course of action to take given the crashes that had happened already – and sure enough, they got caught out. For the third time in qualifying, a Toro Rosso hit the barriers. Buemi went off at Spoon, throwing debris across the track and dragging his battered STR4 to the pit lane.

Both Brawns had to pass through the danger zone on their flying laps, which put them in the top six. It remains to be seen with they will be handed penalties.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11. Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota – 1’31.482
12. Fernando Alonso, Renault – 1’31.638
13. Robert Kubica, BMW – 1’32.341
14. Timo Glock, Toyota – no time
15. Jaime Alguersuri, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – no time

Read more: Crashes for Alguersuari, Glock and Kovalainen halt Japan qualifying (Video)


Unbelievably, the red flags were out again in Q3. Kovalainen became the latest driver to lose his car at Degner, spinning sideways into the barrier. This proved only a brief interruption, however.

Vettel quickly went fastest with a 1’32.160, but Trulli mounted a challenge in his Toyota. In the end, he fell short by just 0.06s, and will join the Red Bull on the front row.

Hamilton took third after doing two laps in the final session. The Brawn drivers, repeating their tactics of coming out at the very end of the session, took fifth (Barrichello) and seventh (Button).

Sixth, seventh and eighth were covered by a mere 0.035s. With the top eight qualifying within 0.8s of each other, the fuel levels they’re carrying will be crucial tomorrow. We should find out what they are in a few hours’ time – and discover if any penalties are going to be handed out.

Update: Button, Barrichello, Alonso, Sutil and Buemi get five-place grid penalties. Here’s the updated Japanese Grand Prix grid

Top ten drivers in Q3

1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault – 1’32.160
2. Jarno Trulli, Toyota – 1’32.220
3. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’32.396
4. Adrian Sutil, Force India-Mercedes – 1’32.466
5. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’32.660
6. Nick Heidfeld, BMW – 1’32.945
7. Jenson Button, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’32.962
8. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1’32.980
9. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes – no time
10. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – no time

Japanese Grand Prix

78 comments on “Sebastian Vettel takes pole in crash-hit session (Japanese Grand Prix qualifying)”

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  1. Jhonnie Siggie
    3rd October 2009, 7:48

    Will Lewis take Vettel at the start? :))

    1. MacademiaNut
      3rd October 2009, 7:57

      I think that’s a given?

    2. With KERS, he’s got a decent chance. At the very least he should pass Trulli. Could get quite hairy though!

      1. But I’ve observed that kers hasn’t been working out quite well for them. At Monza hammi was very slow of the line, kimi & sutil almost passed him & we all know what happened to kovi. Singapore, kovi didn’t make up any places * hamilton has a malfunction with kers. So I’m not really sure about their kers.

        1. Hamilton’s start at singapore was quite handy though – he just had no one to overtake.

        2. Paige Michael-Shetley
          3rd October 2009, 8:13

          Hamilton got bad starts at Spa and Monza. It’s not down to KERS being ineffective; he just didn’t get the start he needed to make KERS effective.

          Let’s not forget his starts at the Nurb and at the Hungaroring, which were both excellent.

          Raikkonen has definitely been the starter of the year, though.

        3. Hamilton didn’t get off the line very well at Monza, but once he hit the KERS button he was safe.

        4. Lewis has said his KERS is working very well here, so let’s hope hope hope.

        5. Kers really doesn’t work off the start. That’s more down to the driver himself. I’m more worried about Vettel. When he’s around KERS cars he tends to have really bad starts, and he’s fueled heavier.

    3. I wonder how they’ll do if it rains… :)

  2. What a bonkers session!

    I fear that the Brawns are in the wrong setting fast times while marshalls are manically waving yellows at the side of the track. The stewards may turn a blind eye but the fact remains in was very dangerous.

    1. I suspect Brawn know they’re going to get penalised and may have taken more fuel into Q3 as a result.

      1. Not so sure. Lap 17 doesn’t sound like a hugely long first stint and strategy for race would have been decided before such a late incident in Q2.

        Would rather it didn’t happen, but expect Brawns to both get 5 place drop for not lifting (can’t believe they did, but if telemety shows otherwise, all well and good.

        Buemi needs a penalty for driving his wrecked car back around the last 3rd of the circuit. Great way to dump debris on the track.

        1. Paige Michael-Shetley
          3rd October 2009, 8:16

          The thing is they don’t have a previous flying lap with which to compare their sector times, so technically they may just be out of the woods.

          As for their lap 17 fuel, they want to fuel heavily if they think they’re going to get a penalty, but not too heavily. They needed to set a decent time so as not to start too poorly, but they needed a decent load to go somewhat long on the first stint. It’s a tricky balance.

      2. Jelle van der Meer
        3rd October 2009, 10:18

        Knowing Brawn he likely is that smart to calculate that in.

        Question is what is their penalty is going to be – a place grid penalty is not sufficient as if Q2 is removed they are 13th-15th.

        Buttom for sure must be punished – he set the fastest sector 2 time of all weekend while there are yellow flags.

    2. Looking at the data, Raikkonen, Sutil, the Brawns and BMWs all set their final times while the yellow flag was out.

      I reckon Button is most likely to get some form of penalty, as he was fastest of all through S2 while the flags were out.

      But they could well punish all six. It’s a difficult call this one.

      1. It wasn’t a full course yellow and I think Raikkonen was past the yellow sector, wasn’t he?

        1. I was under the impression a full-course yellow was called a safety car in F1 :P

          I haven’t seen a replay but it almost looked like double waved yellows when the Brawns went past, and the rules clearly state that drivers should lift off and certainly not set a fast time. Seeing the on-board shot of Alonso going through, he didn’t lift either despite saying he did in an interview on the BBC.

          It’s a tricky call, but I do feel they’ll have to enforce the rules because it was a clear contravention of protocol and safety.

          1. You know what I mean captain nit picker

  3. Button and Barrichello need to be penalised. You shouldn’t be allowed to proceed at full speed through any yellow flag zone.

    1. Agreed, yellow = caution…which can’t be seen to be done where the yellow was.

  4. Just Waiting for weights to be published. Suspect Vettel & Trulli are feather light. What a shame for Kovi. He blew it again. Final nail in the coffin.

    1. MacademiaNut
      3rd October 2009, 8:00

      HAM might get past Vettel, but I suspect if the Brawns can capitalize on light Vettel.

    2. Paige Michael-Shetley
      3rd October 2009, 8:21

      I think Trulli is probably feather-light. But comparing the differences in Q2 and Q3 times and looking at the gap that Vettel seemed to consistently have over Hamilton throughout the session (about .15 to .2 of a second), I think the two of them are pretty much spot on. Hamilton may have a lap in the bank on him given that the Mercedes engine seems to be more fuel efficient than the Renault.

      It should be fascinating. I think the Red Bull is quicker than the McLaren, but if Hamilton pips him on the start then it’s a completely different race. We’ll see what the race pace of the cars is like, though. Even if Hamilton is a lap heavier, if he doesn’t do Vettel on the start and the Red Bull is as good on race pace as it was in qualifying, then Vettel may be able to build too much of a gap for Hamilton to get on an overlap.

    3. Jelle van der Meer
      3rd October 2009, 10:22

      Interesting I actually think Hamilton might be lighter than Vettel. For some insane reason Mclaren keep fuelling Hamilton light while he does require pole.

      The Q2 difference between Lewis and Vettel was bigger than Q3 – suggesting that Vettel is fuelled heavier than Lewis.

    4. I know, what a shame. I want him in the McLaren next year.

  5. Excellent summary Keith! I dig this new iPhone format that the page auto displays in. Works wonders on the eyes, actually!

    Looking forward to a fantastic first corner battle between HAM and VET tomorrow. I hope they both come out of it clean and that we don’t see a bunch of retirements at Denger.

  6. What else could JB and RB do? I think they need to look at extending qualifying in the case of a red flag, because we’ve seen two races in a row now where drivers have lost out through no fault of their own.

    It might not be such a disaster if the Brawns are down there anyway – the way the Toro Rossos were flying off we’re bound to have safety cars tomorrow and anyone could get a bit of luck and turn the race upside down.

    1. MacademiaNut
      3rd October 2009, 8:01

      I am sure Red Bull has already told this to Charlie Whiting and is working hard to make sure the Brawns are pushed back in the grid.

      1. I think Red Bull ordered Toro Rosso to make Buemi crash, compromising the Brawns’ chance of making it into the top 10.


        1. MacademiaNut
          3rd October 2009, 8:05

          Hey, I started that conspiracy theory!

    2. What else could JB and RB do?

      They could have gone onto the track sooner. There was enough time to get at least two laps in – Hamilton did.

    3. They don’t need to extend qualifying, they did have chance to set laps they just decided not to. Its all part of the tactics games, trying to save tyres and the track getting faster. If everyone went round the track for more of the session rather than playing sit and watch the clock game that seems to happen, it wouldn’t make hardly any difference on the qualifying session.

      Now I’m not saying they should drive round all session, but it is the teams choice so they have lost out because of their faults.

  7. Watching it on tv it looked very dangerous both Button and Barrichello going full throttle through a yellow with debris all over the track.

    Will be suprised and shocked if they get away with this.

    1. And that too leading into 130R. Remember Allan Mcnish? Scary. They definitely deserved to be penalized. At least for the sake of consistency.

  8. Will Lewis take Vettel, of course he will :)And he better does otherwise Vettel will cruise to the victory.

    I think Brawns are carriying a bit more fuel than usual, Ross Brawn might have taken into account that they could get penalties.

    About the qualifying, this is what happens when you get amateurs on a pro track. The torro rosso was too fast for its drivers, they couldnt tame that angry red bull?

    Finally what a clown Buemi is.

    1. MacademiaNut
      3rd October 2009, 8:07

      Another China 2009 waiting in Suzuka.

  9. According to the experts at RAI, the tyre compound difference might have confused a lot of drivers with the way the car handles and this resulted in lots of errors. I agree with them and hope that Bridgestone scrap this concept, preferably all together and give drivers the freedom to chose their tyres. If that is not what the FIA wants, at least, provide less extremities between tyre compounds.

  10. Ethnic_Tension
    3rd October 2009, 8:05

    When there are yellow flags out you need to slow down. The stewards determine if a driver has slowed down by comparing his sector time with his previous times. However Button and Barrichello both had done no previous sector time in Q2, hence the stewards have no times to compare too. Never the less, it’s not hard to see they didn’t slow down :P

    1. MacademiaNut
      3rd October 2009, 8:06

      They don’t need their Brawn’s times to be compared. They qualified 4th and 6th, so clearly they did not slow down enough.

      1. Ethnic_Tension
        3rd October 2009, 8:13

        You can only determine if a car has slowed down by comparing it to its own times. All the cars/drivers are different. The fact that they qualified 4th and 6th should not factor into that. What’s not to say that they didn’t slow down, even though it may have only been a slight slow down, and they put in great 1st and 3rd sectors?

        I personally think they didn’t slow down, however you can’t punish someone unless your completely certain.

        1. Button was fastest of all in Sector 2, which is inconsistent with how the car had been performing earlier in qualifying. There’s no way he backed off.

  11. What was it about Degner? Truly unfathomable.

    1. There didn’t seem to be much rubber on the track at all, the surface looked very slippery. Very wierd :/

    2. You need to run the curb to carry speed through there, if you get it wrong on the entry or take too much speed it’s easy to go that extra half foot or so wider and bottom out the car, and there’s no tarmac run off as a get out of jail free card.
      As someone said in a post-quali interview (think it was Barrichello), you need to stay on the track here, and it’s the better for it I think.

  12. Prisoner Monkeys
    3rd October 2009, 8:15

    Brawn don’t really have anything to lose here. A few things stand out:

    1) If they get penalised, Alonso and Rosberg will only move up two places each. Buemi and Kovalainen both beat them in Q2, so they have the right to start further up the order.

    2) Because of Glock and Alguersuari’s accidents, Button and Barrichello will likely only start from P12 and P13 if their times are annulled. Although they’ll be considered not to have set a time, their Q1 times were perfectly legit and they were both quicker than Algersuari and Glock.

    3) Button may have set a personal best in S2, but S2 isn’t only limited to the point where Buemi crashed. It includes the hairpin, the following corner and Spoon Curve; arguably, a good run out of Denger sets up a good S2 time. Conidering that Buemi crashed at the fastest point of the circuit, I’d be amazed if Button made up time in that section. No, if he gained time, he did so elsewhere in S2, places that were not under yellows.

    4) It stands to reason that neither driver could have seen Buemi’s wing. It’s a long, straight section of track – I find it very odd that Buemi crashed there -and while they would have seen his car and taken pains to avoid it, the nose cone would be another matter. After all, they can’t see their own nose cones.

    1. Paige Michael-Shetley
      3rd October 2009, 8:24

      re: 4)….

      It doesn’t matter if they saw the wing or not. The issue is that there was a yellow flag in the sector, so they should have been informed of it and slowed down.

      But again, they may get off on technicality, as they didn’t set a previous flying lap with which to compare their sector time.

    2. Related to #3, I think what they’re getting at is that they should have slowed down in the yellow flag area (therefore losing time), rather than blasting straight through and possibly hitting the wing which would have been a HUGE accident (there was a similar accident in Brazil ’03)

      It’s not difficult to crash where Buemi did, the exit to Spoon is very tight and a late apex. The curb on the outside comes up late, so it’s difficult to judge.

      1. I think it should have been taken out of the drivers hands all together and the session red flagged.

    3. It stands to reason that neither driver could have seen Buemi’s wing.

      I think that just incriminates them (and potentially the other four) further – ‘they might not have seen the wing, that’s why they should have seen the yellows and backed off'(an, goes the logic.

  13. I don’t know what the story is with the officials on so many different levels. Last race Vettel and his team thought they had pole only to find out the lap time didn’t count due to the red flag. At first I thought that seems unfair because from what I saw Vettel had passed the initial yellow and by rights was able to safely complete the lap. Then I excepted that “rules are rules”. Today we have a incident which left dangerous debris on the track and all that is waved is a yellow. The Brawns (and an also-ran BMW) were on flying laps and hadn’t posted times so as a racer they pushed in the hope they won’t get penalised. Nothing comes of it and they are allowed to part take in Q3, denying at least 2 other drivers a shot a Q3. Then the icing on the cake is when Kovalainen goes off in a arguably not so dangerous place, is out of the car, the red flags come out. I used to be cynical of Keith & Co’s judgement of the officials and their lack of consistency however I’m slowly coming around Keith!!!

    1. Last race Vettel and his team thought they had pole only to find out the lap time didn’t count due to the red flag.

      They didn’t even finish the lap so they can’t possibly have thought they had pole position.

      Nothing comes of it and they are allowed to part take in Q3, denying at least 2 other drivers a shot a Q3.

      There isn’t enough time to turn around an investigation on something as complicated as this in five minutes.

      Kovalainen goes off in a arguably not so dangerous place

      How many other cars have gone off there in the last two sessions?

      I used to be cynical of Keith & Co’s judgement of the officials

      OK, but I think you might have gone to the other extreme!

      1. “They didn’t even finish the lap so they can’t possibly have thought they had pole position”

        I beg to differ. There was footage of Vettel’s garage celebrating as if they had pole just after he came into parc ferme.

        “There isn’t enough time to turn around an investigation on something as complicated as this in five minutes.”

        How is it complicated. My point is that their times simply should not have counted because the session should have been red flagged.

        “How many other cars have gone off there in the last two sessions?”

        Again I refer to the point about why wasn’t the session red flagged after Buemi’s accident as it was in Singapore?

        “OK, but I think you might have gone to the other extreme!”

        All I can say to that is “Same old Keith, with his pick-a-post-apart”

        1. al_amana

          No way do you always have to agree with Keith, I don’t, but this is factually wrong:

          I beg to differ. There was footage of Vettel’s garage celebrating as if they had pole just after he came into parc ferme.

          Vettel didn’t complete his last flying lap in Singapore because of a red flag at 26 seconds to go. His first sector was the fastest of all, so lots of people thought he could have got pole if he had been able to complete his lap (I didn’t because you cannot presume something that hasn’t yet happened). But what happened, happened. Lewis got the fastest lap, and Vettel didn’t in Singapore, therefore Lewis was on pole. I think you just need to accept this fact.

          1. I beg to differ. There was footage of Vettel’s garage celebrating as if they had pole just after he came into parc ferme.

            Should have been in block quotes.

          2. It may well be that he didn’t complete the lap and I have been mislead by the footage. However the outcome of that session isn’t really the issue here. I am simply saying that there is no consistency in these situations, something I know Keith is very passionate about.
            The turn around from the crash and the red flag, in Singapore, was pretty quick. Where as today there was probably more debris on the track and in an even more dangerous area and it was only yellow flagged. So once again, as in Singapore, the session should have been red flagged and kay sera sera ………..
            As for your obvious attempt at trying to engage me in a verbal stoush by suggesting I am dirty over Vettel being robbed of pole in Singapore, nice try!

  14. Prisoner Monkeys
    3rd October 2009, 8:38

    Apparently Button, Barrichello, Kubica, Heidfeld, Alonso and Sutil have all been called before the stewards. Sutil is also said to be facing an additional charge of blocking.

    With so many drivers potentially punished, I’d say fines are a better punishment than annulling times, because if Q2 times are annulled, the stewards will have to use Q1 times, and with Alguersuari and Glock down in 14th and 15th, two drivers will get into Q3 based on Q1 times, which isn’t fair.

    1. You have a valid point regarding it being a little unfair to use Q1 times for Q3. But …

      The problem with fines is that drivers and teams will start making trade-offs once it becomes known that a particular set of actions result in fines instead of on-track penalties.

      For instance, Brawn may decide that it’s worth going for the track positions and taking $$$ fine seeing how competitive RBR is. Since this is a safety issue regarding track marshals and the driver who crashed, it’s not a good idea to have teams making monetary trade-offs on these issues.

      1. Prisoner Monkeys
        3rd October 2009, 10:46

        The problem with fines is that drivers and teams will start making trade-offs once it becomes known that a particular set of actions result in fines instead of on-track penalties.

        This set of conditions – an accident that halts the session with more than half the drivers not having set a time, followed by a subsequent accident at the end of the session whn six drivers are just setting their first time – is highly unlikely to repeat itself.

        1. True, so you’re basically saying they should use their discretion and point to the unusual surrounding circumstances when they dole out the fine. If they can do that while pointing out that this is just a one-off and other instances off speeding during yellow will result in an on-track penalty, then it might work.

          I’m saying they shouldn’t set a precedent of using fines to punish not lifting-off under yellow. It’ll work if they stress that this is a one-off, but I’m not sure how they’d do that.

    2. Paige Michael-Shetley
      3rd October 2009, 9:54

      Can anyone remember a qualifying session that was such a mess?


      It’s so great to be back at Suzuka.

  15. Wow, this session sounded like a real mess.

  16. Hehe I got the right Pole-sitter (like many others I guess)

    I support the Brawns and Button in particular, but they have to be penalised if they didn’t ease off in the yellow section…
    That would mean a lot to Vettel and make the championship a bit more interesting !

    Can’t wait for the race !

    1. I hope that happen.

  17. Drivers eliminated in Q1

    16. Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault – 1′31.704

    Fisi again changed team????? ;)

    1. Well spotted! Changed it.

  18. I had a dream in which Vettel got the pole. Also that it started raining heavily after the session but I guess that didn’t happen.
    It was a shame the other red bulls couldn’t keep it on the road, Torro Rosso could have benefited from more experience. I rate it as one of the most interesting qualy I’ve seen

  19. Prisoner Monkeys
    3rd October 2009, 9:47

    Buemi summoned by stewards. Charge seems to be that he was driving a car that was damaged beyond salvation.

  20. I think both the Brawn’s didn’t lift off a yellow,may be they will be giver a penalty

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