Mark Webber took pole position for the first time in more than a year after team mate Sebastian Vettel suffered more KERS problems in qualifying.
Vettel’s KERS was only working intermittently during the session and failed during the all-important deciding laps in Q3.
Lewis Hamilton will line up third on the grid alongside Romain Grosjean.
Grosjean headed a disrupted Q1 which was interrupted after Jean-Eric Vergne pulled up at the hairpin with both his rear brakes blazing. The session was red-flagged while marshals tended to his smouldering car.
Remarkably that wasn’t the only fire seen during the first 20 minutes of qualifying. A flash of flame from Esteban Gutierrez’s car forced him to jump out of the car while parked in the garage. Fortunately he was able to continue and made it into Q2.
In the frenzy of the final laps Max Chilton produced his best effort of the season so far to out-qualify both his team mate and the two Caterhams.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|17||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1’32.890|
|18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’33.357|
|21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1’34.879|
The cut for Q3 has usually been very tight this year and it was no different this time – eight drivers were separated by two-tenths of a second but there was only room for the first three in the final ten.
Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg all made it through on 1’32.8s. But Sergio Perez was the first to miss out, eliminated when for the second session in a row Felipe Massa made a last-gasp improvement to get into Q3.
Paul di Resta was also among those eliminated after doing his final medium tyre run earlier than others.
Q2 was the only session headed by Vettel, whose KERS was briefly working again, leaving him two-tenths of a second ahead of Webber at the top of the times sheets with Romain Grosjean close behind in third.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|12||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1’31.992|
|16||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’32.485|
Vettel’s first lap in Q3 might not have been good enough for pole position even if his KERS had been working. He had to gather up a slide in Spoon Curve – a corner which caught several drivers out in final practice – and ended up four tenths of a second off Webber.
Red Bull sent Vettel out for another lap trying everything to get their hybrid boost system working again. Race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin told him to “untoggle then retoggle KERS” if it failed again on his flying lap. It was to no avail – Vettel gained some time but ended up more than a tenth of a second down on his team mate.
Webber produced a clean lap to dip under the 1’31 barrier and clinch his first pole position since last year’s Korean Grand Prix.
Vettel’s problems weren’t sufficient to let any of his other rivals have a look-in. Hamilton took third place while Massa bounced back from his near-misses in Q1 and Q2 to out-qualify Alonso.
Hulkenberg also out-qualified Alonso as well as Kimi Raikkonen. Jenson Button, tenth, set three 1’31.8s during qualifying and reckoned there was nothing more to be had from the McLaren.
Top ten in Q3
|1||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’30.915|
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’31.089|
2013 Japanese Grand Prix
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