Hamilton will start fifth on the grid despite finishing second in qualifying
For those who needed proof of why Sebastian Vettel, at 24, is already hailed as one of the greatest drivers in Formula One, there he was, belting out fabulous lap times, one after the other, at the Buddh International Circuit, as if he were making a mockery of his adversaries on the track.
Vettel recorded 1:24.178s to ensure his 12th pole position of the season, and 29th of his career that drew him abreast of the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, as Red Bull gained a head-start in its quest to win the inaugural Grand Prix of India.
That his teammate Mark Webber will start second on the grid despite finishing third in 1:24.508s has made things easy for Red Bull which, according to Vettel, is hoping to record a 1-2 finish in the race.
Webber, however, owes his position to Lewis Hamilton whose McLaren seemed to have improved considerably by afternoon, galloping marvellously in and out of corners and on the straight.
The former world champion split the two Red Bulls by posting the second best time (1:24.474s) in Q3, but the three-grid places penalty he copped on Friday was like a manna for Webber. Hamilton will now start the race on Sunday from fifth position.
Hamilton expressed his surprise on finishing second in Q3, but censured himself for ignoring the double yellow flag in the second practice session on Friday.
“It was a bit of silly mistake from me and I have paid the price. But tomorrow we have a good race and I am optimistic regardless of where I start from,” the McLaren driver said.
The power and pace of Vettel's car was simply astounding, and the German said he felt there was a lot more in his RB7.
“I was happy with the balance throughout qualifying. Q1 was like managing traffic, but we made it through on hard tyres which were essential. Q2 was pretty smooth, we only needed one lap. Then we decided to go for Q3, again one timed lap while the others decided to go for two laps as part of different strategies to get the tyres up to speed,” he explained.
“It is a new circuit, new venue, tricky for all of us first time round in qualifying. We have seen all weekend with the dust on the track, so in the end we ended up with one racing line, clear of dirt, just a little bit out which could make you lose time. But I think we managed it well, but it was tricky,” Vettel added.
Fernando Alonso whipped up good speeds and was in third place (1:24.588s), behind Vettel (1:24.437s) and Hamilton (1:24.476) with three minutes left in Q3, but his best effort in the succeeding lap (1:24.519s) wasn't good enough to dislodge the top two.
Alonso's teammate Felipe Massa, who ended Friday's practice on a high note, had a nightmarish Saturday when he went over a kerb and broke his car's front right suspension.
“What happened on my last timed lap was a shame. Today we had the potential to secure a good placing, as Fernando (Alonso) demonstrated and as also can be seen from the fact that my sixth best time was set with a rather slow third sector.
“I came into Turn 8 and went over the kerb and the suspension gave way. In my opinion the kerb at that point is too high, it's a very fast corner and it could be arranged differently,” the Brazilian added.
Alonso, however, was optimistic.
“We'll try to do a good job tomorrow. It would be very nice to bring home one of the trophies that will be handed out to those who make it to the podium on Formula One's debut in India,” he said. So, that's why they say in F1 circles that Alonso is a great sport.
Qualifying results (top 10):
1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:24.178s, 2. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 1:24.474, 3. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1:24.508, 4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:24.519, 5. Jenson Button (McLaren) 1:24.950, 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:25.122, 7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:25.451, 8. Adrian Sutil (Sahara Force India) 1:26.140, 9. Sebastian Buemi (STR) 1:26.161 and 10. Jaime Alguersuari (STR) 1:26.319.
Sutil, Buemi and Alguersuari did not complete their Q3 but occupied the 8th, 9th and 10th positions on the starting grid based on their best qualifying times in Q2.