Red Bull’s upturn in Suzuka was confirmed as the RB8s dominated all three qualifying sessions, but McLaren and Ferrari had cause for optimism as they weren’t far away and Lotus took a big stride back to the front with their new floor and Coanda-effect exhaust system.
The smoothness of the Korean track means tyre wear is relatively low, and while it is most likely that teams will make two stops, Pirelli believe that a single-stop strategy could be feasible. It all adds up to the makings of a very tight Grand Prix in prospect.
We take a team-by-team look at the Saturday formbook in Yeongam…
Mark Webber, 1m 37.242s, P1
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 37.316s, P2
Vettel led the way all through Q1 and Q2 and looked a shoo-in for pole after the first runs in Q3. But where he failed to get a better lap in, after getting stuck behind Massa – for which he blamed himself – Webber got a flier in the second part of Q3 to take his first genuine pole of the season (he started P1 in Monaco, but only after a Schumacher penalty), and Renault’s 200th.Both drivers go into the race feeling extremely optimistic.
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 37.469s, P3
Jenson Button, 1m 38.441s, P11
Hamilton was extremely lucky that Senna failed to improve at the end of Q1 as the decision not to be out on track at the very end so nearly cost him his place in Q2.
He had been in the midfield when several other drivers, notably the Toro Rosso duo, improved, leaving him on the bubble in 17th. Subsequently he recovered to get through to Q3, where a late improvement put him right behind the Red Bulls and ahead of Alonso.
Button was going well too, but slowed for a yellow at the end of Q2 and failed to make it through to Q3 by five-thousandths of a second. McLaren are Red Bull’s biggest potential threat.
Fernando Alonso, 1m 37.534, P4
Felipe Massa, 1m 37.884s, P6
Alonso said he was quite happy with fourth on the grid and remains convinced that the Ferrari has the pace to take the fight to Red Bull in the race as Ferrari have taken a step forward since Suzuka.
Massa had a good run, but admitted that a few small mistakes probably cost him fifth place.
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 37.625s, P5
Romain Grosjean, 1m 37.934, P7
Lotus’s new floor and Coanda-effect exhaust system gave the E20s a useful performance boost and both drivers looked strong as they got within four and seven-tenths of pole position. Raikkonen was as happy as he ever is, but Grosjean said that his car felt odd in Q1, better in Q2, then odd again in Q3, so its data is being checked overnight.
Since the cars always race better than they qualify, they are to be regarded as a possible threat for the race.
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 38.266s, P8
Paul di Resta, 1m 38.643s, P14
Hulkenberg said he had tough sessions in Q1 and Q2 as he battled understeer, especially in the first sector. Though he was never able to dial it out fully, he put two good laps together to take eighth on the grid.
Di Resta looked strong in FP3, but again found himself compromised by traffic in Q2, to his chagrin.
Nico Rosberg, 1m 38.361, P9
Michael Schumacher, 1m 38.513s, P10
Mercedes had a relatively normal qualifying but both drivers said that the W03 lacked ultimate pace and that their grid positions were the best they could have hoped for.
Sergio Perez, 1m 38.460s, P12
Kamui Kobayashi, 1m 38.594s, P13
Sauber looked less strong here than in Suzuka a week ago, but that was partly because both had to back off for the yellow flag at the end of Q2.
Perez said without that he’d have made Q3, as did Kobayashi who said that changes to his car made it much better since Q1.
They will challenge Mercedes in the race.
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 38.725s, P15
Bruno Senna, 1m 39.443s, P18
Williams were out of luck again. Neither driver liked the balance they achieved, but in any case the FW34 has just lacked pace all weekend.
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 39.084s, P16
Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 39.340s, P17
Both drivers looked racy in Q2, but as Ricciardo lost drive and rolled to a halt at Turn 16, triggering the yellow flags that spoiled some other drivers’ laps, Vergne admitted that he got it wrong when he tried to take the final corner flat and ruined a good lap.
Transmission problems were behind Ricciardo’s demise and the Australian faces a five-place grid drop if his gearbox needs changing.
Vitaly Petrov, 1m 40.207s, P19
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 40.333s, P20
Caterham’s upturn in performance continued, though neither driver was totally happy.
Petrov had brake vibrations, and Kovalainen suffered understeer, having never got the balance to his liking.
Charles Pic, 1m 41.317s, P21, will start P24
Timo Glock, 1m 41.371s, P22, will start P21
Pic was very happy with his qualifying, but loses the benefit of 21st place due to his 10-place grid penalty for an engine change.
Glock once again struggled with the balance of his car in FP3 but thought it was better on his first run in Q1 on the soft Pirellis.
On the super softs, however, he made a costly mistake.
Pedro de la Rosa, 1m 42.881s, P23, will start P22
Narain Karthikeyan, No time, P24, will start P23
De la Rosa was happy with his qualifying effort, especially his second lap, but admitted that he was struggling with understeer a lot.
Karthikeyan had a wild spin when a brake disc failed on his F112, and he didn’t post a time, but will be allowed to race based on his practice form.