YEONGAM, South Korea (AFP) –
Mark Webber pipped his team-mate and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel to the line to grab pole position for Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix, ensuring a front-row lock-out for Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton‘s McLaren will be on the second row, alongside Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who leads the drivers’ championship by four points over Vettel, who came to South Korea on the back of successive victories.
Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus was fifth-fastest, followed by Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. They were ahead of the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.
The Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher rounded out the top 10 at a dry but cool Yeongam.
A notable absentee from the top-10 shootout was Jenson Button of McLaren, who bowed out in the second qualifying session, along with the Sauber duo of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, who was third last week in his native Japan.
Vettel was quickest in the final practice and in the first two sessions of qualifying. He appeared set for pole until Webber left it late in the session to steam home in one minute 37.242 seconds, just 0.074 seconds ahead.
It was the 200th Formula One pole for Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault.
“Very very happy to get the job done,” said Webber, who started on pole at Monaco in May, but only after Schumacher was relegated five places on the grid for an incident in Barcelona. Webber won in Monaco, as he did at the British GP.
“It was a reasonable lap,” added the cool-headed Australian, who goes into Sunday’s race fifth in the drivers’ standings with four races to go after this weekend. Mathematically he is still in the title hunt.
“It’s been a tricky last few weeks for me,” he reflected, having seen his championship ambitions slowly fade away after finishes of 20th, 11th and ninth in the last three races.
“It’s a great place to start the race from. I’m looking to get off the first corner very well, that’s important as there are two long straights after that.”
Vettel refused to blame Massa for slowing him down during his last run in the final qualifying session, saying he was still pleased to be on the front row.
“Overall we can be very happy,” he said. “We were quite quick in qualifying sessions one and two.”
Asked about Massa, he added: “On the last run I had to back off starting the lap as Massa was there, it wasn’t his fault, but I had to back off. Nevertheless, the second lap in Q3 wasn’t good enough.”
Race stewards may look into an incident involving Hamilton in the pitlane when the Briton had to overtake a meandering Mercedes.
“We are not far off,” he said of his chances in Korea. “I’m just happy to get a clear lap.”
Hamilton, fourth in the standings and still in with a shout of the championship title, added: “I really hope that tomorrow is a strong race for us.
“But Red Bull have some serious pace.”
Button, the 2009 world champion, said: “I locked up in the last sector on my first Q2 lap so lost quite a lot of time on the corner… one of those things.”
Asked what he hoped to achieve starting in 11th on the grid, an obviously disappointed Button replied: “Go forward.”