Sebastian Vettel maintained his extraordinary dominance of Formula One on Saturday by claiming pole position for the Korean Grand Prix.
The German has now taken pole for three straight races and is aiming for a fourth successive win. He’s also chasing a hat trick of wins at the Yeongam circuit, and most importantly, a fourth consecutive F1 championship.
Vettel set his pole time early in the final qualifying session, and was able to abort his final flying lap when nearest challenger Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes came up two-tenths of a second short in his bid to beat Vettel’s time.
“I had a very, very good lap in Q3 at my first attempt, and I knew that would be tricky to beat that time myself,” Vettel said.
“Fortunately the first lap was good enough,” he added. “Mercedes was very strong.”
Hamilton had been the fastest in Friday’s practice, but Mercedes could not improve the car as much overnight as Red Bull did. Still, Hamilton said he was satisfied with second.
“I felt I got the most out of the car,” the British driver said. “In general it’s been a good weekend and I really hope tomorrow we can fight with them (Red Bull).”
The positive news for Hamilton, and everyone else who qualified in an even-numbered grid slot, is that the even numbers have the inside line to the first corner, while the odd-numbered places are outside but on the rubbered racing line. Last year it was the inside line which won the short sprint to the single-file first corner.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber qualified in third but carries a ten-grid-place penalty into Sunday’s race for hitching a ride back to the pits on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari after the Singapore Grand Prix. He will be demoted to 13th.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean qualified fourth but will be promoted to third, ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Alonso, who is Vettel’s nearest challenger in the title chase but a distant 60 points back after finishing runner-up to the German for three straight races.
A fifth-place grid spot was as much as the Spaniard could hope for given Ferrari’s consistent lack of qualifying pace, but he was bullish about improving on his position on the first lap, where the long straights provide prime overtaking opportunities.
“It will be a big opportunity for us,” Alonso said. “We will try to attack in Turn 3 and 4.”
Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa qualified seventh, ahead of the Sauber pair Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez, with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen in a disappointing 10th, 1.6 seconds off Vettel’s time.
Given the degree of dominance Vettel has enjoyed since midseason, it appears the chief threat to another win on Sunday will come not from his rivals but the weather.
A typhoon is expected to close in on the Korean peninsula on Sunday, and depending on its track and speed, could bring anything from light rain to heavy downpours and strong winds.
Even that did not concern Vettel.
“It’s not a disaster if it starts to rain, we have rain tires in the garage,” Vettel said. “They were talking about heavy winds. When I arrived on Wednesday, it was very windy, but it has died down since then and I think the typhoon has changed direction. If we get some rain from the typhoon, it doesn’t matter.”