It had looked close between the Red Bulls and Mercedes for most of the three sessions, with the four cars trading fastest laps with each other throughout qualifying.
Webber knew he’d have a 10-place grid penalty for the race, as a result of the reprimand he received from the stewards for hitching a lift back to the pits with Alonso in Singapore. So he was hoping to pull something special out of the bag to optimise his chances of scoring decent points in the race on Sunday.
As it was, the best he could manage was third place, having abandoned his final flying lap and ducked back into the pits before the session came to an end.
Both the Mercedes have looked pretty good all weekend, though, so we could be in for an exciting race tomorrow. Vettel was only two tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton as the session came to an end. And with Webber’s penalty, Rosberg will line up fourth on the grid tomorrow – so expect him to be in the mix once the lights go out.
It hasn’t been a great weekend so far for Kimi Raikkonen, who finished Q3 in a lowly 10th place, while his team mate Grosjean will start from third tomorrow following Webber’s penalty.
Although Kimi finished Q1 as the fastest man on track, that was the only highlight in an otherwise dismal weekend. He’s still suffering with the back problems that plagued him in Singapore, and went off the track more than once over the course of free practice.
In the race tomorrow he’ll be hoping to replicate his form from Singapore, where he flew through the field in the race to finish on the podium. But still, it begs the question as to why his qualifying performance has been so poor over the past few races – and surely Ferrari will be wondering if they made the right choice in signing him for next year.
Ferrari themselves had a pretty standard afternoon, with their cars lining up sixth and seventh on the grid. Alonso will be happy with the fact that he out qualified team mate Massa this time – and given the flying starts he’s had so far this year, he’ll no doubt be challenging Hamilton for second by the end of the first lap tomorrow.
Sauber had a great day, with Hulkenberg flying throughout most of the sessions, and both cars making it through to Q3 for the first time this year. They finished eighth and ninth on the grid, with Hulkenberg out qualifying Gutierrez once again. Not bad for a team who are struggling to find the cash to add updates to their car.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the McLarens, who’d been showing quite promising pace in free practice. Button was held up by the Lotus of Raikkonen in Q2, and missed out on going through to the final session by just a few hundredths of a second. And to add insult to injury, he was out qualified by his team mate Perez, who ended Saturday in 11th.
Both the Toro Rossos and Force Indias also failed to make it through to Q3. In fact, Paul Di Resta had only just scraped through into Q2 after being held up on his final hot lap by Bianchi, which he was clearly furious about.
It was a dismal afternoon for the Williams who once again dropped out of Q1, with Bottas out qualifying his team mate Maldonado.
Caterham and Marussia rounded out the back of the grid. By Sarah Ellis
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m37.202s
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.420s +0.218s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m37.464s +0.262s
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m37.531s +0.329s
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.679s +0.477s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m38.038s +0.836s
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.223s +1.021s
8. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.237s +1.035s
9. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.405s +1.203s
10. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m38.822s +1.620s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.362s +0.793s
12. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.365s +0.796s
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.417s +0.848s
14. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m38.431s +0.862s
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.718s +1.149s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.781s +1.212s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m39.470s +1.129s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m39.987s +1.646s
19. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m40.864s +2.523s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m40.871s +2.530s
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.169s +2.828s
22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.322s +2.981s