The Red Bull driver only has to finish fifth or higher to claim this year’s title, regardless of where his nearest championship rival Alonso finishes.
Red Bull went for a split strategy in the final part of qualifying, with Vettel on the faster, softer compound tyres, while his team mate Webber opted to set his fastest time on the slower, medium compound.
Although Vettel’s tyres gave him an easy pole position, he’ll be at a disadvantage in the race tomorrow. The softs are likely to only last for seven or eight laps, meaning that Vettel will have to pit pretty early into the race.
Webber may have been slightly slower on track today, but his tyres will last much longer on race day. This should allow him to scamper off in the lead tomorrow when his team mate pits, leaving Vettel with a lot of work to do if he’s to win his third Indian Grand Prix.
Both Mercedes were also on the softer compound tyres – but try as they might, they just couldn’t match Vettel’s pace. They finished second (Rosberg) and third (Hamilton) on the grid, and are likely to be pitting early tomorrow as well.
Don’t count them out of the race just yet though. Hamilton may have lost hope of winning the drivers’ title this year, but both he and Rosberg are still fighting tooth and nail to secure Mercedes second place in the constructors’ championship, so they’ll be doing all they can to grab those vital points on race day.
Once again Massa out qualified his Ferrari team mate, taking fifth place to Alonso’s eighth. Just like Red Bull, Ferrari went for a split strategy with Massa on the soft tyre and Alonso on the medium – so expect Alonso to go further into the race before he stops, just like Webber.
Lotus made a massive faux pas in Q1, gambling on the fact that Grosjean could make it through to Q2 without having to go onto the softer compound tyres. As most of the mid field came out on the option tyres, their times started to tumble – and Lotus thought they were safe with Grosjean’s time.
Sadly, their mistake cost them dearly and Grosjean was knocked out of Q1 in 17th place, leaving him to sit back and watch team mate Raikkonen to fly through the ranks and up into Q3. Raikkonen eventually ended up sixth on the grid, his best qualifying performance since being announced as a Ferrari driver for 2014.
It was another great qualifying session for Hulkenberg, who got his Sauber into Q3 once again, finishing the session in seventh place on the softer tyres. His team mate Gutierrez didn’t fare quite so well this time out, dropping out in Q2 and ending up in 16th place.
The McLarens just scraped into the top ten, with Perez in 9th and a despondent Button in 10th. With Sauber flying at the moment, the Woking team will have their work cut out for them to hang onto their fifth place in the constructors’ championship by the end of the season.
The Force Indias are also battling for that fifth place, and with both of cars failing to make it into Q3 they’ll have a lot of work to do in tomorrow’s race if they want to make up the points.
Di Resta finished in 12th, but seemed pretty happy to have beaten his team mate Sutil, who lines up behind him on the grid – an impressive feat seeing as Di Resta has been feeling poorly this weekend, and had to sit out FP1 due to illness.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the Williams as well – Bottas made it through to Q2, but only managed 15th place, and Maldonado was left in 18th after failing to make it through to the second part of qualifying.
The back of the grid was rounded out by the Caterhams and Marussias as usual, with Bianchi in 19th, followed by Van Der Garde and Pic, and Chilton – the only man to have finished every race so far this year – bringing up the rear. By Sarah Ellis
Provisional qualifying results:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
4. Mark Webber Red Bull
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus
7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari
9. Sergio Perez McLaren
10. Jenson Button McLaren
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso
12. Paul Di Resta Force India
13. Adrian Sutil Force India
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
17. Romain Grosjean Lotus
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham
21. Charles Pic Caterham
22. Max Chilton Marussia