After 15 qualifying sessions Mark Webber finally got one over on Sebastian Vettel, beating his team-mate to pole position in Japan.
Webber has been outpaced by his team-mate on Saturday afternoons throughout this campaign, however, on Saturday he finally clawed one back thanks to an intermittent KERS failure on Vettel's car
Lewis Hamilton was the best of the rest in third place and will line up alongside the ever-improving Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa was the fastest of the Ferraris in fifth place while Fernando Alonso could only manage the eighth best time, 0.750s off the pace.
The sun was shining at Suzuka with an ambient temperature of 24C and the track at 36C. Most important of all was that the strong gusting wind (strong enough to blow round the Red Bull pit gantry) was 180 degrees from what it hd been yesterday - behind on the straight and head on going in the opposite direction through the first sequence of corners 'the snake'.
Sebastian Vettel's car had been rebuilt after a KERS issue in morning practice. Esteban Gutierrez set the initial time of 1:33.547 and then bettered that with a 1:33.380. However when he returned to the garage a vapour leak from his car caught fire and it was quickly put out by the team.
Out on track Paul DiResta managed a 1:33.059 which was trumped by (almost homeboy) Jenson Button with a 1:32.606 - at this stage Raikkonen was only quick enough for P2 on the Hard tyre and then Romain Grosjean slotted into P2.
Fernando Alonso was next into P1 with a 1:32.371 which Lewis Hamilton couldn't beat first time round - second time round he took it with a 1:32.340. As usual the Red Bulls were out late and while Vettel - his KERS still playing up - could only manage P3, team-mate Mark Webber took over P1 with a 1:32.271.
Only the new teams had moved onto the softer Medium tyre, but Nico Hulkenberg was the first of the mid grid teams to switch over. As he was putting in a lap cameras showed Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso with both sets of rear brakes on fire after they had locked on. Jean-Eric pulled over to have them extinguished. The second fire of the session.
The danger positions with three minutes to go were: 14.Maldonado, 15.Ricciardo, 16.Vergne, 17.Gutierrez, 18.Sutil, 19.Pic, 20.van der Garde, 21.Chilton, 22.Bianchi (no time)
With a lot of extinguisher action at the exit of the hairpin where Vergne's Toro Rosso was parked, the decision was taken to red flag the session with 2:55 left on the clock. This allowed the truck to safely remove the car and there was still time for teams to get out and get a lap.
The top five elected to stay in the garage, including the McLaren of Jenson Button in P5. Perez would need to go out again.
Nico Rosberg, who at that stage was P11, sat at the end of the pitlane to be first out on track. He was going with a set of rapidly cooling Mediums. It was important to get track position and not be stuck behind a slower car, so important that Kimi Raikkonen bustled his way past Esteban Gutierrez just before the dangerous Degners 1 and 2. At the end of the outlap there was a lot of bunching into the final chicane before the sprint to start the flying lap.
Across the line they all came. Gutierrez was safe with a P9, Sutil could only manage P13 whereas Force India team-mate Paul DiResta grabbed P3, Sergio Perez took P11, Max Chilton was a magnificent P19, Daniel Ricciardo a less-than-convincing P14, and Pastor Maldonado P15.
As the dust settled it was the already-stopped Vergne who was eliminated along with the new teams and Adrian Sutil. In the order: 17.Sutil, 18.Vergne, 19.Chilton, 20.Pic, 21.van der Garde, 22.Bianchi
Although Bianchi had had technical problems earlier it was a tremendous achievement for Chilton to outqualify both Caterhams at what is a driver's track. Marussia had lost out to Caterham in 11 successive GPS and were now back in front.
Those who had been forced onto Mediums at the end of the last session came out again on them for the start of Q2. Paul DiResta set the bar with a 1:33.059, Nico Hulkenberg edged in front of him with a 1:32.969. Kimi Raikkonen set a lap of 1:32.020.
Lewis Hamilton took over on top with a 1:31.852 and that was beaten by Fernando Alonso with a 1:31.828. However the true speed of the red Bull was revealed when Vettel went six tenths quicker with a 1:31.290.
Into the final four minutes and the danger positions were: 6.DiResta, 7.Raikkonen, 8.Grosjean. 9.Massa, 10.Rosberg, 11.Maldonado, 12.Perez, 13.Hulkenberg, 14.Bottas, 15.Gutierrez, 16.Ricciardo (no time).
The cars jockeyed for position and lined up for their final runs. Grosjean jumped to P3 and safe, Hulkenberg took P5, Nico Rosberg claimed P4, Raikkonen took P4 off Rosberg, Ricciardo managed just P12 (and no time for another run), Maldonado came across the line in P11, the Gutierrez in P11, Perez in a vulnerable P10, Bottas in P12, Jenson Button was still in the top ten but jumped to P7. Lewis Hamilton improved to P4.
When Massa made himself safe by grabbing P6 that pushed Perez out of the top 10 and so the Q2 exits were: 11.Perez, 12.Diresta, 13.Bottas, 14.Gutierrez, 15.Maldonado, 16.Ricciardo.
Perez only missed out on the top ten by a fraction, but Hulkenberg was considerably in front of his Sauber team-mate in this GP. Paul DiResta was pleased with his P12 and the Williams team looked a lot stronger than Toro Rosso this time round with good pace from Bottas.
Sebastian Vettel has the P1 slot in Japan virtually reserved for him over the last few years but on his first lap it was clear that his KERS was not working. He set provisional pole at 1:31.312, running wide at Spoon and putting two wheels onto the run-off.
Team-mate Mark Webber gratefully accepted the 'gift' and took P1 with a 1:30.975. Romain Grosjean, having saved tyres in the earlier sessions, was going to take two runs, but on his first flirted with disaster at the exit of the second Degner turn, running wide onto the grass and had to abandon the lap.
So after the first runs there were only four times on the board: Webber, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton. Jenson Button set some sector times and came back in. Having ended Q2 in P9 would McLaren elect not to set a qualifying time?
Raikkonen who had been saving himself for one timed run, claimed P3, a long way short of the Red Bulls' times. Vettel was next on track, but had the team been able to re-set his KERS? - the boost was only used in the final sector of the lap, after Spoon, but when he crossed the line still in P2, the answer was no. He had improved his time, though.
Nico Rosberg grabbed P3, Mark Webber went fractions quicker with a 1:30.915 to stay in P1 and then Romain Grosjean took P3. Felipe Massa dived in front of his team-mate to grab P4 demoting Lewis Hamilton, before Hamilton stormed into P3.
Mark Webber wasn't particularly celebrating pole as he said it was a "hollow pole" because of Vettel's lack of KERS boost, but having predicted as early as Jerez testing that the RBR9 would be incredible at Suzuka, he was proved right. It had titled the qualifying battle only slightly with Vettel now leading 14:1 instead of 14:0.
Behind them, Lewis Hamilton in P3 was a lot better placed than Nico Rosberg in P6 - Grosjean was pleased with P4 and Massa elated with P5 ahead of team-mate Alonso in P8. It was another great qualifying performance from Nico Hulkenberg to put his Sauber in P7 ahead of a Ferrari and a Lotus with Kimi Raikkonen failing to break the top four rows yet again in P9. Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 in P10.
Qualifying had been close with less than a second separating the top 10 cars - we can only hope for as close a race in the cooler conditions that are expected tomorrow.
01 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:30.915
02 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:31.089 +0.174
03 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.253 +0.338
04 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:31.365 +0.450
05 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:31.378 +0.463
06 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:31.397 +0.482
07 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:31.644 +0.729
08 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:31.665 +0.750
09 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:31.684 +0.769
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.827 +0.912
11 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:31.989
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:31.992
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:32.013
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:32.063
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:32.093
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:32.485
17 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:32.890
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:33.357
19 Max Chilton Marussia 1:34.320
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:34.556
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:34.879
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:34.958
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