Sebastian Vettel maintained his 100 percent qualifying record in India in a session that saw mixed strategies.
With the soft Pirelli tyres not lasting very long around the Buddh International circuit, some drivers inside the top ten decided to go for the medium tyre and play the long game.
Thus we start tomorrow's race with Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton on softs, but with Webber P4 and Alonso P8 on the medium tyre.
The big shock of qualifying was the demise of Romain Grosjean in Q1. Going out on the slower medium tyres, Lotus believed he was safe, but it proved to be a costly gamble.
After morning practice had been delayed twenty minutes for 'mist' or what some people might call 'smog' there was hazy sunshine trying to break through at the Buddh circuit at Greater Noida, with an ambient temperature of 30C and the track at 39C.
Esteban Gutierrez set the benchmark time of 1:27.529 on the medium tyre, while Nico Rosberg demonstrated a technique that was widely adopted through the session by completing one slow lap on the mediums then putting in a fast time. He duly took P1 with a 1:26.622 - Lewis Hamilton slotted into P2, then it was DiResta in P2, and Raikkonen in P2.
Sergio Perez reduced the fastest time to 1:26.533, before Nico Rosberg came round again with a 1:26.252.
Just after halfway through the session Gutierrez came back out with soft tyres on his Sauber and immediately set two purple (fastest) sectors followed by a green (personal best) to take P1 with a 1:26.057. This signaled the move for almost everyone to switch to softs.
Grosjean, Alonso, Vettel and Webber all left it late to set a lap time and when Alonso came out, his Ferrari was equipped with softs and he took P1 with a 1:25.934 - not that much quicker than Gutierrez. He was faster that Sebastian Vettel, though, but then a glance at the timing sheets showed that the World Champion elect had set his time on the slower medium tyre. Webber wasn't going to take the risk and had soft tyres.
In the final four minutes of the session the positions around the drop zone were: 15.DiResta, 16.Vergne, 17.Maldonado, 18.Bianchi, 19.Van der Garde, 20.Pic, 21.Chilton, 22.Webber (no time)
Mark Webber took P3 and the positions at the top of the timesheet started to change rapidly as all the front-runners barring Grosjean took to the track with the soft tyre. To show the degree of change, Paul Di Resta jumped from P15 to P1 with a 1:25.908, then Kimi Raikkonen grabbed P1 with a 1:25.819, Lewis Hamilton was next up on top with a 1:25.802, then Webber with a second fast lap on his set, with a 1:25.665, and then the most remarkable of all, Jenson Button with a 1:25.574.
Romain Grosjean had set the P10 time on medium tyres and couldn't improve it, and in the dying stages of the session found that all the cars around him improved - finally it was Felipe Massa who sprinted clear to leave him sitting in P17.
So out went: 17.Grosjean, 18.Maldonado, 19.Bianchi, 20.van der Garde, 21.Pic, 22.Chilton
Lotus boss Eric Boullier said that the team thought they had been too conservative in Japan and were trying to be a bit more aggressive by attempting to reach Q2 without using the soft tyre, but the decision had backfired. Grosjean is one of the few drivers in F1 who can smile ruefully at the decision going wrong. Cats are very safe in his household.
For the record, it was the first time McLaren had ended on top in any of the qualifying sessions this year.
It was now a case of re-using the soft tyres from Q1. Kimi Raikkonen was first out on track with a 1:26.279, which was bettered by Fernando Alonso with a 1:25.546, Felipe Massa slotted into P2.
Then it was Nico Rosberg's turn to head the timesheets with a 1:25.337 and yet again Lewis Hamilton couldn't beat his team-mate to go P2 - which Jenson Button soon took off him.
Running into the final four minutes the danger zone looked like: 6.Perez, 7.DiResta, 8.Bottas, 9.Vergne, 10.Sutil, 11.Raikkonen, 12.Ricciardo, 13.Hulkenberg, 14.Webber (no time), 15.Gutierrez (no time), 16.Vettel (no time).
Mark Webber set a 1:25.097 but had run very far off the track and as a precaution set another timed lap just in case it was discounted. For some reason, Race Director Charlie Whiting was happy to let the drivers run considerably outside the white lines at the Buddh circuit. As the race circuit is defined by the white lines it is hard to work out how the rules of F1 can be at his discretion, but Webber's first time was still permissible and he didn't need the back-up.
Sebastian Vettel on his late lap set an uncatchable 1:24.568 with three purple sectors, Raikkonen took P3, Alonso P2, Hulkenberg made himself safe in P6, Sutil could only manage P11 and JEV was out with a P13 on his final tour. Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line in P9, Perez in P7, Massa in P8, Paul Di Resta in P12 and Esteban Gutierrez a disappointing P16. Last man over the line was Hamilton in P5.
So as the dust settled out went: 11.Ricciardo, 12.DiResta, 13.Sutil, 14.Vergne, 15.Bottas, 16.Gutierrez
No real surprises, other than Button setting the faster of his two timed laps on a used set of soft tyres.
In a race that was likely to end up with a two- and three-stop strategy and with heavy wear on the front left tyre, teams were unsure whether to qualify on the medium or soft tyre. It would be certain that those cars from P11 down would start on the medium and that the soft would go off rapidly.
Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren decided to try one car on soft and one car on mediums for the first run with Vettel on soft and Webber on medium. While Red Bull would stick with that, Mercedes then opted to put both cars on soft and McLaren would put both cars on medium.
Fernando Alonso set the provisional pole at 1:25.826 on a set of medium tyres, Vettel took P1 off him with a scorching 1:24.119, while Mark Webber was able to slot into P2 on the slower tyre.
The Mercedes and McLarens returned to the pits without setting a time, so with four minutes to go there were only the three times on the board.
Then it was Kimi Raikkonen who took to the track on soft tyres with his Lotus and duly set P3, significantly, not quicker than Mark Webber on mediums. Nico Rosberg jumped to P2 on soft tyres, Lewis Hamilton again was not as fast as his team-mate and went P3, Mark Webber improved his time but stayed P4, Felipe Massa took the soft route to P5 and Nico Hulkenberg went soft for P7.
The McLarens cruised home for P9 and P10 - wishing they could have had a try with the softer tyre to see just how far up the grid they could have got.
No-one was going to get close to Sebastian Vettel's time and it was his third successive pole in India, his sixth consecutive pole in a row, his eighth pole of the season and the 44th of his career. Another big statistic will be looming large on Sunday.
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:24.119
02 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.871 +0.752
03 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.941 +0.822
04 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.047 +0.928
05 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:25.201 +1.082
06 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:25.248 +1.129
07 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:25.334 +1.215
08 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.826 +1.707
09 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:26.153 +2.034
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:26.487 +2.368
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:25.519
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:25.711
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:25.740
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:25.798
15 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:26.134
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.336
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.577
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:26.842
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:26.970
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.105
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.487
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:28.138
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