Mark Webber says he will be racing for himself when he starts from pole position in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, rather than aiding Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel, who stands on the verge of the drivers’ title. The Australian, in his final year in Formula One, qualified ahead of his teammate for the first time in 2013 after Vettel was hampered by problems with his Kers power-boost system.
There was a 0.174 seconds gap between the two as Webber prevented Vettel from taking a fourth-straight pole. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was the best of the rest in third, ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. Vettel’s closest title rival, Fernando Alonso, will start in a disappointing eighth, the same position in which he at least needs to finish to prevent Vettel taking the title if he were to take the checkered flag.
But Vettel’s attempts to get that win look unlikely to be aided by the man across from him in the Red Bull garage. The pair have long had a fractious relationship, particularly after Vettel ignored team orders not to pass Webber at the Malaysian Grand Prix earlier this year. And at his last race at Suzuka, Webber sees no reason to compromise his own chances of picking up a victory.
“We'll have a standard race,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “It's everyone for themselves to get the maximum result they can. That means me winning and the rest is whatever. If Seb can get more points than Fernando, it's good for him and the team."
While Vettel was compromised in his efforts to ensure the best possible grid position in his attempts to secure a fourth consecutive drivers’ title with four races still to spare, he was focusing on the positives.
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“First of all congratulations to Mark, I think he did a very good lap,” he said, according to Formula1.com. “We had an issue in qualifying, but I’m not a big fan of thinking that without this, with this, if this, you know? It’s always unknown and we’re P2. I’m happy with the result; a front row for the team is great.”
With Vettel’s problems, the rest of the grid sensed an opportunity to capitalize after Red Bull’s recent dominance. Hamilton, though, claimed to be delighted with third place and the way that the Mercedes is performing this weekend.
“Third place is a strong result from Qualifying but the Red Bulls were just out of reach today,” he said. “It seems to me that we have a better package here than we've had for a while and the car felt awesome to drive.”
With Felipe Massa starting in fifth place, ahead of the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso qualified behind his teammate for the third time in four races. The Spaniard, who concedes it is merely a matter of time before Vettel is again crowned champion, is not surprised by his lack of performance, but hopes for better fortunes in the race.
“Today’s result is more or less what we were expecting, not having had a great pace all weekend, always being between sixth and tenth and even in Q3, I could not do more,” he explained. “Here the long run tests went better in terms of degradation than in Korea and that gives us hope that we can make up ground in the race.”
Behind Alonso, making up the remainder of the top 10 will be Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Jenson Button. The first section of qualifying had to be temporarily halted when both rear brakes on Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso caught fire.
Where to watch: The Formula One Japanese Grand Prix will get underway at 2 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.