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Sunday October 14, 2012

Webber pips team-mate Vettel to grab Korean GP pole position

YEONGAM (South Korea): Mark Webber pipped his team-mate and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel to the line to grab pole position for today’s Korean Grand Prix, ensuring a front-row lock-out for Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren will be on the second row, alongside Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who leads the drivers’ championship by four points over Vettel, who came to South Korea on the back of successive victories.

Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus was fifth-fastest, followed by Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. They were ahead of the Lotus of Romain Gros­jean and Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.

The Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher rounded out the top 10 at a dry but cool Yeongam.

A notable absentee from the top-10 shootout was Jenson Button of McLaren, who bowed out in the second qualifying session, along with the Sauber duo of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, who was third last week in his native Japan.

Vettel was quickest in the final practice and in the first two sessions of qualifying. He appeared set for pole until Webber left it late in the session to steam home in one minute 37.242 seconds, just 0.074 seconds ahead.

It was the 200th Formula One pole for Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault.

“Very very happy to get the job done,” said Webber, who started on pole at Monaco in May, but only after Schumacher was relegated five places on the grid for an incident in Barcelona. Webber won in Monaco, as he did at the British GP.

“It was a reasonable lap,” added the cool-headed Australian, who goes into Sunday’s race fifth in the drivers’ standings with four races to go after this weekend. Mathematically he is still in the title hunt.

“It’s been a tricky last few weeks for me,” he reflected, having seen his championship ambitions slowly fade away after finishes of 20th, 11th and ninth in the last three races.

“It’s a great place to start the race from. I’m looking to get off the first corner very well, that’s important as there are two long straights after that.”

Vettel refused to blame Massa for slowing him down during his last run in the final qualifying session, saying he was still pleased to be on the front row.

“Overall we can be very happy,” he said. “We were quite quick in qualifying sessions one and two.”

Asked about Massa, he added: “On the last run I had to back off starting the lap as Massa was there, it wasn’t his fault, but I had to back off. Nevertheless, the second lap in Q3 wasn’t good enough.”

Alonso, who has seen Vettel close his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to the most slender of margins, said it was “a step forward compared to Japan” – where he went out at the first corner with a puncture.

The Spaniard added that his Ferrari needed more pace - something he has said since the start of the season.

“We must improve it and I expect to see some updates coming, right from the next race in India” he said. “It’s no surprise to see the Red Bulls on the front row, it’s not by chance they were fastest in Q1 and Q2.”

He said of his aim in the race, “It’s very simple: to finish ahead of Vettel.”

Mercedes were fined US$13,000 for an “unsafe release” after Schumacher was involved in a near-collision with Hamilton in the pit lane.

The German seven-time world champion pulled sharply out of the garage during qualifying, causing the McLaren man to swerve to avoid hitting him.

Hamilton, who struggled badly in the first qualifying session, brushed off the incident.

“I think when you are in the pit lane everyone wants to get out as fast as possible but I was already up to the speed limit when they released him,” he said.

“It wasn’t a problem, I just – instead of braking right down – sort of drove around him. So it wasn’t an issue.”

“We are not far off,” he said of his chances in Korea. “I’m just happy to get a clear lap.”

Hamilton, fourth in the standings and still in with a shout of the championship title, added: “I really hope that tomorrow is a strong race for us.

“But Red Bull have some serious pace.” — AFP

Grid position

1. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:37.242;

2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull, 1:37.316;

3. Lewis Hamilton (Bri) McLaren 1:37.469;

4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:37.534;

5. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus 1:37.625;

6. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari, 1:37.884;

7. Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus 1:37.934;

8. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:38.266;

9. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:38.361;

10. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes 1:38.513;

11. Jenson Button (Bri) McLaren 1:38.441;

12. Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:38.460;

13. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1:38.594;

14. Paul di Resta ( Bri) Force India 1:38.643;

15. Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:38.725;

16. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso 1:39.084;

17. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso 1:39.340,

18. Bruno Senna (Bra) Williams 1:39.443;

19. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:40.207;

20. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:40.333;

21. Charles Pic (Fra) Marussia 1:41.317;

22. Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia 1:41.371;

23. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) HRT, 1:41.881;

24. Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT no time set.

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