2013 Indian Grand Prix: It's him again as dominant Sebastian Vettel secures pole
Nico Rosberg beats Lewis Hamilton to qualify alongside Vettel on front-row; Webber throws strategic curveball on medium compound
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 27/10/13 9:52am
Driving into the record books with relentless supremacy, it is a racing certainty that Vettel will clinch his fourth successive title in Sunday's race at a circuit where he proved unbeatable on F1's two previous visits.
The only question is how, although it's already abundantly clear that Vettel is determined to secure the status of quadruple champion in perfect fashion: fastest in Practice One, fastest in Practice Two, fastest in Practice Three, Vettel's remaining ambition will be to follow up pole position with a lights-to-flag victory with the race's fastest lap thrown in for good measure.
Yet with Red Bull opting to split their strategies, it's no longer likely that Vettel will depart India on Sunday night as the only F1 driver to lead a race at the Buddh International Circuit. With Mark Webber electing - in part, surely, because he accepted he couldn't beat Vettel in a straight single-lap sprint - to throw in a strategic curveball by qualifying on the medium compound, the Aussie is bound to lead the race during the early stages of Sunday's grand prix once Vettel and the two Mercedes cars of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have pitted to shed the faster but more brittle soft tyres.
"I thought it was worth trying something different. We didn't think we'd end up on the second row, we thought we'd be a little further back than that. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good session for us and we're in a good position to capitalise because we know the option tyre isn't a great piece of work," Webber told Sky Sports F1 afterwards.
"It will look quite exciting at the start of the race, but obviously I've got to get that tyre out of the way at some stage of the race."
It's not F1 as it should be, but the vast discrepancy in performance between the two tyres taken to the Buddh International Circuit this weekend by Pirelli, and the consequential strategic juggling act, will at least give Vettel something to think about even if he withstands Mercedes' attack into the first corner.
Quite what the thinking was at Lotus during Q1 is anyone's guess as the team's decision to only deploy Romain Grosjean, Red Bull's scourge last week in Japan, on the medium compound spectacularly backfired. "We ***ed up" was Grosjean's suitably blunt assessment of the team's blunder after failing to progress along with the Marussias, Caterhams and his potential 2014 team-mate, Pastor Maldonado.
It's understood that Nico Hulkenberg is now in a head-to-head fight with the sponsorship-laden Maldonado to replace the Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus and the increasingly-impressive German once again endorsed his claim to land a top-tier seat as he propelled his Sauber to seventh.
Hulkenberg will thus line-up between future Ferrari team-mates Fernando Alonso and Raikkonen, with the Spaniard was once again out-paced by the departing Felipe Massa - the fourth such ignominy Alonso has endured since the summer break, although on this occasion he had the clear excuse of running the medium tyres while Massa used the softs.
When the music stops, meanwhile, and the composition of the 2014 grid is finally confirmed, it may be the case that Hulkenberg opts to return to Force India, possibly at the expense of Paul di Resta, while Massa takes Maldonado's seat at Williams.
With Vettel's on-track dominance a near-permanent feature since the summer break, such contrasting off-track uncertainty has assumed the dimensions of a welcome relief.
On Sunday, though, there is unlikely to be any welcome relief for his rivals from Vettel when Sebastian will surely go fourth.