Vettel claims pole as Red Bull dominates qualifying

By Chris Lines, AP, 16 March 2013
© AP Photo/Rob Griffith

Reigning Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, in a qualifying session unusually held on race day Sunday.

Vettel qualified in a time of 1 minute, 27.407 seconds around the Albert Park circuit, and was joined in an all-Red Bull front row by teammate Mark Webber, who was four tenths of a second back.

Lewis Hamilton qualified third in his first race for Mercedes, ahead of the Ferrari pair Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.

The second and third sessions of qualifying were postponed to Sunday after a series of rain delays and the onset of darkness prevented them being held Saturday.

Sunday's sessions were also held on a track damp from morning rain. In the second session, intermediate tyres were used -- except for McLaren's Sergio Perez who took an unsuccessful gamble on slicks -- but the drying conditions meant the flying laps in final qualifying were all on the softer slick tyres.

Vettel claimed the 37th pole position of his career, and his third in four years at Albert Park.

"It definitely wasn't easy in those conditions," Vettel said. "On the dries (tyres) I got in the groove and the car felt in balance."

Under the F1 rules, the top ten drivers must start with the tyres they finished qualifying on, meaning early pitstops will be required as the supersoft slicks are unlikely to last more than a handful of laps.

"It could be a couple of laps or a couple of laps more," Vettel said.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg -- who topped the time sheets in the first and second qualifying sessions -- qualified in sixth, ahead of the Lotus pair Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, followed by Paul di Resta of Force India and McLaren's Jenson Button.

Qualifying on Sunday is unusual but not unprecedented, with the grids for both the 2004 and 2010 Japanese Grands Prix decided race day due to bad weather on the Saturday.

While fans were left disappointed by the postponement, teams and drivers were unanimous in their support to delay qualifying as the conditions on the bumpy street circuit were too dangerous, with standing water on the circuit and poor light conditions.

Both qualifying and the race start at 5 p.m. local time to suit European television audiences, and there are no lights on the temporary circuit.

There were a series of crashes in first qualifying Saturday, notably Hamilton and Massa, with heavy impacts for the Lotus pair of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde plus Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez.

 

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