SUZUKA // On the eve of his inevitable coronation as Formula One's youngest double world champion, Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for the 12th time in 15 qualifying sessions ahead of today's Japanese Grand Prix. Yet the real race against the clock had taken place earlier in the day.
When, during Friday morning's practice session, the 2010 world champion smashed his Red Bull Racing RB7 into a barrier, his team began a frantic effort to get a replacement front wing dispatched to the Suzuka Circuit from the factory more than 9,500km away in Milton Keynes, England. It arrived yesterday morning and was still being assembled 20 minutes before the start of qualifying.
“It was the epitome of team work,” said Christian Horner, Vettel's team principal at Red Bull. “We were short of a component on Friday, which is why Sebastian looked a little bit distressed with himself [after his shunt]. The one bit of the car he didn't want to damage was the front wing.
“But the guys back at base made a Herculean effort to bring forward the production of another component, get it onto a flight and get it to the circuit only half an hour before qualifying itself. It was phenomenal.”
The wing was transported from London via commercial plane to Nagoya, 50km northeast of Suzuka, before then being couriered to the track on a helicopter. It proved a stroke of success as Vettel, who had trailed Jenson Button's McLaren-Mercedes in all three practice outings, pipped the Englishman to pole by 9,000ths of a second on his final flying lap of the session.
“It was a great qualifying for us, no doubt” said Vettel, who needs one point from today's race to be crowned champion. In claiming pole he also maintained Red Bull's 100 per cent record of starting every race this season on pole. “We were struggling a bit [on Friday] to set-up the car. I did a mistake, which did not help; lost the front wing. But the team did everything to bring it back and just in time it arrived and we got it for qualifying. This is my best way to thank them.”
Button said he was disappointed to miss out on his first pole of the season after dominating free practice, but added he “never [goes] into it thinking it's a done deal”. The Englishman's teammate, Lewis Hamilton, also had aspirations for pole, but failed to pass the checkered flag in time to be allowed to post a final flying lap. He will instead start in third place.
Kamui Kobayashi, the only Japanese driver from the field of 24, will start his home grand prix in seventh place – his best grid position of the season.