x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Vettel survives the chaos

Sebastian Vettel will start on pole for today's Japanese Grand Prix following a qualifying session which could yet have major repercussions for the world championship.

SUZUKA // Sebastian Vettel will start on pole for today's Japanese Grand Prix following a qualifying session which could yet have major repercussions for the world championship. The Red Bull-Renault driver avoided getting caught up in a string of accidents and the ensuing controversy, which saw Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello among a quintet of drivers dropped five places each on the grid.

Button and Barrichello were dragged before stewards for failing to slow down under yellow flags following driver Sebastien Buemi's second crash in the second part of qualifying. The ruling means championship leader Button will start in 11th place with Barrichello, 15 points behind in the title race, in ninth. Both were deducted four places due to drivers behind them also being penalised. Buemi was also handed a five-place penalty by officials after continuing around the track in his damaged Toro Rosso rather than pulling off the track while Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil suffered the same fate as the Brawn GP duo.

The stewards' rulings had no impact on Vettel, who topped all three qualifying sessions to maintain his slim chance of wresting the title from Button - he is 25 points behind and needs to score at least six more points today than Button if he is maintain his championship ambitions. "Every race is a chance to keep our title hopes alive," he said. "We came here to race and win and I'm in the best position to do that."

Qualifying had to be halted three times after a series of accidents, the most serious of which saw Timo Glock, who was airlifted to hospital with a gash in a leg and back pain after hitting the barriers head-on at the last corner. A decision on whether he can race will be taken shortly before the start today by Toyota. Buemi was one of three drivers to crash at the high-speed Degner Curve between turns eight and nine at the track.

Following his first accident, the Swiss driver, whose car was patched up by his Toro Rosso team following an earlier prang at Degner, again came off the track in the second qualifying session, this time at Spoon Curve, striking the barriers and littering the track with debris. Button and Barrichello, who at the time had not managed to register a time, both weaved past the wreckage to make it to the qualifying finale but tellingly did not lift off as both set times good enough to get in the top 10, which resulted in their punishment.

Barrichello admitted the decision would make his bid to eat into Button's world championship difficult. "It's not ideal but what can you do?" said the Brazilian as he left the circuit. Both will face a tall order to score good points as they will be starting behind heavier fuelled cars on the grid, and with overtaking difficult at Suzuka moving up the order will be tough. Button said: "Trying to sort out a strategy from here where we have low fuel and the cars in front have 25 kg more fuel than us, which is a lot of laps - 10 laps - makes tomorrow's race very difficult.

"We have to try and pick up some points, and even if it is one or two points those points could be very, very important." Buemi was the first driver on the track in the session and also the first off it, crashing on his out lap, but the first red flag did not appear until teammate Jaime Alguersuari careered into the barriers early in the second part of qualifying. The session was halted as the Spaniard was extricated by medical staff but he was given the all clear and will race today.

The action resumed five minutes later but was once more brought to a halt following Glock's accident. There was one final red flag in the final part of qualifying when McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen spun between turns eight and nine. Teammate Lewis Hamilton qualified an impressive third behind Jarno Trulli's Toyota. The world champion is optimistic he can lead at the start today, using the speed boost of his Kers (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) button.

He said: "Considering there is a long, long run down to turn one and our Kers is working better than ever, so fingers crossed it will put us in a good position." Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber was moved up to seventh on the grid following the penalties for Sutil and the Brawn pair, with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari fifth ahead of Nico Rosberg's Williams-Toyota. Mark Webber starts last in his Red Bull after a crash in practice left him unable to compete in qualifying.

@Email:mmajendie@thenational.ae Bahrain TV, 9am For live updates from today's Japanese Grand Prix go to www.thenational.ae/f1