Less than a tenth of a second prevented Daniel Ricciardo from making it into the final top ten shoot-out in today’s qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix. After a very difficult Friday, the engineers worked long into the night to try and find ways of improving the handling of the STR8, after the drivers had really struggled to find the right balance or performance level.
The work paid off, as Daniel and Jev both reported a marked improvement in this morning’s final hour of free practice. However, with everyone down the pit lane making varying degrees of progress, we had to settle for thirteenth and sixteenth times with the Australian and the Frenchman respectively. Actually, when it comes to lining up on the grid, Daniel will start from twelfth, as his fellow countryman Mark Webber, who was third fastest this afternoon, must take a ten place grid penalty, handed out to him in Singapore.
As the two drivers and our technical director all commented after the session, in a sport where optimism is a given, the fact our afternoon ended early means we have a fresh set of Options for both cars. Given that tyre wear is quite heavy here on the Supersoft tyres, being able to run all stints starting with fresh rubber could be a little ace in the hand of cards. In theory it would allow our two drivers to go a bit longer in terms of their stint length and that’s the classic way of getting the jump on the car ahead. However, there’s a cloud, a real one rather than a metaphorical one, hanging over that optimism as heavy rain is still forecast for part of tomorrow. If that turns out to be true, then all bets are off. You only have to think back to the 2010 inaugural Korean Grand Prix that was so wet, it eventually started late, behind the Safety Car.
That man Sebastian Vettel did it again, taking pole to ensure he has the best view of the lights, or the only clear vision through the rain tomorrow. The Red Bull man was a couple of tenths faster than Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. Webber’s penalty means that the second row now features Romain Grosjean in third for Lotus, with Nico Rosberg alongside him in the second Mercedes. Row 3 now becomes an all-Ferrari affair, with Fernando Alonso in fifth ahead of Felipe Massa. Unfortunately for us, the Sauber team, behind us in the Constructors’ classification by 12 points, had a surprisingly good day, with Hulkenberg and Gutierrez lining up seventh and eighth.