Sebastian Vettel will start the Japanese Grand Prix
from the front of the grid after pipping Red Bull
Racing team-mate Mark Webber
to pole position in a gripping final qualifying session on Sunday morning at Suzuka.
Once established in top spot in the delayed session, the German kept Webber at bay, improving with every run on the softer Bridgestone tyre to secure his eighth pole of the season, while the Australian dug deep to return to the front row after being pushed back by McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. Although the Briton is scheduled to take a five-place penalty after having to change his McLaren's gearbox overnight, Webber wanted to be as close to his team-mate as possible, and ended the ten-minute shoot-out less than a tenth adrift.
Hamilton, who is battling an ear infection, finished the session in third, but will have to drop to the outside of row four, allowing Renault's Robert Kubica
to inherit an unexpected role as best of the rest behind Red Bull. The McLaren
man also ended the session as the subject of a stewards' enquiry into whether he blocked another driver following a protest from Williams' Nico Hulkenberg.
Kubica surprised the pack with a quick lap late on, pushing both Fernando Alonso
and Jenson Button
down the order as he reprised the form he showed in Friday's dry sessions.
Alonso was left to fend for himself after Ferrari
team-mate Felipe Massa
failed to make it through to the final session, but failed to get as close to the Red Bulls as many had expected following his back-to-back victories in Italy and Singapore. The Spaniard would have hoped to have been ahead of both McLarens and, although that will be the case with Hamilton's gearbox penalty, he would not have counted on Kubica getting between himself and the front row.
Button, meanwhile, was alone amongst the top ten in choosing the prime Bridgestone tyre for qualifying. The reigning world champion will thus start the race on the harder rubber, but could be well placed to move up the order when he switches to the option tyre in the second part of the race, when the circuit should have 'rubbered in' after starting the day 'green' following the downpour that washed out Saturday's proceedings.
Nico Rosberg will join Button on row three after the reshuffle, with Williams' Rubens Barrichello
also moving ahead of the hapless Hamilton to start seventh. Nico Hulkenberg, who waited a long time before venturing out and promptly jumped into sixth spot, could not sustain his performance and dropped back to ninth, albeit three-tenths ahead of compatriot Michael Schumacher, who made it successive top ten appearances after returning to the shoot-out in Singapore.
A scrappy second qualifying session cost Massa - and, potentially, both Alonso and Ferrari
- heavily, with the Brazilian failing to make the cut and securing only twelfth on the grid. Already under pressure to perform in support of team-mate Alonso's championship challenge, Massa suffered both mistakes and traffic on a three-lap run at the end of Q2, eventually missing the top ten by three-tenths, despite claiming a place back on his last attempt.
Massa will line up alongside Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, who briefly jumped into the top ten, and were joined amongst the ranks of spectators for the final phase of qualifying by Renault's Vitaly Petrov, local favourite Kamui Kobayashi, and the two Force Indias of Adrian Sutil
and Tonio Liuzzi, who sandwiched the remaining Toro Rosso
of Jaime Alguersuari
after another disappointing showing for the Silverstone team.
STR's Sebastien Buemi
was the first major casualty of the postponed qualifying session, joining the three newcomers teams in dropping out at the first hurdle.
The Swiss youngster has shown flashes of pace at Suzuka, but failed to improve on either of his last two flying laps in the 20-minute opening session and joined the pairings from Lotus, Virgin and HRT in the bottom seven as the F1 field reconvened for Sunday morning qualifying for the first time in six years. Buemi, who may have had cause to claim that he was hampered on his penultimate lap, ended the session a tenth shy of Toro Rosso
team-mate Alguersuari, but almost two seconds clear of Lotus' Jarno Trulli, who claimed the new team 'pole' in 19th position.