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Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel has taken his fourth consecutive pole position at Suzuka, having also clinched pole with Pirelli tyres last year. Vettel set a benchmark of 1m30.839s on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre, which has been nominated together with the P Zero Silver hard tyre for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Conditions were once more dry and warm for qualifying at Suzuka, with the frontrunners starting the first session on the hard tyre. However, as the times fell, many of the leading drivers were forced to move onto the softer compound: of which they have three sets as usual for both qualifying and the race. Lotus driver Romain Grosjean went quickest in Q1 on the softs, having displaced Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi who also topped the time sheets earlier on the soft tyres, much to the delight of the local crowd. Vettel was the top driver to get through using the hard tyres, placed sixth. Only the Red Bulls, both McLarens and Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher used just the hard tyres to get through qualifying one.
The 17 drivers who went through to Q2 all started on the soft tyre, with Vettel again setting fastest time halfway through the session after just one run, followed by McLaren's Jenson Button (who has a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change) and Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen.
Six drivers headed out straight away in the final 10-minute shoot-out, with Vettel immediately setting a time that was only four-tenths of a second off his pole from last year, despite aerodynamic rule changes for 2012 theoretically slowing most cars down by approximately one to two seconds per lap. His team mate Mark Webber made it a Red Bull one-two with a time that was 0.251s slower, while Button was third (but will start eighth).
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and the two Saubers carried out just one run on the soft tyres at the end of the final session, but with yellow flags out in the closing seconds, they were not able to set a representative time. Hulkenberg did not complete the lap and will be able to start with whatever compound he prefers tomorrow.
Vettel was also fastest in the hour-long final free practice session this morning, setting a time of 1m32.136s after switching from the hard to the soft tyres in the final five minutes. He beat Webber by two-tenths of a second, setting his best time on his second lap with a set of soft tyres.
Paul Hembery: "The pace was so strong and evenly-matched during qualifying that more teams than usual went onto the soft tyres during the first session. The drivers who saved a set of the soft tyres are hoping to gain an advantage in the race, where two stops is likely to be the most widely favoured option. Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull whose pace has been quick all weekend on this very demanding circuit, which puts the highest energy loads of the year through our tyres. Congratulations also to Sauber for placing two cars in the top five: particularly to Kamui Kobayashi who will start his home race from third on the grid. Unfortunately we had the yellow flag at the end: otherwise we think we would have had a very close finish to qualifying, but already we have seen an intriguing mix of strategies that is sure to lead to a very fast and tactical race tomorrow."
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