Friday’s practice sessions, when Hamilton narrowly pipped Vettel to top the timesheets, had raised the prospect of a close fight for pole between Mercedes and Red Bull, but that highly-anticipated battle failed to materialise as Red Bull seemed to have found some pace overnight to open up the margin to their rivals, albeit not to the same extent as in the last race in Singapore.
Vettel set a time of one minute 37.202, two-tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton, who in turn qualified four-hundredths of a second ahead of Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber. Webber, however, will drop to 13th due to a ten-place grid penalty awarded to the Australian following the Singapore Grand Prix, elevating the Lotus of Romain Grosjean to third.
“I had a very, very good lap in Q3, my first attempt. I knew it would be tricky to beat that time – for myself,” Vettel, who did just the one flying lap in the final part of qualifying, said after claiming this sixth pole of the year and third in a row.
Practice and qualifying show that the Red Bulls are particularly quick in the first sector, made up of long straights which then lead into tight corners, and getting past Vettel right away at the start could prove vital to Hamilton’s victory hopes.
“Just from past experience, it’s very difficult to overtake here so I anticipate it’s… I’m going to need to try,” Hamilton said when asked if getting past his rival at the start was crucial for him to have a shot at the win.
Behind the top three and accounting for Webber’s penalty, Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes will start fourth, ahead of the two Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.