Now we really are at the business end of the season. This weekend, F1 is in Suzuka. Inclusive, there are 4 races left, or 3 if Korea isn’t ready (a real possibility). After Korea (which is meant to be next) we have the fantastic Interlagos in Brazil, and then the glitzy but dull Abu Dhabi.
Even at this late stage, all five contenders have a real chance. The McLarens desperately need big points to stay in the hunt, and Hamilton could do with not recording yet another DNF. Alonso’s got the momentum, and the smug bugger has named himself favourite [something Webber has refused to do].
I’m writing this not just pre-qualifying but pre-P3, which occurs at 3am. So, this is a predictive article rather than a tipping one [I won’t be betting myself].
P1 saw Vettel, Webber, Kubica followed by Sutil, Hamilton, Barrichello, Hulkenberg, Schumacher, Heidfeld and Rosberg. Vettel was less than one-tenth up on Webber, who was a full half-second ahead of Kubica.
P2 saw Vettel lead a Red Bull 1-2, with Kubica third, then Alonso, Massa, Button, Petrov, Schumacher, Sutil and Hulkenberg. Vettel was four-tenths up on his best friend Webber, who was three-tenths faster than Kubica.
P3 is the session that counts, but at this stage it looks like a Red Bull front row. Given the closeness of P2, a Webber pole is entirely possible, though a Vettel one is more likely. Be fascinating to see if Kubica can snag a third or fourth. He’s a great driver and has really punched above his weight during the season. With a good car under him he could be a champion.
Interesting to see Schumacher both beating Rosberg and being in the top 10 in both sessions so far. If he replicated that in qualifying it would be a nice morale booster.
Alonso and Massa were 13th and 11th in P1, but I think their 4th and 5th in P2 is likely to be more representative of their pace. McLaren may struggle to beat the prancing horse or Red Bulls, and if they do their challenge could be all but over. Still, races are bloody unpredictable (cf Turkey).
So, here’s my prediction for qualifying: Vettel to get pole, joined by his team mate on the front row. Then Alonso and Kubica and on row three Massa and Hamilton. A Webber pole would not be a shock at all, but is less likely, I feel, than a Vettel one (that said, Vettel has been off the boil recently).
Qualifying starts tomorrow at 6am.