Sebastian Vettel qualified on the front row today, doing what he did at Monza in 2 years when he announced himself to the Formula 1 world. Tomorrow he'll line up along with fellow German Nico Hulkenberg who soared to a sensational pole position. I've been impressed with the rookie this year and i think he's been solid. Whereas fellow rookies Kobayashi and Petrov have had more spectacular moments, Hulkenberg has been quietly improving. However in the final 5 minutes of a wet qualifying, the track had developed a dry line and the top 10 all headed to the pits for slick tyres. The leaderboard was rapidly changing but the Williams driver kept lighting up the timing screen with purple sectors and would end up smashing the opposition by over a second.
So how did Hulkenberg manage to upstage everyone, including the championship contenders? My honest answer is i'm not really sure! His race engineer says he was on a dry setup and i can't imagine that the others would have compromised too much with the forecasts pointing to little chance of showers affecting things tomorrow. The Williams is a decent car but to be so far ahead of a car like the Red Bull was a massive surprise. Looking at the speed trap figures it seems the Williams and Red Bull are neck and neck on medium speed acceleration but the Red Bull cars have a greater end of straight speed. Vettel has stood out to me in recent races with this because he usually goes for a bit more downforce for a mighty car in the corners but then suffers with a low speed in the speed traps which makes it difficult to overtake. Yet he seems to be learning to compromise better, he was well up the speed charts in Korea which helped him lose less time in sector 1 whilst still be quick enough through the twistier sections of the track. From what i've can see, its a slight change of approach from the German and perhaps the benefit of experience shining through.
Fernando Alonso could be world champion in 24 hours but it'll be a struggle to seal it from 5th on the grid. I feel he will have a stronger package than Lewis Hamilton so could jump him but will not be able to beat the Red Bull's on raw pace. Up front though, Hulkenberg could well back up the pack so if anyone, like Vettel, can get past him off the line then they could well scamper off into the distance. The soft tyre should last for at least 20 laps though Friday seen graining on the rears so the first 10 laps could be quite interesting as the top 10 manage that. Jenson Button qualified in 11th and now looks out of the title hunt. Felipe Massa is down in 9th and unlikely to play a spoiling role in aid of Alonso. If the contenders finish where they are, the championship would go to Abu Dhabi looking like this:
It would also mean that Red Bull would be constructor champions so McLaren will be hoping Button can move through the field and prolong the battle to Yas Marina next week. However the reigning champion finds himself in between Petrov and Kobayashi, two men who will not hold back on the opening lap. Watch out for the Sauber driver, who has a free tyre choice and could emerge as a points scorer as the race unfolds.
So will any of the championships be decided tomorrow? Can Nico Hulkenberg score a maiden podium or even a sensational victory? Will Jenson Button and others fall out of the running for the title? Make sure you catch the race, race start is 2pm Brazilian time (4pm UK time)