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Confident Vettel takes pole in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel on his way to taking pole position in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel on his way to taking pole position in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel was so confident after his first run in the final part of today’s qualfiying session, he decided not to go back out on fresh tyres and instead watched from the garage as the other drivers attempted unsuccessfully to beat his early lap time.

It almost went horribly wrong for Vettel. In the dying moments of the Q3 session Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean all delivered strong lap times that secured each of them a top four grid slot, but they didn’t quite have the pace to knock Vettel off the top spot. As a result, Vettel will start this weekend’s race from pole position, his fifth pole of the season and the 41st of his career.

The top five drivers are not much of a surprise, although behind Vettel the order would have been quite difficult to predict. Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton have been in the top few places in each practice session this weekend. Grosjean struggled on Friday but showed his pace when he was second fastest in final practice. The big surprise of qualifying came from Kimi Raikkonen, who failed to make Q3 and will start Sunday’s race from 13th on the grid.

Raikkonen’s woes started on Friday, when he hurt his back on the bumpy street circuit. In Saturday’s FP3 session, his running was limited by his back pain, which hurt his qualifying preparation. After having an injection for the pain, he was in the car for qualifying, but struggled to maximise the car’s potential. For Sunday’s race, he will be in the car, but it remains to be seen how well he will do at a very physical track while in a state of discomfort.

Fernando Alonso was outqualified by Felipe Massa for the fifth time this season and the second race in succession. Massa will start sixth, just behind Lewis Hamilton, with Alonso following in seventh place. The battle of the Ferrari drivers could prove entertaining tomorrow, as Massa has stated publicly that he no longer intends to help Alonso now that he is out of a drive at Ferrari at the end of this season. Only once this year has Massa finished ahead of Alonso in a race, and that was in Malaysia where Alonso crashed out.

This qualifying session marked the first time Esteban Gutierrez has featured in Q3 in his F1 career. He opted not to run in Q3 in order to save tyres and have a choice of tyres on which to start the race, but nonetheless qualified 10th, improving on his previous best of 14th. Gutierrez has yet to score points in Formula One, and will be keen to break that duck in tomorrow’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Full results from qualifying:

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:45.376 1:42.905 1:42.841
2 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.208 1:43.892 1:42.932
3 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:45.851 1:43.957 1:43.058
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:45.271 1:43.727 1:43.152
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.196 1:43.920 1:43.254
6 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:45.658 1:44.376 1:43.890
7 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.115 1:44.153 1:43.938
8 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.009 1:44.497 1:44.282
9 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:45.379 1:44.407 1:44.439
10 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:45.483 1:44.245
11 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:45.381 1:44.555
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:45.657 1:44.588
13 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:45.522 1:44.658
14 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:45.164 1:44.752
15 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:45.960 1:45.185
16 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:45.982 1:45.388
17 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.121
18 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:46.619
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:48.111
20 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:48.320
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:48.830
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:48.930
Q1 107% Time 1:51.489
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Grosjean challenges Vettel in Singapore FP3

Romain Grosjean finished FP3 in second place (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Romain Grosjean finished FP3 in second place (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Sebastian Vettel seems determined to clinch his fourth Drivers’ Championship at the earliest possible opportunity in the 2013 season. He’s won the last two races to take his victory tally to six this season, and he’s setting the pace in Singapore ahead of Saturday’s qualfiying session.

The only driver who’s managed to come anywhere close to Vettel on the supersoft tyres this weekend is Lotus’s Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman finished FP3 just 0.191 seconds slower than Vettel, an impressive performance in a Lotus that looked off the pace on Friday.

For Mercedes and Ferrari, things are not going quite so well. Nico Rosberg put his Silver Arrow third in the final practice session, but he was over half a second off the pace, which is a long way to catch up if he is to challenge for pole position.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who desperately needs a win this weekend to keep Vettel in his sights in the title race, was sixth fastest, a full second off the pace of Vettel. It’s possible that Ferrari were hiding their pace in order to lull Red Bull into complacency, but even so a second is a lot of pace to hide.

The only drama of the session was provided by Paul Di Resta, who spun under braking for turn 5. He managed to keep his Force India out of the barriers and carried on, but will have done his tyres no favours in the process. He finished the session all the way down in 16th place.

Full results from FP3:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.173 15
2 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:44.364 0.191 16
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:44.741 0.568 18
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.906 0.733 14
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.921 0.748 14
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.257 1.084 13
7 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:45.500 1.327 12
8 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:45.876 1.703 19
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.890 1.717 13
10 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:45.935 1.762 13
11 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:46.084 1.911 15
12 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:46.147 1.974 13
13 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:46.338 2.165 17
14 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:46.358 2.185 16
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:46.660 2.487 17
16 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.879 2.706 16
17 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:46.893 2.720 13
18 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:47.249 3.076 19
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:48.931 4.758 17
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:49.037 4.864 18
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.182 5.009 21
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:49.982 5.809 20

Massa chasing a seat at Lotus

Felipe Massa is chasing after Kimi Raikkonen's seat at Lotus (Image: Charles Coates/Lotus F1)

Felipe Massa is chasing after Kimi Raikkonen‘s seat at Lotus (Image: Charles Coates/Lotus F1)

Since Felipe Massa’s announcement last week that he will be leaving Ferrari at the end of 2013, speculation has grown over his future in Formula  One. While he is certainly being soundly beaten by his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, he remains a quick and experienced driver, which makes him an attractive option for any team going forward.

Of the top teams, only McLaren and Lotus have yet to finalise their 2014 driver line-ups. At McLaren, Jenson Button‘s future is not yet contractually secure, but he is not expected to be going anywhere at the end of 2013. Button has expressed his wish to stay with McLaren repeatedly over the last three seasons, and McLaren have had only good things to say about Button, which suggests the relationship is likely to continue.

At Lotus, however, there is at least one seat available now that Kimi Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari. There are rumours that Nico Hulkenberg could be set to take Raikkonen’s place alongside Romain Grosjean next season, but as yet nothing is confirmed. Grosjean himself does not yet have a contract for 2014, which could result in an entirely new driver line-up at Lotus next year.

In the week since Massa announced his Ferrari exit, he has confirmed that he and his manager have made contact with Lotus and McLaren, among other teams, but that it is with Lotus that the talks are positive.

Mass told Globo Esporte, “We are negotiating,.. In my opinion, Lotus has a competitive car, which is what I want.

“We are having many conversations to try to find a way, not only for me but for Lotus, to continue with a good car.”

Last week, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier confirmed that he is considering Massa for next season, saying to RMC Sport: “Felipe Massa is also available, so he is inevitably on the list.

“We are the only team left with a good seat available, and so inevitably this will affect many people.”

An announcement from Lotus regarding their 2014 driver line-up is expected soon.

Who will drive for Lotus in 2014?

Lotus have yet to announce their 2014 driver line-up (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus GP)

Lotus have yet to announce their 2014 driver line-up (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus GP)

Of the five top teams in Formula One – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Lotus – only Lotus have said nothing about their 2014 driver line-ups. McLaren haven’t confirmed Jenson Button yet for next season, but that is a mere formality now that Kimi Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari.

Raikkonen’s departure from Lotus at the end of this season presents a problem for the team from Enstone. They still have Romain Grosjean, who is doing a reasonable job this season, but he is relatively inexperienced. Lotus will want to have a driver who they believe can challenge for the World Championship, and Grosjean (who has yet to win a race) is not at that level at this early stage in his career.

So Lotus are looking for at least one driver for 2014, and they would ideally like to select their team leader from within the ranks of current F1 drivers. They therefore have a few options. Most prominently, now that he’s out of a drive at Ferrari, Felipe Massa is on the market. Massa has won 11 races and narrowly missed out on the Drivers’ Championship in 2008. The experience of fighting for the title could make Massa an attractive option for Lotus, although he has not shown that level of performance in the five subsequent seasons.

Another strong candidate is Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has long been rumoured to be on Ferrari’s radar, but missed out on a 2014 Ferrari drive to Kimi Raikkonen. Hulkenberg came into Formula One with Williams in 2010 after winning the 2009 GP2 series comfortably and impressed in his debut F1 season, taking pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix. But he was not retained in 2011 by Williams, who preferred to take advantage of the sponsorship that came with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.

After spending 2011 as Force India’s test and reserve driver, Hulkenberg landed a race drive at Force India for 2012, but then jumped ship to Sauber in 2013. He has not yet had a chance to show what he can do in a properly competitive car, but has consistently delivered strong performances in each of his three F1 seasons. He is considered a champion of the future and is expected to drive for Ferrari at some point in his career.

Hulkenberg would provide not only talent and a bit of experience to Lotus, but he would also probably be cheaper than a driver of Massa’s success, as he has not yet won a race or even stood on the podium. Lotus could therefore spend more money on developing their car and take advantage of Hulkenberg’s talents at the same time.

Other drivers who have yet to make decisions about 2014 are Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta. Sutil has 102 Grands Prix under his belt, and is well regarded in Formula One. He has only ever driven for Force India (in 2007, he drove for Spyker, which became Force India the following season) and has a good relationship with the team, which suggests that he is likely to extend his Force India contract past the end of 2013.

Di Resta has said right from the beginning of 2013 that he is looking to move to a more competitive team. He looked quick in the early part of this season, before Force India started to struggle when Pirelli revised their 2013 tyres, and recorded an impressive fourth-place finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Heikki Kovalainen, who has won a race for McLaren and is currently assisting Caterham with the development of their car, is probably the most sought-after driver to not have a current F1 race seat, and it seems highly unlikely that he will remain on the sidelines again in 2014. If Lotus were to offer Kovalainen a drive for 2014, he would surely grab it with both hands.

Lotus has two test drivers. Jerome D’Ambrosio raced in Formula One for Virgin (now Marussia) in 2011 and made one appearance for Lotus in 2012, standing in for the banned Romain Grosjean at the Italian Grand Prix, where D’Ambrosio finished 13th. Davide Valsecchi, the other Lotus test driver, is the current GP2 series champion, but has yet to make his Formula One debut. It seems unlikely that either D’Ambrosio or Valsecchi will take the step up to a Lotus race seat in 2014. It is more likely that Lotus will seek a more experienced driver currently on the grid.

However, for the second Lotus seat anything is possible. Romain Grosjean has not been confirmed for 2014, which means his seat is potentially up for grabs. If Lotus decide to replace Grosjean, they could well look to a less experienced driver as a development plan for future seasons. Whatever decision is made, it is likely to be confirmed before the end of the season, as next year’s major regulation changes make it necessary for teams to start 2014 preparations as early as possible, and that includes integrating new drivers into their organisations.

Grosjean’s Hungarian GP ruined by the stewards

Romain Grosjean in action for Lotus at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Romain Grosjean in action for Lotus at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Romain Grosjean’s Hungarian Grand Prix was effectively ruined by a drive-through penalty for “exceeding track limits” when he passed Felipe Massa around the outside of turn 4. It was a superb move, displaying the level of skill worthy of a top F1 driver. But the stewards deemed it illegal and Grosjean had to drive through the pits at 80km/h as a result.

Grosjean got a good run on Massa on the outside leading up to turn 4, held his nerve to attack round the outside, made the pass and ran a couple of centimetres off the track on the exit of the corner. The pass was done by that point. He certainly did not need to run off the track to make the move stick. If anything, he needed to give Massa a little bit of space, as the Ferrari was always going to drift towards him.

The rules are that the white lines mark the limits of the track and the drivers are required to keep at least one wheel within those lines at all times. So from that perspective, Grosjean could be penalised. But then the stewards should have been looking at all of the other instances of drivers running wide at a number of corners on the race track. It wasn’t just Grosjean. It was all of the drivers.

The penalty showed a total lack of consistency from the stewards. It was unnecessary and unjustified and cost him a potential podium finish. Such a shame, as he was having a brilliant race.

Of course, Grosjean was involved in another incident, when he drove into Jenson Button, where a penalty was absolutely justified. The stewards decided that one had to be investigated after the race, and when they got around to it they added 20 seconds to his race time. He was more than 20 seconds ahead of Jenson Button at the end of the race, and therefore the penalty had no effect whatsoever.

Here’s a video analysing the two incidents (Apologies for the poor sound):

Hungarian Grand Prix – Qualifying Results

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 10 Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.363 1:19.862 1:19.388 15
2 1 Vettel Red Bull 1:20.646 1:19.992 1:19.426 12
3 8 Grosjean Lotus 1:20.447 1:20.101 1:19.595 15
4 9 Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.350 1:19.778 1:19.720 16
5 3 Alonso Ferrari 1:20.652 1:20.183 1:19.791 15
6 7 Raikkonen Lotus 1:20.867 1:20.243 1:19.851 17
7 4 Massa Ferrari 1:21.004 1:20.460 1:19.929 15
8 19 Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:21.181 1:20.527 1:20.641 14
9 6 Perez McLaren 1:21.612 1:20.545 1:22.398 16
10 2 Webber Red Bull 1:21.264 1:20.503 No time 13
11 15 Sutil Force India 1:21.471 1:20.569 17
12 11 Hulkenberg Sauber 1:21.028 1:20.580 13
13 5 Button McLaren 1:21.131 1:20.777 10
14 18 Vergne Toro Rosso 1:21.345 1:21.029 12
15 16 Maldonado Williams 1:20.816 1:21.133 15
16 17 Bottas Williams 1:21.135 1:21.219 13
17 12 Gutierrez Sauber 1:21.724 11
18 14 Di Resta Force India 1:22.043 11
19 20 Pic Caterham 1:23.007 8
20 21 Van der Garde Caterham 1:23.333 7
21 22 Bianchi Marussia 1:23.787 8
22 23 Chilton Marussia 1:23.997 8
Q1 107% Time 1:25.974

Pole position battle brews in Hungary

Romain Grosjean will be aiming for his first F1 pole position in Hungary (Charles Coates/Lotus F1 Team)

Romain Grosjean will be aiming for his first F1 pole position in Hungary (Charles Coates/Lotus F1 Team)

With just over an hour to go to qualifying at the Hungaroring, there is no clear favourite for pole position. That’s quite unusual for 2013, a season in which all of the 9 pole positions so far have been taken by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton (evenly shared with 3 each).

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber set the pace on Friday for Red Bull, but did not feature at the front in FP3 this morning. That in itself is not an indication of a lack of pace – they could simply have been running more fuel than their rivals – but it does raise the question: have they sacrificed qualifying pace in favour of race pace, perhaps assuming qualifying supremacy beyond what is realistic?

In FP3, Romain Grosjean topped the times with the fastest lap of the weekend so far, 1:20.730, half a second quicker than Vettel went yesterday. Grosjean is looking perhaps a little bit quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, at least on short runs. Raikkonen’s strength this season has been his race pace, which is quite difficult to gauge in practice. Lotus are, nonetheless, in the hunt for pole position. Grosjean has never had a pole position in F1, and Raikkonen has yet to top qualifying since he returned to the sport at the start of 2012. Can they break those two ducks today?

Ferrari are also looking quick. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have both been within a few tenths of the front-runners throughout the weekend. Massa did not appear to get the maximum out of his Ferrari in FP3, but Alonso was on top of his car as ever. He set the second fastest time in FP3, just 0.168 seconds behind Grosjean, and will be looking to carry that speed into this afternoon’s qualifying session.

The big question mark for qualifying is over Mercedes. Both drivers struggled in Friday practice, but Lewis Hamilton seemed to have rediscovered his confidence this morning after some overnight setup changes. He set the quickest time in FP3 on medium tyres, but could not hold onto the top spot when the soft tyres went on. Could Mercedes have been hiding more pace in Hamilton’s car? He went just 8 tenths quicker on the soft tyres, while those around him improved by over a second in many cases. It could be that Mercedes know they have found some speed in Hamilton’s car, but they are choosing to hide it until it counts in this afternoon’s qualifying session.

A pole-sitter from any team other than Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes would be a massive surprise. The top four teams are sufficiently far ahead of the rest to be quite sure of front-row dominance. But it is close at the front. Any one of the 8 drivers from the top four teams could be on pole in Hungary.

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