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Vettel On Verge Of No. 4

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 26 2013

Sebastian Vettel could clinch his fourth F1 championship this weekend.

Red Bull Racing/Renault’s Sebastian Vettel moved one step closer to his fourth consecutive Formula One World Driving Championship when he qualified on-pole Saturday for the Airtel Indian Grand Prix.

Vettel claimed his seventh pole in 16 races and 43rd of his career by touring India’s Buddh International Circuit in 1-minute, 24.119-seconds – fastest lap recorded at the track in Greater Noida, where Vettel now has qualified P1 for all three Formula One events.

Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg (1:24.871) and former world champion Lewis Hamilton (1:24.941) rounded out the podium in second and third, respectively. The top three drivers all elected to qualify and start the race on Pirelli’s soft compound tires rather than the medium compound rubber.

Boosted by a career-best five-race winning streak, Vettel has forged a 90-point lead over two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Scuderia Ferrari. The outspoken Spaniard will try to extend the championship to the second annual United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, Nov. 15-17. But a finish of fifth or better will crown Vettel as the fourth driver in F1 history to win four world championships and only the third to claim four in a row – a group that features Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina and Michael Schumacher of Germany.

Vettel is an overwhelming favorite to continue an amazing streak that has seen him lead every lap en route to winning both previous Indian Grand Prixs.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” said Vettel, referring to the title-clinching scenario. “Obviously, it’s difficult when every second person in the paddock asks you the same question. But I think we’ve done pretty well in the past, focusing on every single step and I don’t see a reason why to change things for tomorrow or the next couple of races. So, yeah, we’re in a good position. I think we worked hard to be there and tomorrow is a long race with strategy I think it will be tricky to always do the right thing. But there’s a lot of laps so I think we have a quick package and should be in good shape.”

Vettel said he would stick to his normal night-before-the-race routine, even with the championship looming. “There’s no secret, no secret preparation,” Vettel said. “I don’t think I did anything special the last three times, not that I can remember. And I wasn’t really looking forward to the race, saying that ‘Yeah, tomorrow is the day, could be the day.’ I was basically trying to focus on the race and in a way, trying to ignore the fact that it could be the decisive race.

“At the end of the day, you also have so many races a year that on the last race of the season, if you do your best and it’s enough then it’s fine. If you do your best and it’s not enough, then it’s not the last race that’s to blame.”

Vettel could offer no real insight into his domination on India’s 3.192-mile/16-turn layout. “I really like this circuit, especially the middle sector,” Vettel said.”I think it’s very challenging with all the fast, or high-speed corners. It really depends, obviously, if the car does what you want. I think that’s what all of us enjoy and in particular you get to enjoy that around these couple of corners. So, yeah, the car’s been strong since Friday morning. We didn’t have to adjust that much. Of course you always trim a little bit _ in the right direction, hopefully.

“But we’ve been very strong on both compounds, so a good result. And also a good result for the team with Mark (Webber) sitting in fourth, right behind those two (Mercedes) guys. Obviously, Mark is on a different strategy, so we’ll see what the race brings.”

RBR’s Webber will start fourth (1:25.047) on Pirelli’s medium compound tires. “What turns out to be the right strategy, we’ll find out,” Vettel said. “But I’m sure the race is long and you will have plenty of time to make up. In the end I think the strategies shouldn’t determine the result that much. We’ve got very good pace, the car, as I said, behaves well around here, so we’ll see what we can do.”

Rosberg said he was “completely on knife’s edge” during qualifying in a bid to gain another 10th-of-second on the Red Bull teammates and their opposite tire strategies.

“Qualifying in second is better than I hoped for,” Rosberg said, “because of Mark being on another strategy, so for the moment it’s looking OK. The race is still going to be tough because it’s very different circumstances here with the option tire really struggling at the beginning of the race tomorrow and then prime will be OK. But also the balance of the car is all very different. So, we’ll see.”

Hamilton said Red Bull continues to make it difficult on a field fighting to rate as “best of the rest.”

“Congratulations to Sebastian,” Hamilton said. “It’s obvious that that’s some serious pace that they have, especially with Webber on the primes just behind us. But we’ve been pushing, as Nico said, as hard as we can. We really want to get a great result this weekend. Strategy is going to play a huge part but I was a little bit surprised to be where we are. But generally, bit-by-bit, adjusting the setup and everything, we got a reasonable balance. We’ll try and push these guys as hard as we can in the race obviously. They’re in another world but we’ll try to stay ahead of the rest.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa (1:25.201) will start fifth followed by Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus/Renault (1:25.248), Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber/Renault (1:25.334), Ferrari’s Alonso (1:25.826 on medium compound Pirellis), and McLaren/Mercedes teammates Sergio Perez (1:26.153) and former world champion Jenson Button (1:26.487).

Vettel scored his fifth consecutive victory at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan on Oct. 13. The last time a driver recorded five or more wins in a row was in 2004, when Schumacher _ Vettel’s German countryman and boyhood hero _ won the season’s first five races for Ferrari.

Red Bull Racing leads Ferrari by 148 points (445-297) in a Constructors’ championship that also could be determined Sunday during a 60-lap event that NBC Sports Network will air live at 5 a.m. (EDT).

FIA Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix qualifying results with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine, and time/differential:

1. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1-minute, 24.119-seconds

2. (9) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes, 1:24.871, plus 0.752-seconds

3. (10) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Mercedes, 1:24.941, plus 0.822-seconds

4. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:25.047, plus 0.928-seconds

5. (4) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia/Ferrari, 1:25.201, plus 1.082-seconds

6. (7) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, 1:25.248, plus 1.129-seconds

7. (11) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:25.334, plus 1.215-seconds

8. (3) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, 1:25.826, plus 1.707-seconds

9. (6) Sergio Perez, Mexico, McLaren/Mercedes, 1:26.153, plus 2.034-seconds

10. (5) Jenson Button, Great Britain, McLaren/Mercedes, 1:26.487, plus 2.368-seconds

Q2 cut-off time: 1-minute, 25.458-seconds/Gap **

11. (19) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:25.519, plus 0.951-seconds

12. (14) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, 1:25.711, plus 1.143-seconds

13. (15) Adrian Sutil, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, 1:25.740, plus 1.172-seconds

14. (18) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:25.798, plus 1.230-seconds

15. (17) Valtteri Bottas, Finland, Williams/Renault, 1:26.134, plus 1.566-seconds

16. (12) Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:26.336, plus 1.768-seconds

Q1 cut-off time: 1-minute, 26.178-seconds/Gap *

17. (8) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, 1:26.577, plus 1.003-seconds

18. (16) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, 1:26.842, plus 1.268-seconds

19. (22) Jules Bianchi, France, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:26.970, plus 1.396-seconds

20. (21) Giedo van der Garde, The Netherlands, Catherham/Renault, 1:27.105, plus 1.531-seconds

21. (20) Charles Pic, France, Caterham/Renault, 1:27.487, plus 1.913-seconds

22. (23) Max Chilton, Great Britain, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:28.138, plus 2.564-seconds

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 26 2013
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