SUZUKA, Japan, October 6 – Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel escaped with a reprimand Saturday after a stewards’ inquiry for blocking championship leader Fernando Alonso during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel’s pole position was in doubt after he was summoned by the stewards for impeding Alonso during the final moments of qualifying, when the Spaniard was arriving at the chicane.
After talking to both drivers and analysing video of the incident, officials decided to reprimand Vettel but they did not penalise him any grid places.
Alonso will start Sunday’s race in sixth place. Vettel is his nearest competitor in the overall championship and is currently 29 points adrift.
Vettel led Red Bull’s first front-row lock-out of the year as he seized pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in a curtailed qualifying session on Saturday.
Vettel’s time of 1min 30.839sec was 0.251sec better than his team-mate Mark Webber, with McLaren’s Jenson Button third — although the Briton will start in eighth after being slapped with a five-place penalty for a gearbox change.
Button’s punishment promotes Kamui Kobayashi to third on the grid after the Japanese driver put in a stunning late lap on his home circuit, followed by France’s Romain Grosjean for Lotus.
McLaren-bound Mexican Sergio Perez will start fifth in the second Sauber ahead of Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso and Finland’s Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, whose spin in the final minute prevented a last flying lap for some drivers.
Despite the shortened top-10 shoot-out, Button suggested that the McLarens may have found the Red Bulls’ pace too hot to handle even with a final chance to set the fastest lap.
“I couldn’t find any more (speed) guys, they were just too quick,” said Button, on his team radio.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton will start from a disappointing ninth place in his first race since announcing his departure for Mercedes next season, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa 10th.
In the opening mini-session Q1, soon-to-retire Michael Schumacher produce a last lap to save him from elimination and instead knocked Brazilian Bruno Senna out of the running.
Vettel looked supreme in the early action and he remained super-fast in the second session when he was chased hard by both Button and Webber, as Red Bull suddenly found the form that has brought them two straight drivers and constructors’ titles.
Schumacher, who crashed heavily in practice on Friday, was unable to make the top 10 shoot-out and after clocking the 13th best time, he will start from 23rd on the grid due to a 10-place penalty for a crash in Singapore.
Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari failed to make the cut and he will start 11th ahead of frustrated Briton Paul di Resta of Force India, Pastor Maldonado of Williams, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso and Jean-Eric Vergne.