DEFENDING world champion Sebastian Vettel completed a third successive Red Bull front row lockout yesterday when he took pole position for today's Indian Grand Prix ahead of teammate Mark Webber.
The 25-year-old German, who is seeking to become the youngest triple champion in F1 history, made an error on his first flying lap in the top-10 shootout but responded with a second effort in one minute 25.283 seconds to clock the fastest time.
It was his fifth pole of the season and the 35th of his career. His Australian partner Webber did his utmost to match the time, but could only deliver 1:25.327 and took second as Red Bull proved it has the overall pace to start as clear favourite.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton took third place late in the session to jump ahead of his teammate and fellow Briton Jenson Button.
The two Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are on the third row.
Alonso, championship leader for a long period of the season, is now six points behind Vettel and, with four races remaining, needs to deliver a strong result, if not a victory, to stay in serious contention.
But the Red Bulls appear stronger, Vettel having overturned a 39-point deficit to Alonso by winning the past three races in Singapore, Japan and South Korea.
The German also won the inaugural Indian last year at the 5.125-kilometre Buddh circuit, 45 kilometres south of New Delhi.
Vettel had earlier rejected suggestions that the race will be a private duel with Webber.
''It's not between Mark and myself. I think it's between all of us,'' Vettel said.The Australian might lie fifth in the standings, 63 points behind Vettel, but, with 100 points still up for grabs in the remaining four races, he has made it clear he will still compete.
''This weekend, if I have the chance to win the grand prix, I'll go for it,'' Webber said. ''Mathematically, I have a chance [to be champion]. So, if I'm in the lead, I'm not pulling over for anyone.''
After qualifying Webber told BBC online: ''It wasn't the smoothest [flying lap] for [Sebastian] and also for me. On the last corner I got a little on the Astroturf on the exit and didn't have cleanest run to line, but I'm driving the car. It was a pretty tight run thing between Seb and I. The McLarens were doing a very slow out-laps, and I had no grip in the first sector. I was surprised to end up in second.''
But the Australian acknowledged that Red Bull was continuing to improve.
''The way the factory has helped us this weekend … Milton Keynes has been pushing really hard and the guys here have been working really hard in not easy conditions. So far so good, today it's job done and tomorrow we'll wake up and it'll be a new day.''