Hamilton cast as wild card with nothing to lose

If Thursday's press conference generated anodyne behaviour from the four world championship contenders, the panacea had worn off by the end of one hell of a gripping qualifying session.

Sebastian Vettel was wearing his mischievous schoolboy grin after taking his 10th pole position of the season. Lewis Hamilton looked super cool after another fabulous display had put his McLaren in second place. Fernando Alonso, snatching fat from the fire with third on his last lap, was certainly not going to indulge in anything as demonstrative as a smile, but you could tell he was pretty stoked.

Spot the missing name? Correct. Mark Webber was already through with the TV and radio interviews, having spoken only briefly with Radio Five Live before exiting the arena with arms aloft in a clear "Sorry, that's enough, folks" gesture that was even more indicative of his despair in qualifying only fifth than his drawn expression.

The first two sessions of qualifying, under the lights of the fabulous Yas Marina circuit, had been brutal nip-and-tuck affairs. Alonso topped the times in the first, from interloperNico Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Webber. In the second, Vettel was fastest from Button, Rosberg and Webber. The Red Bulls were again about three-tenths apart, butWebber was only 0.60s off Button.

But then it all went catastrophicallywrong in the third session, when it really mattered.

"I'm not rapped to be fifth on the grid, it's disappointing," Webber said, and the pain ran through his voice. Here he was in qualifying for the 19th and final round struggling to generate grip in the second sector. Grip, in a Red Bull? It's as plentiful as taurene in Dietrich Mateschitz's famed energy drinks. But not this day.

"There's still a long way to go tomorrow," he dredged up, "and the fat lady hasn't sung yet. We need to be there at the end of tomorrow's race and a lot can still happen; I haven't helped things today, but the championship's not decided today. I didn't seem to have the grip the other guys had and I need to have a look where I was losing time. We're still in the hunt and that's the main thing."

Vettel, meanwhile, was ecstatic. "It was a great lap and I'm proud of it. It was a very tight qualifying session andit's even more thrilling when you know there's tension going into it and you know 'this is it'. We only did one run in Q3, so only one chance. The car was fantastic today."

Like Hamilton, he has less to lose than Webber or Alonso. The 2008 champion was the most relaxed of them all, smiling at the prospect of driving a competitive McLaren.

"I'm absolutely delighted," he beamed. "This is my best qualifying performance since Spa, and I pushed as hard as I could and got everything and more out of the car. To be just three-hundredths off the fastest Red Bull is extremely good news for the team. We've worked incredibly hard all year.

"I don't have to worry about who's around me; they all have to worry about who's around them. I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I don't have to be cautious at all..." And he added: "Perhaps they need to think about that."

Both McLaren drivers are potential spoilers, a fact not lost on Señor Alonso, who can scent another championship. Second place will do it for him, or third if Webber is behind. "We need to avoid mistakes tomorrow, when we have the race and score the points," he said. "We won't win the championship in Corner One. At the moment we are very, very strong, but anything can happen."

Will it really all be so straightforward? Or will an outstanding season have one final twist to offer?

Qualifying grid

1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) RedBull-Renault; 2 Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren; 3 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Ferrari; 4 Jenson Button (GB) McLaren; 5 Mark Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault; 6 Felipe Massa (Br) Ferrari; 7 Rubens Barrichello (Br) Williams-Cosworth; 8 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes; 9 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes; 10 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault; 11 Robert Kubica (Pol) Renault; 12 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber-Ferrari; 13 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes; 14 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber-Ferrari; 15 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth; 16 Vitantonio Liuzzi (It) Force India-Mercedes; 17 Jaime Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari; 18 Sebastien Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso-Ferrari; 19 Jarno Trulli (It) Lotus-Cosworth; 20 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Cosworth; 21 Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth; 22 Lucas Di Grassi (Br) Virgin-Cosworth; 23 Bruno Senna (Br) HRT-Cosworth; 24 Christian Klien (Aut) HRT-Cosworth.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm that there was a 'minor disturbance'

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album