Sebastian Vettel has been watching more of his rivals' on-track efforts this weekend than he usually does. More often than not in recent races they've been barely visible in his Red Bull's rear-view mirrors, but after his heavy shunt in the rain on Friday morning he had to sit out the afternoon session as his car was repaired, then yesterday afternoon he and histeam-mate, Mark Webber, each elected to do only one run in the final qualifying session, and thus watched their rivals trying to knock them off the front row of the grid.
"It's funny," Vettel admitted after taking his fourth pole position of the season and the 19th of his career, "both Mark and I decided to skip a second run – and it's a very strange feeling to see the others on the track and know that they can beat you and you are watching and there's nothing you can do. It saved me a set of tyres for tomorrow, but it is an odd feeling."
That little bit of harvesting of rubber could be crucial, as Lewis Hamilton demonstrated so convincingly in China last time out, especially in a race here where the everlasting triple-apex Turn Eight eats tyres at the best of times, and will just love the soft Pirellis that everyone will have to run for at least part of the race. Qualifying speed always helps, but the race story will be all about how fast you can go while keeping the short-life tyres alive.
"I was tempted to go out again, but any lap you get back today is gonna help tomorrow," Webber said. "Now we are in the best shape we could be in terms of grid positions and tyres. Our first lockout of the front row, and a smooth day tomorrow would be nice."
That's unlikely, with plenty of pitstops in prospect – "Certainly more than two and less than six!" Webber added. "Turn Eight will just destroy these tyres." Everybody remembers last year's controversial clash, when Webber was leading and Vettel cut in too sharply while trying to pass. Both will be at pains to avoid a repeat.
"Last year in this room there was a different atmosphere for sure, and in the end there was contact between us in the race," Webber said. "It happens in racing though it's rare between team-mates, but it's a bit more straightforward these days. It's still intense, but DRS [drag reduction system] makes it a bit less intense. We both learned a lot from last year, and if we are racing each other there might be times when we are close, but we are not gonna repeat what we did. Wisdom helps you."
Hamilton, last year's winner, will start from the dirty side of the grid after being nipped for third place by Nico Rosberg. "We're definitely in the fight and I'll be pushing all the way – just as we did last year," the Englishman said. "It's a long race here and there should be opportunities to overtake."