GREATER NOIDA, India - Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel extended his recent dominance by taking pole position for the Indian Grand Prix on Saturday, edging out teammate Mark Webber by four-hundredths of a second for Red Bull's third straight front-row sweep.
McLaren pair Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button qualified third and fourth at Buddh International Circuit, ahead of the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Alonso trails Vettel by six points in the drivers' championship.
Vettel is primed for a fourth consecutive win as he chases a third straight F1 title; something only previously achieved by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Vettel also completed the double of pole and race victory in last year's inaugural Indian GP.
"Fortunately, I got the lap together. I was very happy with the lap," Vettel said. "It's been a great weekend so far, no problem with the car."
Pole position, coupled with his dominant form on the Asian leg of the season, suggests Vettel will be very hard to stop in Sunday's race — but he did add a note of caution.
"Tomorrow is the major exercise," Vettel said. "The McLarens were very quick on the long runs in practice, along with the Ferraris."
Hamilton had not expected to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying, but did agree that McLaren and Ferrari have the chance to beat the championship leaders on Sunday.
"We are not quick enough to be ahead of these guys (the Red Bulls) but we can definitely challenge them in the race. Our practice pace was just as good as theirs on long runs."
Alonso too accepted his qualifying position and maintained that Vettel is beatable not only in the race but for also the championship.
"On Sunday our pace improves a little bit," Alonso said. "I still think we can take some good points tomorrow, hopefully more points than Sebastian and in the next races we are hopefully more competitive."
Tire management will likely be critical, with Pirelli suggesting a one-stop strategy may be possible for some cars, while two is expected for most teams. Vettel had the luxury of only doing 13 laps across the three qualifying sessions — four fewer than Webber, 10 fewer than Hamilton and eight fewer than Alonso — which will give him more fresh rubber for the race.
Webber made a couple of errors on his final flying lap, locking up in the Turn 3 hairpin then running wide on the final corner, yet his time from his penultimate flying lap proved good enough to make the front row.
"I was surprised to end up second to be honest," Webber said.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen qualified seventh, with Sauber's Sergio Perez, Williams' Pastor Maldonado and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg completing the top 10. Perez's performance was particularly eye-catching with the Saubers proving throughout the year that they are the most adept at one-stop strategies, promising a good finish on Sunday.
Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button and Webber still maintain faint hopes of winning the title should both the leaders suffer some poor results in the closing four races of the season.