Vettel only needs to finish fifth or better Sunday to wrap up the championship with three races remaining, and bettered his own lap record to claim his third straight pole at Buddh International Circuit. The German has won both previous Indian GP races, leading every lap.
He clocked 1 minute, 24.119 seconds to beat his nearest rival by 0.7 seconds.
Red Bull can also make it the fourth straight double of drivers’ and constructors’ titles if Ferrari fails to outscore it by more than 19 points.
Felipe Massa starts from fifth, while Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso could only manage eighth.
Romain Grosjean, who was expected to challenge for the podium, was eliminated in the first round of qualifying after Lotus’ gamble on sticking with medium tires backfired. The Frenchman will start from 17th on the grid.
“We just missed the cut-off time, everyone went quicker than we thought,” Grosjean said. “Today, for some reason, the medium (tires) were not quick enough. It’s a decision we took together, we were confident we could do enough with them but we got it wrong.”
Vettel and Webber chose differing tire strategies for qualifying, with Vettel electing to use the quicker but fragile soft compound for the third round and race start, and Webber preferring the medium compound.
“Which works out to be the right strategy, we’ll find out tomorrow. But the race is long and we’ll have plenty of time to make up,” Vettel said. “In the end I think the strategy shouldn’t determine the result that much.”
“The car’s been very strong since Friday morning,” Vettel said. “We didn’t have to adjust that much.”
Rosberg said Mercedes had pushed his car to its limits to make him as competitive as possible.
“Up to now it’s been successful,” he said. “On a knife’s edge all the time, but for now it’s worked and it seems we’re a step forward from where we were in recent races.”