By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
For the second time in the 2011 Formula One season, Mark Webber beat his Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel to secure pole position, ahead of Sunday’s British Grand Prix. Despite the controversy with rule changes minutes before qualifying, and the changeable weather affecting track conditions, the Australian was the man on top form, who set a final lap time of 1.30:399secs.
Webber explained how he found qualifying, and his feelings on picking up pole. “I’ve always enjoyed driving here, but you still have to put it all together. You don’t get these results without applying yourself. It was a very mixed session for all of us, even in the build up with yesterday’s rain…in the end I’m very happy with the job we did”, commented Webber.
The closest competition to the pair came from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who picked up third position, and will line up alongside his Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa.
Although the stars of the show this weekend failed to match their rivals’ pace, all three drivers on home soil at Silverstone got into the top ten. McLaren’s Jenson Button was the best of the British, as he landed fifth place at the end of Q3. The 2009 World Champion will be accompanied by fellow countryman, and rookie to the sport this season, Force India’s Paul Di Resta on the third row of the grid. Sadly, Lewis Hamilton in the second McLaren struggled with his tyres, which resulted in him only achieving the final top ten position.
Before the drivers got down to normal business on the track though, the day was overshadowed by a last minute decision from the FIA, to amend the rules regarding “off throttle blowing of diffusers”. Their function is to increase downforce and grip. They operate when exhaust gases are blown through the rear floor of the cars, without having to use the accelerator to always do so.
The issue had already been a hot topic on Friday, before any action on the track had got underway. For this weekend only for reliability reasons, race director Charlie Whiting deemed that teams running on Renault engines could operate at a level of 50% throttle under braking. Among those were 2010 Constructors’ Champion Red Bull, Team Lotus and Renault. To make the rule change equal with the rest of the field, the FIA permitted teams running under Mercedes engines, could over-run theirs under braking.
Following disagreement between teams overnight because of this decision, the FIA reviewed the situation before qualifying. The ruling was changed back to what it originally was on Thursday. Whereby all Renault powered engines could only operate at a level of 10% throttle under braking. Nevertheless, qualifying for the race on Sunday finally got going, even though some teams were left disgruntled by the reversed decision.
Due to the very wet conditions in practice yesterday, drivers had little opportunity to take to the newly modified track for this Sunday’s race. The majority of the field set out early as Q1 got the green light. As well as the challenge of the track to contend with, the drivers could really put their Pirelli tyres to the test for the first time at the Silverstone Circuit. Many of the teams chose to run on the softer compound, which can be identified with a yellow stripe down the side.
The typical British weather was true to form, and played a part very shortly into Q1. However, reigning World Champion Vettel still set the pace as light rain started to fall. The German was in the end denied his third consecutive pole position by his team mate. Webber followed Vettel’s lap and topped the timesheets with a 1:33.044secs.
Third placeman overall on the day, Alonso, did have a slight wobble during Q1. The Spaniard ran wide with 13 minutes remaining on the clock as he exited Brooklands and went off the track at Luffield. The 2005 and 2006 Formula One World Champion managed to recover from the blip, and a few minutes later set a lap time of 1:32.986secs. Alonso’s team mate Massa was not far behind either and took first place temporarily, despite suffering from under steer earlier on.
The leader throughout Q1 was constantly changing, with appearances from some of the midfield in the limelight as well. The Williams duo were particularly in the mix with the front-runners. While Rubens Barrichello managed fourth place at one stage, his rookie team mate Pastor Maldonado impressed by taking first place momentarily.
Meanwhile, Button and Hamilton appeared to be struggling to keep up, as they set times to secure only 11th and sixth position respectively. The main concern was to set a good enough time to get through to the next session. Both drivers opted for the harder tyres initially, and changed to the soft slick compound later on.
It was clear even with less than nine minutes to go in the first stage, that Webber was the man on a mission and with pole in his sights. His final flying lap of Q1 was a 1:32.670secs, which the rest of the field failed to beat. Unlike Webber who made it through to secure the best slot on the grid, there had to be seven that bowed out at the first hurdle.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari managed to secure the best position of the seven drivers, as he will start ahead of the others in 18th place. The Spaniard did well to reach the end of Q1, as he seemed to struggle for grip, with the rain coming down on the track in the closing stages. He also out qualified his Swiss team mate, Sebastien Buemi, who will line up in 19th place, alongside Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock. Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli split the Marussia Virgin Racing cars, as he snatched 21st place on the grid, ahead of Jerome D’Ambrosio in the second one.
Sadly, both Hispania cars also missed out on taking part in Q2. Vitantonio Liuzzi pipped newcomer to the sport, Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo to 23rd place. Ricciardo will be taking part in his first Formula One race tomorrow, but is on loan from Toro Rosso, and takes Narain Karthikeyan’s seat in the team.
As the second stage of qualifying got underway, the drivers were testing the water on their out laps. The Mercedes pair were the first to take to the track. Nico Rosberg and seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher were in the mix with the other midfield drivers. Once again though the likes of Barrichello and Maldonado were keeping the front runners on their toes. Sauber driver Kamui Koabayashi, who is known for his feisty manoeuvres, also got close to the top at times. Whereas his team mate, Sergio Perez, seemed to keep in the quiet. Another driver in the battle was Di Resta’s team mate, Adrian Sutil. The German got himself into first place in the middle part of Q2.
Unfortunately, the rain did hamper the drivers’ chances of improving their times in Q2. The drop out zone seemed to form quickly, even with lots of time still on the clock. Five cars had not set a time with seven minutes to go. These included: Rosberg, Alonso, Di Resta, Massa and Kobayashi. Eventually, they did manage to get a lap in and a time on the board. The next casualty from Q2 though, was Sutil, who will start from 11th on the grid. Perez will line up next in 12th place, even though he failed to out qualify his Japanese team mate Kobayashi. Schumacher will start the race from 13th position, alongside Renault’s Vitaly Petrov.
After Barrichello’s team mate out performing him and getting into the top ten, the former Ferrari driver had to settle for 15th place. It was the same situation at Lotus Renault, with Nick Heidfeld losing out to his younger and less experienced team mate. The German will begin the race down in 16th position. On the other hand, at Team Lotus it was a slightly happier story for Heikki Kovalainen. Not only did he make it through to Q2, but he out qualified his Italian team mate. The Finnish driver impressed with his performance in qualifying, and will start from a solid position in 17th place.
Once it got down to the final ten slots, the competition really did heat up, but the same could not be said for the weather. With only 10 minutes to record a time in Q3, nine out of the 10 drivers took to the track straight away. It was exciting at the front of the grid, as the Red Bull pair went head to head, and charged against each other for the top spot. The in team battle between the two got interesting, as they swapped positions very quickly. Vettel was first to take the lead, then Webber snatched it from his grasp. Nonetheless, Vettel failed to compete with his team mate’s pace, and was three hundreds of a second slower than his pole sitter rival.
The final slots in between the top six were secured by Maldonado in seventh place, who lost out to Di Resta in the end, but still did a sterling job for his team. Kobayashi will be on his tail though, as he accompanies the Venezuelan driver in eighth position. Rosberg was another driver to do what others had done as well, and out qualified his team mate, and he secured ninth place for the starting line up tomorrow.
As an action packed day unfolded in qualifying, with events off the track taking centre stage initially, it is certain that tomorrow’s race will be just as exciting. or the second occasion this season though, Vettel has surprisingly taken a back seat position wise, with Webber being at the helm to lead the pack down to the first corner. As well as being on pole, Webber will have the taste of success still on his mind, from his win at the British Grand Prix last year. However, the uncertainty of the weather, the new challenges that the track will pose, and Vettel in his mirrors, will also play a part as Webber and the other front runners strive for victory.