Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel was true to form as the final qualifying session of the Formula One 2011 season came to a close. Not only did the Red Bull driver beat his first lap time of Q3 to top the timesheets as the clock was ticking down, but the 24-year old has also become the new record breaking driver in F1 history, as he achieved 15 pole positions in a single season today.
Vettel described how he felt the final qualifying session of the season went, and what it means for him to break another record in F1 history.
“It’s pretty special to get the record… You know what you can do and the time you should be able to get ahead of the lap, but when you cross the line – you know if you have done it or not, without looking at the time. There wasn’t much left today and that gives extreme satisfaction – and it gets even better when the engineer comes on the radio and tells you you’ve done it,” explained Vettel.
Before Vettel was crowned pole sitter at the end of qualifying, both of his impressive lap times certainly indicated that he would more than likely be at the front for the final race of the season tomorrow. The German went head to head with Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg as less than seven minutes of Q3 was left to run. Initially, Rosberg took first place with a lap time of 1:13.159secs, but Vettel soon came through to knock his fellow countryman off his perch. Vettel then topped the timesheets first of all with a lap time of 1:12.268secs, and maintained this inevitable qualifying form to go one better and secured pole with an impressive lap time of 1:11.918secs.
As Vettel stole the show and took the top spot once again, his rivals were fighting over the following positions between themselves. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the first of them to complete his final flying lap, but only did enough to hold third place momentarily. Meanwhile, it was suddenly a close call as Vettel’s Australian team mate Mark Webber and McLaren’s Jenson Button fought over second place. Button took second place initially but his hold on it did not last long. Webber soon crossed the line to complete his lap, and secured an all Red Bull front row lockout ahead of the race tomorrow. However, due to Vettel’s dominance today and throughout the season, Webber could not secure his fourth pole position this year.
Consequently, Button will now begin the race just behind Webber from third place. In achieving a top 10 position in qualifying, Button stands in good stead for the Brazilian Grand Prix. In the previous six races at the Interlagos Circuit in Sao Paulo, the 2009 World Champion has failed to make it through to Q3 and a top 10 position. In addition to Button’s solid performance in qualifying, he has also pipped his team mate Lewis Hamilton today who could only do enough to land fourth place at the end of Q3. As a result of Button and Hamilton’s qualifying positions, it means that the McLaren team have failed to secure pole in the last 12 races in Brazil now. Alonso also fell down the line up like Hamilton, as their Championship rivals got ahead of them in the final stages. Consequently, Alonso will now start the race just behind Hamilton as he finished Q3 in fifth place overall.
Before Q1 got underway to mark the first stage of qualifying today, there were reports from the teams that rain may play a part in the festivities on the track. Despite the grey skies at the beginning of Q2, any threat of rain drops fortunately disappeared as the whole session remained dry.
When the qualifying window finally appeared and the initial 20 minute session began, Hamilton was the first man to take to the track. The 2008 World Champion took the top spot after his first attempt with a lap time of 1:13.876secs. While the Englishman was completing his flying lap to mark Q1 in full swing, he was accompanied by some midfield drivers and others further down the pack. Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli was among those who appeared early on. The Italian had a minor mishap on his first run though, when he locked up his right front tyre at Turn 8 and again further into the lap. Prior to Hamilton finishing his first run, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi took first place to begin with. The Swiss driver was followed by Trulli, and the second Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen who finished in third place after his flying lap. Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock was also at the heart of the action at this point, but the German trailed his rival to secure fourth place for a short while.
As several other front runners emerged from the pits to join Hamilton, the line up at the front soon changed a couple of times. With Hamilton the leading man after three minutes of the session had gone, he was followed by his team mate Button who landed second place then. Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi came next in the running order. The Japanese driver was running in third place after recording his first time on the board. Meanwhile, Buemi’s Spanish team Jaime Alguersuari soon made an appearance as well. He crossed the line to take fourth place at the time. As one of the five F1 rookie drivers in the field this season, Williams’s driver Pastor Maldonado was also a feature in the early action.
The Venezuelan made a good first attempt as he ended up in fifth place then. After initially being first in the running order when no one else had completed their laps, Buemi soon dropped down in the line-up to sixth place. Kobayashi’s team mate Sergio Perez was also in the mix with the other midfield drivers on the track. The Mexican driver landed seventh place after his first effort. Being one of the three Brazilian drivers in the field flying the flag for their country this weekend, Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna was the first of them to make a good start in qualifying. Following completion of his first flying lap round the track, Senna ended up in eighth place in the running order, while Trulli had dropped down the field by now to ninth place. However, he was accompanied by Vettel who was running in 10th place at this stage in the proceedings.
Once the clock was ticking down with 15 minutes remaining of Q1, Hamilton maintained first place still but Webber came through to shuffle the line-up. After finishing his first run on the track, Webber took second place at this stage. He was joined by some more of the midfield runners including Force India’s Adrian Sutil who finished in fourth place then. The German was accompanied by his Scottish team mate Paul Di Resta who came next in fifth place, while Senna’s Russian team mate Petrov was trailing slightly in sixth position. Maldonado’s
Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello soon accompanied his fellow countryman Senna on the track as well. With the teams that he has driven for over the years, he has notched up three pole positions and 11 career victories, but after 19 years in the sport to date, Barrichello has had little success on home soil. Barrichello did not disappoint with his early efforts in Q1 and after completing his first lap in the session, he slotted into seventh place.
Following Trulli’s wobble earlier on in Q1 where he locked up his tyres, Buemi then added to the exciting action when he spun on the track. Although he continued after getting back on form, Buemi suffered in the running order and ended up way down in 14th place.
While there were ups and downs experienced by the midfield drivers and near the back, Vettel soon emerged from the pits to topple Hamilton’s hold on first place. Inevitably, Vettel was the fastest man on the track when he completed his lap. He crossed the line and topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:13.687secs. Button was then running in second place ahead of Hamilton. Webber came next in the line-up and was maintaining fourth place. He was followed by Alonso in fifth position and much of the midfield followed on. Rosberg was going steadily and landed sixth place at this point. Sutil had dropped down in the running order, and was in seventh place as a result of this. However, he was still leading his rookie team mate Di Resta though who was trailing him in eighth place, while Petrov and Alguersuari were holding onto the final top 10 positions at this stage.
Even though the line-up of the next seven drivers meant that they were still in a safe place, at this point in Q1 two of the three Brazilian drivers in the field were there. Barrichello was the first of them as he was holding onto 11th place at the time from Kobayashi. Perez followed behind his team mate then in 13th position. Whereas, Barrichello’s team mate, Maldonado was slightly further down the pack in 14th place. Buemi came next in 15th position and he was ahead of Kovalainen at this stage. However, Senna was in a vulnerable position, and potentially on the verge of falling into the drop out zone when he was running in 17th place.
When there were less than 13 minutes remaining on the clock, the action on the track appeared to be running smoothly. However, Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher then proved this not to be the case when he had a slight blip. The seven time World Champion appeared to struggle for grip at Turn 8, but miraculously recovered from having a mishap. Consequently, he ended up falling down the field very quickly, and soon became the final runner down in 24th place. Due to his former winning formula, Schumacher climbed up the field again. Suddenly, Schumacher leapt from 24th place and promoted himself to eighth place.
As a result of the line-up changing several times, the drop out zone then contained the following seven drivers from Senna in 18th place. Kovalainen was next in the running order in 19th position and ahead of Trulli in 20th place. Meanwhile, Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was a little further down the field in 21st place. Glock was behind Ricciardo and maintaining 22nd place, followed by his Belgian team mate Jerome D’Ambrosio in 23rd place. At this stage in the proceedings of Q1, Liuzzi was acting as the backmarker and running in 24th position.
Towards the front of the field though both Sutil and Alonso locked up their tyres near Turn 7. This indicated that even the more experienced drivers were having their fair share of problems. However, with Hamilton and Vettel already having their turn to take first place, Button soon made his mark on the field as well. The Englishman suddenly leapt ahead of his rivals to take the top spot with only 10 minutes left of Q1. He topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:13.281secs.
While the competitive side of the drivers was emerging at the front of the field and giving it a shakeup, the situation was not quite as reassuring for seven drivers. With less than seven minutes remaining of Q1, both Barrichello and Maldonado found themselves in the drop out zone. Initially the situation looked bleak for the Williams pair, but fortunately there was still time to get out of the sticky situation. Barrichello was running in 18th place at the time, and followed by Maldonado next in the line-up. Kovalainen followed behind the duo in 20th place, and he was running in front of Ricciardo at this stage. Meanwhile, D’Ambrosio was in the final three struggling in 22nd place. Glock and Liuzzi made up the back of the pack at this point in 23rd and 24th place.
As the attention turned away from the drop out zone area momentarily, the battle in the midfield for those trying to stay in and get through to Q2 unfolded. With less than four minutes of Q1 left to go, Barrichello impressed with his performance as he jumped from 19th place to ninth position. However, this came at a cost to Buemi who then found himself in the danger zone. At this stage in the proceedings, he was running in 18th place but made it up to 16th position after. Consequently, this then had a knock on effect for Maldonado who entered the drop out zone.
He was then running in 18th place and just out of the safety net. When the final moments came for the drivers to scrap over positions, and attempt to make it through to Q2 Trulli and Kovalainen developed an exciting in-team battle. Before their scrap began Trulli had the upper hand in 19th place. On the other hand, the tables soon turned to favour Kovalainen, who took 19th place from Trulli then. Once the chequered flag fell to mark the end of Q1, Maldonado was the sole midfield driver who failed to make it into Q2. As a result of this, he will start the race from 18th place and ahead of Kovalainen. Trulli will begin from 20th place after losing a position to his team mate. Liuzzi comes next in the line-up and landed 21st place for himself. While his team mate Ricciardo will be just behind him in 22nd position. After losing out to their rival teams in qualifying, the Marussia Virgin Racing pair will make up the back of the field. D’Ambrosio is in front of his team mate though and will start from 23rd place. This leaves Glock trailing behind and he lines up in 24th position.
With the first session out of the way, and the first seven drivers bowing out the time came for the Q2 action to begin. Several drivers in the field appeared eager to get going early, as the 15 minute battle commenced. Sutil was the first man of all to complete a lap, and as a result of this he topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:13.276secs. Despite getting a solid first lap under his belt, Sutil’s lead at the front did not last, as the top Championship contenders soon set their times. Vettel got back to leading the field, which he lost to Button at the end of Q1. Vettel crossed the line on his first attempt of Q2 with a lap time of 1:12.446secs.
Although the face at the front was the same at this point, one midfield driver came through to shake up the line-up. Rosberg was the man of the moment at this point, when he impressed with his lap to take him up to second place. Unfortunately, Rosberg’s team mate Schumacher did not experience the same fate at this stage. Along with Buemi, Schumacher found himself in the drop out zone. During their first attempt of Q2 both drivers locked up their tyres, which led them to fall down the field. Consequently, Schumacher was at the top of the drop out zone in 11th place. Alguersuari came next in 12th position ahead of Buemi. Kobayashi was also in the vulnerable line up in 14th place. Petrov came next in the running order and was holding onto 15th position in front of Barrichello. Perez was the final man potentially at risk of going out at the end of Q2 and maintaining 17th position.
As the clock was ticking down and there were five minutes remaining, Alguersuari was one of the first men who attempted to improve his position. Sadly, the lap that he put in did not go according to plan. Consequently, Alguersuari remained in 12th place at the time. Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was also having a few problems. As one of the three drivers racing on home soil tomorrow, his campaign to impress the fans was running slightly off course in Q2. He had a slight wobble on his flying lap and appeared to catch the kerb at Turn 2. As a result of this, Massa ended up in eighth place at the time.
The situation for some of the drivers did not improve either. With less than a minute for the field to improve on their positions, Buemi was one who reported to be having problems. He mentioned over the team radio about experiencing a loss of power on his car. He was running in 14th place in the closing stages, but his competitors were still to complete their last lap. Following the remaining drivers getting through their lap, Buemi was sadly among those who failed to make the grade at the end of Q2. As a result of this, Buemi will begin the race from 14th place. Di Resta also missed out on the top 10 shootout, and will start from 11th place. Barrichello comes next in the line-up and will begin his home race from 12th position.
Alguersuari also had the upper hand over his team mate Buemi and secured himself 13th place. Petrov will be just the other side of Buemi, and will start from 15th position. Kobayashi also lost out on the opportunity of the top 10 shootout, and had to settle for 16th place at the end of qualifying. His team mate, Perez is in the same situation but was not able to pip Kobayashi and starts the race behind him in 17th position.
When the business end of qualifying finally arrived for Q3, Vettel inevitably had his sights set on pole. This was the most important of the 14 he already achieved this season, as he was on the verge of becoming a record-breaker in the history of the sport. Consequently, he did go on to achieve another record and add to his growing statistics this season. However, before the moment came for Vettel to celebrate his 15th pole position this season, there was an exciting turn of events at the start of Q3. Rosberg crossed the line on his first flying lap and took first place with a lap time of 1:16.581secs. Although it was suspected that Hamilton may spoil the party when he emerged, the Englishman could only do enough for second place at this point.
Suddenly Rosberg then went head to head with Vettel, who took to the track to make his mark on Q3. Initially, Rosberg maintained first place, but Vettel made sure it was not for long. With Vettel then in charge at the front of the field, he was followed by Alonso, Rosberg, and Hamilton. The line up at the front of the field soon changed as Button muscled in on the action. Even though Vettel maintained first place, Button made it through to take second position temporarily. Alonso was then trailing him in third place ahead of Hamilton and Rosberg. On the other hand, Webber then completed his flying lap, which caused the line up to change again. He took second place from Button, who had dropped to third position. Alonso was running in fourth place then ahead of Hamilton and Rosberg.
With just six minutes remaining of Q3, the top six drivers changed positions in quick succession. To add to the action already on the track, the midfield runners who also got through to Q3 were battling it out. Sutil was the first of those drivers to put a lap in for Q3. After completing his flying lap he landed himself seventh place. At the same time, Vettel was on a charge as he fought to improve on his earlier lap. Not surprisingly, Vettel maintained the top spot from his rivals, and went on to pip his previous lap time. As 15 seconds was showing on the clock, Vettel crossed the line with a blistering lap time of 1:11.918secs. Webber then finished in second place, and will begin the race from the first row of the grid as well. Button had to settle for third place, with Webber climbing up the line-up. Hamilton also made it onto the second row, and will accompany his team mate to start from fourth place. Alonso was the better of the two Ferrari’s in qualifying, and will begin the Grand Prix from fifth place.
Rosberg finds himself in a Ferrari sandwich and will start from sixth position. While Massa in the second prancing horse seemed to have a quiet qualifying session, and is ahead of the other Brazilian drivers as he starts from seventh place. Sutil will come next in the line-up as he landed eighth place at the end of qualifying, and the second Brazilian driver to get into the top 10, Senna is just behind him in ninth position. Schumacher will make up the final place of the most desirable positions and will begin from 10th place.
Following the final qualifying session of the 2011 season, which delivered nail biting action in terms of driver mishaps and close competition, as well as the challenge of the anti-clockwise circuit, as the last race of the season arrives tomorrow that will certainly not disappoint either. Although Vettel managed to pick up pole and become a record-breaker, the unpredictability of the races with tyre wear, possible wet weather conditions and the challenge of the circuit as the drivers’ battle on the track, these factors together are still likely to make the race result very open. It is inevitable that Vettel will want to go out on a high, in addition to the success he has had and maintaining the Drivers’ title as well this season. However, for his closest rivals there is still everything to play for. Likewise, they will be sure not to let Vettel run away with the lead and at the end the race victory if they can do their best to prevent it.