Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Right in the lion's den on Ferrari territory Sebastian Vettel took another pole position for Red Bull during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The German slapped the competition by setting a pole time of 1m22.275, exactly half a second faster than the number two, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton who set a time of 1m22,725s. Jenson Button took third place for McLaren and Fernando Alonso could not do better than to finish in fourth place, while his team colleague Felipe Massa took sixth place.
Vettel commented about his dominance, "We are surprised how competitive we are here and thought it would be much closer. We weren't sure if the tyres were best for the first or second lap, but I made a bit of a mistake on the second.”
And the German added, “This year, the car is very good and I'm very happy. Apart from the wing level, the most important thing to have here is balance and we're good on that this year. I felt very comfortable going into qualifying and throughout the session I could feel the track getting quicker. I simply went with the track and that is the secret, if there is any."
Again an exciting qualifying session at Monza, as the top eight drivers battled for pole until the very last minute. Mark Webber was certainly off his team mate’s pace and will start from fifth place on the start grid tomorrow.
Qualifying started this afternoon, but unlike the Belgian Grand Prix, there were no camber tricks at Monza. Pirelli had asked the FIA to make the camber recommendation mandatory for the Italian Grand Prix, which meant a few teams had to quickly re-adjust the camber of the front wheels of their car before qualifying commenced.
Italian Jarno Trulli was the first man out in his Team Lotus and set the very first timed lap, 1m33.967s, but even though he was on a flying lap, he was overtaken by Sergio Perez in his Sauber who not surprisingly beat Trulli’s time. It didn’t take much longer before the big guns also emerged from the pit lane, Button was the first to set a real fast time on the clock with a lap of 1m24.872s, but shortly after Hamilton took over first place at the time.
With just ten minutes to go, Pastor Maldonado got himself into trouble when he crashed at the pit lane entry and damaged the front of his Williams. Not a good start for the Venezuelan and he faced an agonizing long wait in the garage to see if his mechanics could fix his car before the end of Q1. Most drivers were on the medium Pirellis, as they didn’t want to waste a good set of softs during Q1. Meanwhile, Alonso was back on track and scored the then third fastest time, but it was clear Ferrari weren’t as fast as they had hoped, not much later Alonso fell back to fifth, while Massa took sixth.
Webber in the second Red Bull stayed in as long as he dared, and with less than ten minutes to go the Australian emerged from the pit lane and three minutes and two laps later took seventh place with a time of 1m25.077s. Both Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were fast and posted times in the top ten, but it was the midfield where the action was.
Timo Glock had tried a run on a set of softs, and was seen bouncing through the Variante Ascari, but to no avail, he was and stayed in 20th place, and became one of the seven drivers who would not make it into Q2. Bruno Senna was out in his Lotus Renault as the Brazilian driver was in 19th position and had to take action not to drop out of Q2. He took 15th position, but with Kobayashi and Perez on track he was still in the danger zone.
Incredibly enough Maldonado was out again after his mechanics had fixed his car and he immediately took 12th spot and secured a place in Q2. Further down, Rubens Barrichello, Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Perez and Kobayashi were battling to secure their place in Q2, but after an exiting last lap shoot out it was Alguersuari who didn’t make the cut, a very disappointing result for the Spaniard who qualified in sixth place for the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Alguersuari, Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen, Glock, Jerome d’Ambrosio and the two HRT drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Vitantonio Liuzzi did not make it into Q2.
Kovalainen had a few problems during qualifying and the Finn commented, “The car felt good today but I struggled a bit to get the ultimate lap time out of it this afternoon. I don't really know why so I'll have a look at the data with the engineers and see where we could find some time, but the good thing is that we have definitely improved since yesterday which shows we keep on going in a positive direction all the time.”
At the start of Q2, Maldonado was the first man to venture onto the track to thoroughly check if his Williams was properly fixed, and he finished his lap in 1m26.716s on the medium compound. Not a good time, as Senna who was second on the track immediately put in a lap of 1m24.716s. The real battle for Q3 now began. Both McLarens didn't want to take any chances and started Q2 on the soft tyres, and five minutes into the second session Button was the first to set a benchmark after completing a lap in 1m23.427s.
But the Briton would not hold the fastest time for long, as a determined and very fast Vettel did what he always does and stunned the competition with a super fast lap of 1m23.105s, but there was still more to come from the 2010 champion. After eight minutes Vettel was leading, followed by Button, Rosberg and Webber. Alonso and Massa soon followed to secure their place for Q3, all were on the soft tyres, except Hamilton who set his time on the medium compound. Mixed fortunes again for team mates, Vettel was first while Webber was fifth, Button was second and Hamilton eighth, Alonso fourth and Massa seventh and Rosberg was in third while Schumacher was in seventh position. A few minutes later Vettel improved his own fastest time, while further down the field a fight for Q3 began to unfold.
With just five minutes to go, Senna, Sutil, Barrichello, Maldonado, Buemi, Perez and Kobayashi were in the drop zone, Buemi tried hard but stayed in 12th. Di Resta and Sutil were the fastest of the last seven and finally took 11th and 12th place, di Resta missed Q3 by just 0.006s. Behind them both Williams drivers were trying to improve their time, but Barrichello ended the session in 12th, and Maldonado in 13th place. They pushed Buemi further down and the Swiss driver took 16th place. And finally both Sauber drivers were the last to miss out on Q3, as Perez finished in 15th and Kobayashi in 17th place.
Di Resta wasn’t all too disappointed on missing out on Q3, "Overall I'm pretty pleased with how things went today. I was very close to making Q3 and it's a shame to miss out by just six thousandths of a second, but that just shows how fierce the fight is in the middle of the pack.”
It was a close call for Hamilton, who had to go out again as he was only in eighth place, and he perhaps used an extra set of tyres to secure his place in the top ten, which could be a disadvantage for tomorrow’s race. Both Lotus Renault drivers were again in good form and joined the top ten shoot out for pole position.
Another ten minutes later and Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus Renault were on track to determine who would grab pole position today. Both Ferrari drivers were in a hurry and were first on track to record a timed lap, and they were soon followed by Vettel and both McLarens. It was Button who first beat Ferrari and Vettel by putting a new fastest time of 1m22.777s on the clock. Vettel had a small problem in the Variante Ascari and had to abort his first run, but five minutes later he was faster than the others in the last sector and took over the lead with 1m22.613s.
By now it was clear Vettel was again very fast and determined to take another pole position, and there was not really much the remaining nine drivers could do to stop the German. Both Button and Hamilton made a quick visit to the pit for new tyres and with just three minutes to go attacked Vettel’s time. Webber had stayed in the garage until the last possible moment, and it stands to reason to believe he has an extra set of softs for the race tomorrow.
It became a last lap dash to the finish to clinch pole position, but Vettel’s crew had sent him on track exactly where they wanted him to be, and he was the last who could finish a fast lap. Button’s lap initially looked promising, but after a small error he called it quits and returned to the pit to end his qualification in third place. Next to cross the line were Massa and Alonso, but they were not fast enough and ended the afternoon in fourth and sixth place.
Alonso was nevertheless satisfied with the result, “Fourth place is possibly my most common result in qualifying this season, so I definitely cannot be surprised at this performance.” And the Spaniard is hoping for a podium finish tomorrow, “Usually, in the race we go better than in qualifying, therefore this grid position could provide the basis for a podium finish, which is our realistic target for tomorrow afternoon.”
Hamilton also couldn’t match Vettel’s pace and crossed the line in third place. Schumacher and Rosberg didn’t even try to go for pole, and Schumacher finished eighth, while Rosberg finished ninth on a set of medium tyres, so he will also have an extra set of softs tomorrow. Webber was the last serious threat for Vettel, but the Australian didn’t seem to try hard and finished in fifth place. Both Lotus Renault drivers were also on track but didn’t want to waste tyres, took it relatively easy and Petrov took seventh, and Senna 10th place.
Last man to cross the line was Vettel, who again improved his time with half a second, again showing the competition he is the man to beat - if he can be beaten that is.
Even Hamilton was impressed with Vettel’s qualifying lap, “"Clearly, we're very competitive - Jenson and I both qualified in the top three - but Seb [Vettel] was mega-quick today. In Q1 and Q2 we were pretty close to him, but he pulled out another half-second in Q3. It was an extremely good lap.”
Button was still positive about the team’s chances tomorrow, "Third is usually a pretty good place to start - it's on the clean side of the track - but around here it can be pretty tough to find a way past the first two cars on the run down to the first corner. But we're focused on tomorrow, the team is in a good position, and we can definitely score some good points.”
And thus the qualification for the Italian Grand Prix ended with an other pole for pole collector Vettel, who will be looking to add another smiley sticker on his car tomorrow. But with several drivers having an extra set of tyres for tomorrow, it will certainly become another exiting race in this year’s Formula One’s championship when the light turn to green for the start of the Italian Grand Prix tomorrow.