By: Max Davies, F1 Correspondent
- Sebastian Vettel once again tops the time sheets
- Mercedes GP becoming more and more competitive
- Several teams saved extra set of tyres for the race
Sebastian Vettel claimed his fourth consecutive pole position in dominant fashion after heading all three parts of qualifying for Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul.
Expelling worries that his crash on Friday morning and subsequent lack of running would prove to be a concern, the defending world champion continued his earlier final free practice form by topping the time sheets at the end of an exciting battle for pole position.
The Red Bull driver demonstrated that despite their rivals running with various upgrades designed to close the gap to Vettel and team mate Mark Webber at the front, the Red Bulls were still over 0.6s clear of the field with Webber a disappointing 0.4s behind his German counterpart.
"I'm very happy,” Vettel said after his 1m25.049s pole lap. “It was a bit funny in Q3 today, as both Mark and I decided we would skip the second run and so we finished earlier than normal. It was a strange feeling, as the other cars are on track setting times and you are in the garage watching - they might beat you, but you can only watch the screens and there's nothing you can do. It was an odd feeling but a good decision to save tyres for tomorrow's race.
“I messed up the car yesterday morning, so we missed the session in the afternoon, but the guys fixed it for today and I think they did a very good job. We have been up there with the times today, although we didn't have a trouble free morning and we had a bit to catch up. I like the track here which helps and it was nice to see that, without many laps, I was able to come back and find the rhythm, so all-in-all I'm very happy today."
I was able to come back and find the rhythm, so all-in-all I'm very happy today
Buoyed from the 3rd place finish registered three weeks previous in the Chinese Grand Prix after starting a lowly 18th on the grid, Webber was pleased with his 1m25.454s lap despite being 0.405s shy of his team mate.
"I would have liked to have got a couple more tenths to have the margin; obviously Sebastian did a very good lap for pole, but my lap wasn't too bad,” Webber declared. “We spoke before qualifying and decided that, as tomorrow is going to be a long race, every lap you could save today might help tomorrow. It turns out that we're in the best possible grid positions and the team did a good job, as we have saved a set of tyres too, so it's looking good. There were some good decisions from the team. I'm happy with today and am looking forward to tomorrow's race."
Underlining the performance gains generated by the upgrades fitted to his Mercedes, Nico Rosberg was a delighted third on a 1m25.574s, his glee perhaps fuelled by the sight of seeing his team mate Michael Schumacher only 8th after an earlier free practice form that suggested a competitive afternoon.
"I'm very happy for all of us really because I think we've just done really well to come back from the difficult start all the way to where we are now,” Rosberg said. “We're getting ever closer to where we want to be and that's really nice - today was a good day again. We got everything right, I think my car setup and everything, qualifying generally went very well and we even saved one set of options for tomorrow which is very positive for the race."
McLaren were unable to emulate their earlier form in the weekend with Lewis Hamilton’s 1m25.595s lap only good enough for fourth on the grid after having to use an extra set of tyres trying to maintain the pace of the quicker Red Bull’s and Rosberg.
"We're starting on the dirty side of the grid - so our biggest challenge tomorrow could be getting off the line,” a frustrated Hamilton said. “Mercedes GP and Ferrari have picked up their pace, and it might be hard to overtake the Mercedes GP because they're very fast on the straights; so if it pans out like that, the Red Bulls could edge away from us. We don't have an extra set of [unused] tyres, but you never know what the weather will do tomorrow.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso maintained his traditional 2011 qualifying position by posting a time good enough only for fifth with a lap of1m25.851s. The Spaniard went into the qualifying hour confident of a better result but ultimately, the upgrades fitted to the F150° Italia fell a little short of expectations to move the double world champion nearer to the front.
Fifth place is not the sort of result one can be pleased about
"Fifth place is not the sort of result one can be pleased about, but today I am happy because I felt the car was more competitive than it has been in the first three qualifying sessions of the season,” Alonso confirmed. “Getting into Q2 without using the soft tyres is significant. We have made a small step forward in terms of performance: it's not yet enough and we quickly need to make a bigger one, but it's definitely a confidence boost for the whole team, who are working in the right direction.”
Unable to maintain his form from the second free practice on Friday, Jenson Button was a frustrated sixth in the second McLaren after complaining of poor balance. The 2009 world champion’s time of 1m25.982s was unexpected but the former champ remained optimistic of a good afternoon come Sunday.
"Sixth position isn't great, but we can still do well,” Button said. “Webber had a good race from 18th in China, so we can definitely have a good race from sixth. Maybe I should have just done a single run for Q3 because my second run wasn't any faster than my first - and you tend to lose time if you push these tyres too hard. It's a pity that I'm on the dirty side of the track - it might cause a few problems with the getaway into Turn One tomorrow - but we're competitive. We'll be in the running tomorrow."
Vitaly Petrov took seventh after impressing with a best time of 1m26.296. The Russian’s lap was good enough to see the Renault driver out qualify his more experienced team mate Nick Heidfeld who took ninth with a best of 1m26.659s.
Sandwiched by the Renault pairing, Michael Schumacher was a frustrated eighth for Mercedes GP after his form in free practice earlier in the day suggested a better grid slot than the German was ultimately able to achieve with a 1m26.646s lap.
"Understandably I am not happy at all with today's qualifying,” the seven-time world champion stormed. “It was just strange, it seemed that the more I pushed on my last lap, the more went wrong. I was at the limit of what I had in my hand but the car was just sliding around and therefore I never got into my rhythm. It's a real shame after this morning's promising session."
Completing the top ten, Felipe Massa struggled for pace in the second Ferrari - the triple Turkish GP race winner making a mistake at Turn 9 in Q3 and loosing time. The Brazilian’s lap was ruined and in the interest of keeping his tyres in prime condition, a possible masterstroke is in the offing for tomorrow’s race which could prove to deliver possibly as many as four pit stops in a race where tyre wear is expected to be high.
“It was not a good qualifying for me,” Massa said. “I did not manage to get a clean lap in Q3 after I made a significant mistake at Turn 9, when I ended up going off line: we therefore decided it was better to pit and save that set of tyres for the start. We will see what the tyre degradation will be like, maybe it will be a bit higher than what we saw in China. A shame, as I could have been on the third row, along with my team-mate.”
Williams enjoyed their best qualifying session in 2011 after Rubens Barrichello ended 11th on a 1m26.764s after looking certain to make it into Q3 until Heidfeld went quicker in the dying moments of Q2. Team mate Pastor Maldonado was 14th with a best effort of 1m27.236s - the Venezuelan behind the Force India cars of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta who posted laps of 1m27.027s and 1m27.145s respectively.
Sauber’s Sergio Perez went 15th quickest with a 1m27.244s lap while Sebastien Buemi headed Toro Rosso team mate Jaime Alguersuari - the Swiss driver recording a best lap of 1m27.255s to go 16th while the Spaniard was three tenths down on a 1m27.572s.
Team Lotus pairing Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli took 18th and 19th on the grid with laps of 1m28.780s and 1m31.119s respectively, ahead of Marussia Virgin’s Jerome d'Ambrosio who recorded a best of 1m30.445s to go 20th – out qualifying his more experienced team mate Timo Glock who could only manage 23rd with a best time of 1m30.813s.
Tonio Luizzi impressed by slotting his Cosworth-powered Hispania between the Virgin’s of d’Ambrosio and Glock to record his best qualifying position of 2011. the Italian’s 1m30.692s lap was over 0.9s quicker than his team mate Narain Karthikeyan (1m31.564s) who would have finished last had Kamui Kobayashi not retired from Q1 after his engine cut out before he could record a time.