By: Max Davies, F1 Correspondent
- Vettel scores yet another pole position
- Webber 18th after massive problems
- Impressive result for Toro Rosso duo
Maintaining his dominant start to the year, defending Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel took a fourth consecutive pole position in qualifying for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix.
The 24-year old never looked likely to be toppled from the head of the timing sheets throughout the weekend as the Red Bull driver topped all three Shanghai practice sessions before his unbeatable 1m33.706s pole lap which was an impressive 0.7s quicker than the best Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton could muster for McLaren-Mercedes who claimed 2nd and 3rd respectively.
"I tried to keep reminding myself and the team as well that every single time is tough," Vettel said. "I think today wasn't as straightforward as we probably planned, especially in Q2 I didn't feel 100% comfortable, I had a bit of a mistake in the run I had in Q2. But yeah I was confident and then in Q3 obviously we were able to improve by quite a lot."
"It all starts from zero again [in the race]. Obviously today we did a good job on more time, but all it is eight metres tomorrow, so we're looking to score some points. It will be a long race, I think we can be as happy as we can be with the car, with everything around us.”
“We had very good long runs on Friday so I think we have reason to feel good. But obviously there's also a threat to feel too good, so obviously I pay attention to make sure that doesn't happen. Tomorrow is a new day and whatever happened today is not really of much importance except that we get a very good spot on the grid."
I think today wasn't as straightforward as we probably planned
Red Bull team mate Mark Webber endured a disastrous session which saw the Australian drop out after Q1 with a time only quick enough for 18th. Car problems blighted his morning running and while the RB7 was repaired in time for the afternoon qualifying session though it ran without the problematic KERS system. At the end of Q1, all drivers near the cut-off point chose the softer tyres while Webber chose the harder rubber which proved to be the wrong decision.
"It's been a dreadful day for Mark today,” team boss Christian Horner declared. “He had some electrical problems this morning and it was a massive effort to get the car ready.”
"(It was) not a great first run. We went again on the primes and unfortunately those tyres were not quite up to temperature and it didn't work out. Everything we saw this morning showed we should be able to do that.
Unfortunately those tyres were not quite up to temperature and it didn't work out
"It's very easy with hindsight to say we should have gone on the option. It was the team's call. He's just had rotten luck this weekend and I'm sure he can race very well from there."
Button claimed second with a 1m34.421s lap and maintained his impressive form as the 2009 world champ out qualified Hamilton for the first time in 2011.
“The pace of Sebastian and Red Bull was phenomenal in Q3,” Button said. “In Q2 it looked like it was possible, that is why I tried to run with two sets of tyres in Q3 and give it a try, then I saw Seb's time and realised we were fighting for second place.
"It has been a reasonably good day for us, yesterday I don't think we had the perfect balance, we were not extracting the best out of it," he added. "Today we made some good changes, especially overnight, and the car was more consistent and I think we extracted what we could have out of it today.”
Hamilton admitted his main concerns were for Sunday’s race: "We are in quite a strong [tyre] position: the options I just qualified on, a new set of options and a new set of primes and a decent set of options as well," he said. "I just wanted to increase chances for the race because that is what counts."
Mercedes enjoyed a strong resurgence courtesy of Nico Rosberg who took fourth place with a 1m34.670s, a mere 0.2s shy of the McLarens and 0.9s off the pace of Vettel.
It’s been very difficult the last few weeks, and today we’ve improved the car
“It’s a positive day for us,” Rosberg said. “It’s been very difficult the last few weeks, and today we’ve improved the car, that’s clear, just with very simple, basic things – and obviously a lot of hard work, too. It’s nice to see.
Team mate and seven time champion Michael Schumacher struggled to find an optimum balance and was a disappointed 14th after making a mistake at the final hair pin on his last lap in Q2.
Ferrari continued their struggle with both Fernando Alonso (1m35.119s) and Felipe Massa (1m35.145s) claiming 5th and 6th ahead of the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari (1m36.158s) and the ever-impressive Paul Di Resta who claimed 8th with a 1m36.190s lap in the Force India.
Vitaly Petrov made it into Q3 but his Lotus Renault caused a late red flag with two minutes of Q2 still remaining, his car coming to a stop just before turn 6 with gearbox problems.
In the melee that followed after the resumption of the session, Alguersuari’s team mate Sebastien Buemi and di Resta both held onto their Q3 positions and despite Petrov not turning a wheel in the final session, he ensured Adrian Sutil was bumped down to 11th in the second Force India.
Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi took 12th and 13th for Sauber while Rubens Barrichello was the leading Williams driver in 15th. Nick Heidfeld went 16th quickest for Lotus Renault ahead of Pastor Maldonado in the second Williams.
The demise of Webber was the only surprise of the opening session which saw the departure of the usual drivers. Heikki Kovalainen was the lading Team Lotus driver in 19th while team mate Jarno Trulli headed Jerome D'Ambrosio who claimed 21st, managing to out-qualify his Marussia Virgin team mate Timo Glock for the first time.
Both Hispania drivers enjoyed a break from tradition and were within the 107% rule which will enable them to line up for tomorrow’s race.