By: Max Davies, F1 Correspondent
- Webber snatches pole from Vettel
- Teams clearly adapting new strategies
- Maldonado surprises friend and foe
From the moment he walked into the Barcelona paddock on Thursday morning, Mark Webber had the look of a man determined to claim victory in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix and by claiming a sensation pole position in today’s qualifying hour, the Australian is poised to realise his ambition.
The Red Bulls of Webber and team mate Sebastian Vettel were once again in a class of their own during the final 10-minute Q3 shootout and the sight of both men out of their cars, their laps complete, with over five minutes of the session left to run, spoke volumes of the confidence within the garage right now.
Webber’s lap of 1m20.981s was 0.2s quicker than Vettel’s best effort of 1m21.181s which had been set a minute earlier with both men choosing to make just one run in Q3.
“I think it was pretty clear going into qualifying we might have had a bit of margin so it was going to be probably down to Seb and I, maybe, for the front row. Without being arrogant, but it just looked like that,” Webber said. “Coming to the crucial part of qualifying it was just getting the lap right for Q3 so that lap was pretty good. I was just praying my number went above number one when I crossed the gantry over the start-finish line and it did. It was a nice lap. It was a good battle with Seb and today was my day.”
If Vettel was disappointed to have lost his 100% pole position record in 2011, it didn’t show with the German content with his performance.
It was between us and he did a better job today
“Mark did a good job so it was between us and he did a better job today,” the defending champion declared. “We see tomorrow but it is a long race and we saved a set of tyres, so did I think the top three and Jenson [Button] as well so we will see what we can do tomorrow.”
Despite massively locking his left front tyre on his best lap, Lewis Hamilton claimed third place for McLaren and was confident of a good day in the office for Sunday and that concerns about his starting rubber were nothing to be too concerned about.
“I do have a slight flat spot but fortunately I can start on those tyres and we can rebalance the wheel so it shouldn't be a problem for the race,” Hamilton said.” Obviously you can see the gap between ourselves and the Red Bulls has increased. However, we have improved this weekend so the guys have been working extremely hard though we were fortunate just to stay ahead of the Ferrari - that was very close.”
The Ferrari he spoke of was the home favourite Fernando Alonso who seemed to transform himself into the iconic magician Houdini and delivered a lap from the gods in a poor handling car. The Spaniard’s lap of 1m21.964s was over 0.9s adrift of the Red Bull’s but that didn’t stop Alonso whooping for joy on the run to the pits after his scintillating lap, thrilled that he had delivered for the Barcelona faithful who had come out to support him in their thousands.
"I did a perfect lap: I reckon that if I tried to repeat it twenty times, I could not do better!" he declared. "When you do a lap like that it's hard to put into words what one feels: always being on the limit in every corner is a really special feeling for a driver. I am very happy with this result, because we have never made it to the second row this year. Sure, pole position is still a long way off today, Red Bull was once again out of reach and we must work hard to try and get closer.”
Jenson Button expressed surprise at the sight of the Ferrari demoting him and his lap of 1m21.996s to fifth but remained optimistic for a good result in the race proper.
“I feel that I did a good lap, so I’m happy with that; my car got better and better throughout the session – I was only three hundredths slower than Lewis,” Button said. “I was a bit unlucky not to be third, then Fernando got between us as well, so you can see how close it is out there.
“One major positive is that, like Lewis, I’ll be starting on the clean side of the grid. Another is that, also like Lewis, I’ve got two sets of [soft, quicker] tyres that have only done one lap and another set that’s brand new – that’s going to be key tomorrow.
Like Lewis, I’ll be starting on the clean side of the grid
Vitaly Petrov claimed sixth for Renault on a 1m22.471s, just ahead of Nico Rosberg (1m22.599s) in the leading Mercedes GP and the Ferrari of Felipe Massa (1m22.888s) and the surprise of the day, Pastor Maldonado in the Williams who set a best effort of 1m22.952s on his way to ninth.
Realising he was unable to compete for top honours, Michael Schumacher elected to save his tyres for the race and kept his Mercedes parked in the garage, only venturing onto the circuit for a reconnaissance lap before heading into the pits without setting a time.
Sauber’s Sergio Perez split the two Toro Rosso cars of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari in 11th while team mate Kamui Kobayashi will line up in 14th position.
Performance of the day arguably went to Heikki Kovalainen in the Team Lotus after the popular Finn closed Q2 in a safe 15th place – the team’s highest ever qualifying position. The progress of the Norfolk-based outfit was not due to the upgrades alone as two big hitters failed to make the cut too. Rubens Barrichello could only muster 19th in the Williams after a gearbox problem saw the Brazilian stranded on the track while Lotus Renault were unable to repair Nick Heidfeld’s car following the German’s fire in the final practice session earlier in the day.
Also experiencing a gearbox issue, Jarno Trulli just managed to make it out in Q1 for Team Lotus but he too impressed and will line up 18th behind the Force India’s of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil – with the Scottish rookie out qualifying his more experienced team mate once more.
Rounding out the final runners, Timo Glock claimed 20th for Marussia Virgin with the Hispania’s of Tonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan just behind and Jerome d'Ambrosio completing the grid, a mere 0.2s shy of the dreaded 107% cut off.
For Webber the scene is now set for the Australian to finally claw back some points to Vettel who will be determined to extend his championship lead further still. The Red Bull pair have experienced problems with their KERS system so far this year and the run down to Turn 1 in Barcelona is a long one. Can they hold off the advances of Hamilton, Alonso and Button?
Who knows, but we are certainly going to enjoy seeing what does happen tomorrow afternoon.