To say that Sebastian Vettel easily took pole position in Melbourne today would be an understatement.
It would probably be more apt if one were to say the Red Bull driver destroyed the field in qualifying.
The reigning World Champion cleared 2nd place Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) by over seven-tenths of a second.
According to Vettel;
“We’ve been working very hard to get the RB7 to where it is now – it’s thanks to all those in the factory and those here, down under, for preparing the car. If you look at the points we still have zero like everyone else, so we need to see what happens tomorrow.”
The McLaren team made a very late change to their exhaust system and upon initial inspection, it appears to have been a big improvement.
“The car felt fantastic, and I owe it all to the guys back at the factory, in the design office and those building components. It was a brave decision to make such a dramatic change to the car, and a superb effort to deliver that change.”
Hamilton also said:
“…although I was pleased with my performance today, my KERS Hybrid stopped working halfway round my final lap – I had 40 per cent left that I couldn’t deploy – but that would have been worth only an extra couple of tenths.”
Red Bull / McLaren also aligned the second row of the grid, with Mark Webber taking 3rd ahead of Jenson Button.
While Webber may be vaguely happy with starting on the clean side of the grid come tomorrow’s Grand Prix, the Australian was be dismayed to be a full eight-tenths off his teammate’s pace.
Webber revealed that he was:
“…disappointed with my performance today. Sebastian put in a very good lap. I’m a little bit mystified by the gap to be honest, I tried my best. I’ll have to go through it and have a look at where I can improve and go from there.”
Fernando Alonso will lead the Ferrari charge from the third row, accompanied there by the Renault of Vitaly Petrov (6th). The Russian has certainly impressed so far this weekend, often showing the confidence and pace that eluded him in 2010.
Petrov was clearly happy following the chequered flag:
“After all the hard work during a very tough winter for the whole team, it feels great to come here and qualify on the third row. The car has felt good right from the start of practice and we’ve improved it constantly during each session. I’m not too worried about the tyres because they have been working well for us so far and we have not seen the drop off that we saw during winter testing.”
Nico Rosberg took 7th for Mercedes, albeit 1.9 seconds shy of Vettel’s pace. The former Williams man beat Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to (a disappointing) 8th, although Massa harmed both his tyres and his final run thanks to a spin at the first corner on his outlap.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi (9th) and Sebastien Buemi (10th, Toro Rosso) impressed with runs to the fifth row.
Michael Schumacher will start from 11th in his Mercedes after two minor errors cost him valuable time. The seven-time World Champion pipped the second Toro Rosso of Jamie Alguersuari (12th) and Sauber’s Sergio Perez (13th) by just over one-tenth.
Rookie Paul di Resta (14th) out qualified his Force India teammate, Adrian Sutil (16th), after Sutil botched his fast lap with a very impressive spin exiting the final corner.
It was a similar situation at Williams as Formula 1 new boy Pastor Maldonado (15th) out-qualified Rubens Barrichello (17th). The Brazilian veteran never recorded a Q2 time after spinning into the gravel trap on his outlap.
Despite showing relatively well in testing and in practices, the Renault of Nick Heidfeld was the big name to fall out in first qualifying, although he did possess a large advantage over the second year teams, led by Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen (19th). Both of the Norfolk cars struggled badly with low tyre temperatures, leaving them at the mercy of the field.
Also out were the Virgin’s of Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio. Both made it comfortably into the race, albeit in 21st and 22nd positions respectively.
Sadly for Hispania, both their drivers missed the 107% cut-off point, with Vitantonio Liuzzi 1.6 seconds off and Narain Karthikeyan three seconds outside the barrier.
They have not been given permission to start tomorrow’s race – a decision which may hasten the demise of the team.
**A note for those that watched the press conference following the end of qualifying.
As James Allen spoke about Vettel’s fastest lap done without KERS, Hamilton gave one of the most telling shakes of the head I have ever seen. An acknowledgement of just how far ahead the Vettel / Red Bull package is?
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.529s 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.307s + 0.778s 3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m24.395s + 0.866s 4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.779s + 1.250s 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.974s + 1.445s 6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m25.247s + 1.718s 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.421s + 1.892s 8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.599s + 2.070s 9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.626s + 2.097s 10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s + 3.537s Q2 cut-off time: 1m25.882s 11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.971s 12. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.103s 13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.108s 14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.739s 15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.768s 16. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.407s 17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth Q3 cut-off time: 1m27.222s 18. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m27.239s 19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.254s 20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m29.342s 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m29.858s 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.822s 107% time: 1m31.266s 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m32.978s 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m34.293s