Sebastian Vettel recorded his third pole of the season and the 18th pole of his short career in Shanghai on Saturday.
The Red Bull driver put his RB7 on the top spot with a stunning lap of 1:33.706 – some seven-tenths quicker than the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
It could not be ignored that Red Bull excelled in the cooler conditions of Shanghai, just as they did in Melbourne.
“We have done it again, but every single time is tough. In Q3 I was confident that we were able to improve quite a lot. Obviously today we did a good job, but it’s just eight metres on the track tomorrow. We did some good long runs on Friday and so we have a reason to feel good, but it’s also a threat to feel too good – so I pay attention that doesn’t happen.”
It was not the most nail biting of Q3’s – indeed Vettel went out early to set his fastest run and while he took to track for a second run before the clock ticked down, it was clear no one was going to touch the German.
Button was also out early for a single run, while Hamilton’s only timed lap came late on in the session. Afterwards, the 2009 World Champion was pragmatic about the session:
“After Q2, I thought we’d have a shot at pole today, but, looking at Sebastian’s final laptime, second place was realistically all we could do. Overnight, we made some improvements to the car; I think there are still areas where we need to improve to challenge Red Bull… This is my best grid position of the season; the car felt really consistent all afternoon and I got pretty much everything out of it.”
Nico Rosberg took an encouraging 4th in his Mercedes. After a tough race weekend in Malaysia, the cooler conditions helped the MGP-W02 to a faster pace and a second row slot.
Fernando Alonso led the Ferrari’s on the third row of the grid, although neither Alonso, nor Felipe Massa would be happy to be 1.4 seconds down on Vettel.
Both Toro Rosso’s made it to Q3 for the first this season, with Jaime Alguersuari (7th) ahead of Sebastien Buemi (9th). They squeezed Force India’s Paul di Resta in 8th place – the Scot out-qualified his teammate Adrian Sutil for the third consecutive Grand Prix weekend.
Renault’s Vitaly Petrov made the third stint of qualifying; however his R31 suffered an hydraulics failure at the tail end of Q2, leaving the Russian stranded for the final session and understandably disappointed.
“I am very disappointed with what happened after having just completed a very fast lap which put me in fourth position at the end of Q2. The car lost power so I stopped on the side of the track. Because of the power failure, I couldn’t move off the track and so that was the end of my qualifying.”
On the sixth row is the under pressure Force India of Sutil. The German just missed out the final qualifying run by 0.16 of-a-second, following a flying run his his teammate.
Sutil pipped the Sauber duo of Sergio Perez (12th) and Kamui Kobayashi (13th), although both of the Swiss machines qualified ahead of ahead of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, although the German’s quick lap was ruined by a malfunctioning rear wing yet again.
In 16th place, Nick Heidfeld became a Renault filling in a Williams sandwich. The German veteran arguable suffered greatly when Petrov stopped out on track in Q2 – the red flags appearing just as Heidfeld was to embark on his quick lap.
The Renault man just lost out to Rubens Barrichello (15th), but was slightly quicker than Pastor Maldonado (17th).
Mark Webber was a shock exit in the first stint of qualifying. The Red Bull man struggled on hard tyres, three-tenths shy of the cut-off point. With the KERS unit not operational, Webber found himself vulnerable.
“It’s a very frustrating day. We didn’t have a smooth P3 (practice) or Q1 and we paid the ultimate price at end of the day. We thought we had enough to get through on the prime tyres – we have the pace, but I couldn’t get the tyre working on my second run. I can’t remember the last time I was out in Q1; it was a long, long time ago, so it was a bad day for us.”
Behind Webber, the Lotus pairing of Heikki Kovalainen (19th) and Jarno Trulli (20th) had a tough time in the cooler conditions. The Anglo-Malaysia team were unable to get heat into their Pirelli’s, yet were still able to stay ahead of the Virgin’s and Hispania’s – all of whom beat the 107% cut-off point easily.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m33.706s 2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m34.421s + 0.715 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m34.463s + 0.757 4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.670s + 0.964 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m35.119s + 1.413 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m35.145s + 1.439 7. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.158s + 2.452 8. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.190s + 2.484 9. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.203s + 2.497 10. Vitaly Petrov Renault No time Q3 cut-off time: 1m35.858s Gap ** 11. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m35.874s + 1.388 12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.053s + 1.567 13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.236s + 1.750 14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m36.457s + 1.971 15. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m36.465s + 1.979 16. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m36.611s + 2.125 17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m36.956s + 2.470 Q3 cut-off time: 1m36.147s Gap * 18. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.468s + 1.196 19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m37.894s + 2.622 20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m38.318s + 3.046 21. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m39.119s + 3.847 22. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m39.708s + 4.436 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m40.212s + 4.940 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m40.445s + 5.173 107% time: 1m41.941s * Gap to quickest in Q1 ** Gap to quickest in Q2