One day, all things must come to an end and in Barcelona today, Mark Webber finally broke Sebastian Vettel’s string of pole positions.
The Red Bull was the last of the “fast” runners to set a time – Vettel and the McLaren pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button crossed the line first to set their respective times.
But where Vettel looked to have set an unbeatable marker (1:21.181) halfway through Q3, Webber followed moments later, setting a blistering time that was two-tenths clear of the reigning champion.
“It was clear going into qualifying that we might have had a bit of a margin and would be battling for pole between ourselves today. We got through Q1 on the first set of hard tyres, which was good, and then in the crucial part of qualifying –in Q3 – it was just about getting the lap right.”
In the end, neither McLaren came remotely close to the Red Bull’s and as the chequered flag flew, Hamilton was confirmed as 3rd, but to be nearly one second slower than the Red Bull’s must be disheartening. The McLaren driver flatspotted his Pirelli’s on his fast lap, meaning he will start tomorrow’s race on slightly damaged rubber.
“The Red Bulls look very strong, but I’m going to do everything I can to jump at least one – if not both – of them at the start. When you start from the clean side of the grid, you automatically have a much better opportunity of getting a good start. When you’re trying to eke every last drop out of the car, you sometimes lock the front wheels – and that’s just what happened on my final lap. While the flat-spot to the front-left doesn’t look perfect, we’ll manage it by rebalancing the wheels, so it’ll be fine. We’ve definitely made an improvement this weekend.”
On the other hand, Fernando Alonso appeared to be delighted with his efforts. The Spaniard split the McLaren’s, giving Alonso reason to whoop over the car-pit radio – an unexpected reaction, but indicative of where Ferrari currently sit in the order.
“I did a perfect lap: I reckon that if I tried to repeat it twenty times, I could not do better! 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.”
Button for his troubles, took 5th – only three-hundredths shy of Hamilton / Alonso.
Vitaly Petrov was the best of the rest-of-the-rest in 6th. The Russian placed his Renault some two-tenths clear of Nico Rosberg (7th, Mercedes) and half-a-second ahead of Felipe Massa (8th, Ferrari).
It was a poor effort by Massa – his sole run was 1.907 shy of pole and nearly an entire second slower than his teammate.
“This was definitely not the qualifying performance we were expecting, but all weekend long we have struggled with the balance of the car: we would have needed to be perfect to start a bit further up the order and that was not the case.”
Pastor Maldonado secured a 9th place start for Williams, while Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher decided not to set a time in Q3 – with his KERS unit not operating, the team opted instead to save tyres for the race itself.
Sebastien Buemi leads the Toro Rosso charge from the sixth row, two spots and four-tenths of-a-second ahead of teammate Jaime Alguersuari. It’s another inter-team win for the Swiss pilot, coming shortly after a good points score in Turkey.
Sergio Perez split the Red Bull junior squad – his best of 1:23.367 was also more than enough to get ahead of his fellow Sauber runner, Kamui Kobayashi, although the Japanese driver may complain of being blocked on his final run.
From the indifference of the Sauber garage, came the relief and delight of the Lotus crew. For the first time since their return to Formula 1, the Anglo-Malaysian team found their way to Q2 on merit – Heikki Kovalainen book 15th place for his green-and-yellow machine.
“This is obviously a great day for Team Lotus and I want to thank everyone here and back at the factory for working so hard to get us to this next step in our story. With the work we did overnight and in FP3 I can feel that we have found a much better balance in the high-speed corners, and we can work more on how it feels in the low speed corners which is where I think we will find even more time.”
Next up were the Force India’s, led by Paul di Resta. despite upgrades to the car, both di Resta and teammate Adrian Sutil have struggled somewhat over the weekend. They will start 16th and 17th respectively.
The second Lotus of Jarno Trulli sits alongside Sutil on the ninth row. The Italian was delayed by a gearbox issue, only managing a single run at the end of Q1, but it was enough to clear Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello.
Sadly for the Brazilian, his 2011 season just goes from bad to worse. An initial run of hard tyres saw Barrichello set a best of 1:26.910, only for a gearbox problem to confine him to the pits for the rest of the session.
“I knew we had a gearbox problem as soon as I went out in Q1 as it felt strange. I think there is a big positive in saving a set of tyres, which is one way of looking at it, but having seen where Pastor finished, we could also have had a good shot inside the top ten. I will be pushing to be there tomorrow.”
Timo Glock starts alongside Barrichello, with both Hispania’s taking the eleventh row (led by Vitantonio Liuzzi), ahead of Jerome d’Ambrosio.
Nick Heidfeld will start tomorrow’s race from last position. The Renault team were just unable to prepare his car in time following Heidfeld’s scary fire in third practice.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m20.981s 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.181s + 0.200 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.961s + 0.980 4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.964s + 0.983 5. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.996s + 1.015 6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.471s + 1.490 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.599s + 1.618 8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.888s + 1.907 9. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m22.952s + 1.971 10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes Q3 cut-off time: 1m23.026s Gap ** 11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.231s + 1.691 12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.367s + 1.827 13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.694s + 2.154 14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.702s + 2.162 15. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m25.403s + 3.863 16. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.126s + 4.586 17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m26.571s + 5.031 Q3 cut-off time: 1m25.874s Gap * 18. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m26.521s + 3.561 19. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m26.910s + 3.950 20. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.315s + 4.355 21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m27.809s + 4.849 22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m27.908s + 4.948 23. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m28.556s + 5.596 24. Nick Heidfeld Renault No time 107% time: 1m28.767s * Gap to quickest in Q1 ** Gap to quickest in Q2