Qualifying: Vettel delivers majestic lap to join the greats of Formula 1
23 June, 2012
Jun.23 (Apex) Sebastian Vettel delivered an astounding lap around the Valencia Street Circuit to claim top spot on the grid for the European Grand Prix, and in scoring his 33rd career pole position start, thus matching Formula 1 legends Jim Clark and Alain Prost on the all time list.
The milestone was achieved during a sizzling hot afternoon session at the harbour side circuit, which witnessed some shockers starting with Mark Webber failing to make it out of Q3. Not long after both Ferrari drivers heading for an early shower as their afternoon ended at the end of Q2 and former Maranello great Michael Schumacher also failing to progress into Q3.
At the front it was a supreme effort by the Red Bull driver, who was relatively subdued in Q1 and Q2, but again he collected himself in the cockpit before embarking on another quite remarkable flying lap and posted the time of 1 minute 38.086 which was a whopping 0.324 seconds of his closest rival considering that in Q2 (15 minutes earlier) a couple hundredths was the difference between the top ten!
It was also the third consecutive pole position for Vettel in Valencia, a circuit where three out of the four past victories have been scored from first place on the grid.
Vettel said afterwards, “We had one shot there at the end which turned out to be a very good lap. Q1 and Q2 were not to our liking. We were struggling to find the balance we did have in practice. It was a good recovery. We had to put a second set of options in Q2. It was the right call because I don’t think my first lap was good enough.”
The two times winner at the venue said, “In final qualifying, I knew going at the end [of the session], if the track comes in a little more, it should be good enough to have a look at pole. In the end it was a surprising gap. The boys have been working hard in the garage and at the factory to bring new parts. They seem to work. I’m looking forward to race.”
Lewis Hamilton surprised even himself by tasking second on the grid, at the same time appeared somewhat bewildered by the astounding pace that Vettel found in his final run. Nevertheless the Canadian Grand Prix winner has factored himself in as a contender despite struggling for pace at the wheel of the McLaren MP4-27 during the earlier practice sessions.
“I expected to be lot further back because we struggled all weekend with the set-up. Going from P3 into qualifying, we had to make a guess with the set-up. It seemed to work OK. The guys did a great job to get me a gap, and the car felt pretty good but I think the gap is quite big here,” said Hamilton.
“Looking at the grid, because it’s so hot the Lotuses look massively competitive – they’ll be ones to watch out for [in the race], and Ferrari look quick on their long runs,” concluded the 2008 world champion.
Spain is turning into a happy hunting ground for Pastor Maldonado, winner of the recent Spanish GP, who factored himself into contention with a solid performance when it mattered in Q3 and will head up the second row of the grid in his Williams.
Maldonado commented, “I think we’ve been working so hard. The car was quite quick yesterday. We were struggling a bit with the option tyres. We were a bit confused. The car didn’t feel the same as with the prime tyres. For qualifying, we understand [the issue] a bit better and here we are. I think we did a good job. Williams are getting better. I’m happy for my country and it’s a great opportunity to get on the podium and fight for a good result.”
Lotus arrived in Valencia committed to upping the ante in qualifying, and at one stage in Q3 both Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen hogged the top of the timing screens, but alas the ‘killer punch’ was missing when it mattered and the duo will be starting from fourth and fifth on the grid respectively. However they go into the grand prix confident that their race pace, their strength so far this year, could well deliver this season’s eighth winner.
Also targeting a top spot start prior to the weekend were Mercedes, but they will have to make do with Nico Rosberg starting from sixth in a session where the Silver Arrows under delivered with a car that even Rosberg acknowledges to be among the fastest, if not the fastest of all.
After qualifying Rosberg said, “Lewis was slowing down at the last corner and I arrived with full speed and all of a sudden he was there. There’s a rule in place for that. You’re not allowed to do that. That ruined it a bit for me. But I think it is possible to overtake and the strategy will be interesting.”
Kamui Kobayashi eclipsed his Sauber teammate for a change and will start the race from seventh on the grid, but they to will be wondering why they could not match their practice pace and even their Q1 speed.
Force India are enjoying one of their strongest weekends and looked to be heading for a top five grid slot, but in the final drama of Q3, when the dust settled, they were only good for eighth and tenth for Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta respectively.
The Scot owning up to an error on his final flyer that probably cost him a starting berth closer to the front, if not pole itself, “I hold my hands up. I locked a wheel into Turn 17. I made a mistake. The car had a lot of potential. It’s a bit gutting but you have to be on the edge to maximise the potential. Turn 17 caught me out last year and it’s caught me out again. I’ll take the positives from it, though.”
Splitting the Force India’s was Jenson Button will be looking up the grid to his teammate and wonder how he will regain the form which saw him win the opening race of the season in Melbourne – that will be a distant memory – as he grapples to understand where his pace has vanished to, he cut a forlorn figure as he tried to explain his afternoon in the cockpit.
“The last run in qualifying, I had a massive amount of front locking, I just couldn’t slow the car down. I couldn’t stop locking my fronts. We’re in Valencia, not a lot happens here in the race. You can’t overtake round here. The way the tyres seem to hold on for most people, I don’t think it will be the most exciting race,” said Button despondently.
Q2 was cruel to Ferrari, as their president Luca di Montezemolo strutted regally in the team’s pit garage, both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa failed to make the cut into Q3. The disappointment was palpable and the anguish and dismay clearly visible in the demeanour of Di Montezemolo as the penny dropped that his beloved red cars would be starting the race from 11th and 13th – which they summed up on their website: “A long way off the pace…”
Alonso explained, “Not reaching Q3 is a little sad for us but it is the way it was today, unfortunately we were not fast enough, but the race is tomorrow and hopefully we can score some good points even starting 11th and we see what the positions are at the end. We were two tenths away from pole position so you need a bit of luck. Maybe today, we weren’t on the lucky side.”
Massa was disappointed, “It is very tight. I think that is the worst thing, one tenth would have changed everything. In Q2 we decide to go out on new mediums straight away and maybe that was not the right thing. It’s very frustrating starting in a not so good position.”
In fairness the margin between success and failure in Q2 was minuscule, with 0.073 seconds the difference between 10th and 13th, and they in turn were only a couple of tenths down on the fastest time in the (Q2) session set by Grosjean – remarkably less than as second covered the top fifteen.
Bruno Senna, again brutally exposed by his Williams teammate in qualifying, will start from fourteenth with Sergio Perez, outshone by his Sauber teammate, starting from 15th – the pair were around three quarters of a second down on their respective teammates in Q2.
It was a memorable day for Caterham as Heikki Kovalainen, made it into Q3 and out-qualified the both Toro Rosso drivers on his way to claiming 16th on the grid.
Kovalainen reflected on a satisfying session, “I think today was genuine performance. Here, everybody is performing at their maximum levels. It’s not like Monte Carlo. I hope this is a genuine trend. We’ve got new parts this weekend and their working, but we shouldn’t rave about it too much.”
Trouble started for Mark Webber earlier in the day when he was forced to sit out most of the one hour FP3 session as the team sorted out (what appeared to be) a brake system issue. Thus in qualifying he was always on the back foot, only managing one run and failing to make it beyond Q1.
“We had no DRS so it makes it very difficult. The lap time wasn’t too bad without DRS but it doesn’t help. It’s a big hit for us,” explained Webber afterwards.
Predictions for race win? Hard to tell. Smart money would say Vettel for a hat-trick, but alas the smart money has not been that smart this year and Valencia will probably not be an exception. Watch this space!
Qualifying – Saturday, 23 June 2012
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:39.626||1:38.530||1:38.086|
|8||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:39.009||1:38.689||1:38.752|
|10||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:38.858||1:38.519||1:38.992|
|19||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:40.395|
|21||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1:42.171|
|DNS||24||Timo Glock||Marussia-Cosworth||No time|
Note – Glock did not take part in qualifying due to a stomach bug.
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