Turkish GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Pole Position Hat-trick For Webber
Mark Webber (1m26.295) did it again in Turkey, the Australian taking his third successive pole position to move 4-3 ahead in his personal 2010 battle with Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull continues to set the F1 qualifying pace.
This time, however, there was competition from McLaren Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton (1:26.433) splitting the Red Bulls on the grid. Webber was just three hundredths quicker than Hamilton after the first Q3 runs but found another couple of tenths on his final run, while team mate Vettel (1:26.760) ran wide in sector one on his last run and had to be content with third.
"It hasn't been the smoothest weekend so far," Webber said. "Friday was a bit disruptive but not so bad -- if ever there's a right time to have an engine problem that is it. Then P3 this morning wasn't the easiest and I was a bit on the back foot going into qualifying, to be honest. But I dug deep and actually I'm more comfortable with race pace for tomorrow than with the out-and-out speed."
Hamilton, with McLaren 6kph quicker than Red Bull on the straight, has vowed to make things as tough as possible for Webber in the race. "Yesterday I was not 100% happy with the balance but was able to fine tune it today and put together a good lap," he said. "It feels great splitting the Red Bulls because they've been untouchable all year in terms of pace, so it's a boost for the team knowing we have good baseline speed and we've got strong race pace too."
With some starting to ask questions about where Vettel is at psychologically with Webber so strong, the German explained that his fastest times in Q1 and Q2 and his times in sector one and two of the first Q3 run were proof positive of the step forward with his new chassis in Turkey. It was simply that a locking brake issue prevented everything from coming together in the decisive part of Q3.
"The first Q3 run was great until T12 when I locked the front," he explained. "That's no issue, everyone does it, but then it kept on locking and never came back. It was the same at T13 and T14, the wheel locked very easily and costing a lot of time. Then when I started the second run, went into first turn and hit the brakes, it just went straight and I'd lost the ability to stop the car properly. It's a bit frustrating but in a way I was quite lucky to stay ahead of Jenson after such a bad first sector on my last run. We will have to see what the problem was but I think my pace tomorrow will be good."
Button (1:26.781) lines up a couple of hundredths slower than Vettel, with Michael Schumacher less than a tenth of a second adrift in the first of the Mercedes. Schumacher, pushing to the limit, spun at Turn 8 on his last run. He lines up one slot and one tenth clear of team mate Nico Rosberg.
Robert Kubica (1:27.039) qualified Renault within three-quarters of a second of the Red Bull pole and five hundredths clear of Felipe Massa (1:27.082). The Brazilian scored a hat-trick of wins from pole position at Istanbul Park between 2006-8 and was the stronger of the Ferrari drivers as Fernando Alonso, surprisingly, went out in Q2 after making an error on his final run.
Vitaly Petrov qualified four tenths behind team mate Kubica in a strong ninth place, with Kamui Kobayashi putting Sauber through to Q3 for the third time this season.
With the Red Bulls and McLarens achieving similar lap times in very different ways, the first corner of the Turkish GP could be just as significant as the first corner in Monte Carlo, even though it is a circuit where overtaking is feasible.
If Hamilton can get his nose in front, he will be difficult to pass, given his car's straightline speed advantage. But, as he pointed out, the Red Bull's super-high downforce levels allow it to pull out as much as four tenths of a second through Turn 8 alone. So, if Hamilton fails to beat Webber into Turn 1, he will be tasked with trying to stay close to the Red Bull through Turn 8 with a full tank of fuel on lap 1, in order to try and press home his straightline speed advantage on the long run through Turn 11 and into Turn 12.
That may require commitment and bravery beyond the laws of physics but if there is anyone capable of it, Hamilton is the man. Robert Kubica has already pointed out how interesting lap 1 will be with heavy fuel at Turn 8 and judging by the number of drivers who have already dropped their cars there on relatively empty tanks, it looks as if he's right!