Spanish GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Webber halts Vettel's pole run
Mark Webber (1:20.981) finally brought to an end a run of six consecutive pole positions by Red Bull Racing team mate Sebastian Vettel (1:21.181) when he set the quickest time in qualifying for the Spanish GP.
"Without wanting to sound arrogant, it was pretty clear that we had a bit of a margin here and that it should be between the two of us," Webber said. "We got through Q1 on the first set of hards as a few others did, which was good, and then the crucial part was getting the Q3 lap right. I was just praying that my number went to number one when I passed the gantry, and it did. It was a good battle with Seb and it was my day today."
It looked like a key confidence-building step for Webber, who has not been as close to his team mate on this year's Pirelli tyres as he was on Bridgestones, but, just as he looked as if he was enjoying the moment, Vettel dropped in a little nugget of deflating information...
"I can't speak of big disappointment," the world champion said. "In Q1 I was not into my rhythm immediately but we made it through on primes, in Q2 I was happier on the soft compound but then in Q3 I was not entirely happy with my lap. Mark did a good job, a better one today, it's not right to say that I didn't have KERS and that is why Mark is on pole...."
It was obviously something Sebastian was keen to get across. It transpired that Vettel did not use KERS in Q2 or Q3, whereas Webber did. KERS is generally reckoned to be worth three or four tenths around the lap and Webber's pole margin was two tenths, so it was kind of difficult to follow the German's logic, no doubt a point far from lost on Webber.
In days gone by the Spanish GP has been follow-the-leader. It has been won from pole every time for the last 10 years but, this time, with tyre degradation, KERS and DRS, Vettel is hoping that he can break the sequence.
The Red Bull drivers, having set their Q3 laps early, did not run again, and it was Lewis Hamilton's McLaren (1:21.961) that emerged as the closest challenger, although by only three thousandths of a second from Fernando Alonso's Ferrari (1:21.964) and then Jenson Button (1:21.996).
McLaren also managed to get out of Q1 on prime tyres but Ferrari did not. As in Turkey, there was a few raised eyebrows at that considering that Nick Heidfeld was unlikely to run following his fire damage in FP3. An added consideration here was that the new, harder Pirelli prime tyre was two seconds slower than the option, turning Team Lotus into a potentially bigger threat.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was spotted talking to Renault team principal Eric Boullier in the pitlane, no doubt trying to ascertain whether Heidfeld was going to run, but even if he wasn't, there was no mileage in Boullier admitting as much. Far better to let Ferrari unnecessarily use up a set of softs... Heidfeld was strapped into the Renault but didn't actually emerge from the pits.
A potential concern for Hamilton come the race is a first set of tyres that appeared to be quite badly flat-spotted after Lewis locked up the left front. "It's a bit of a shortcoming of our car," Lewis said, "Sometimes it seems like the others have ABS compared to us."
He nevertheless made light of any potential handicap: "I can start on those tyres and we can rebalance the wheels so it shouldn't be a problem - it's not as bad as Malaysia. I anticipate that we'll be closer than 1 second in the race but we'll have to wait and see. We made some set-up changes going into qualifying and it was quite a bit worse than it was in FP3 but probably only a tenth or two. I'm looking forward to a good battle with the Red Bull guys, at least for the first 100m...."
Evidence of the downforce advantage enjoyed by the Red Bull drivers was demonstrated by their use of the DRS wing midway through Barcelona's fast final turn, a luxury not enjoyed by their rivals. "We're not flat through there even without it..." Hamilton smiled.
Sixth quickest was an impressive Vitaly Petrov (1:22.471), the Renault half a second down on the evenly-matched trio ahead of him. It will also be interesting to see what Nick Heidfeld might achieve in the same car starting from the back of the grid with three sets of new option tyres.
Nico Rosberg's Mercedes (1:22.599) lines up seventh, with Felipe Massa (1:22.888), an impressive Pascal Maldonado's Williams (1:22.952) and Michael Schumacher completing the top 10. Schumacher did not run at all in Q3, having used a set of options to escape Q1.