Abu Dhabi GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Vettel equals Mansell's pole record
BT TONY DODGINS
World champion Sebastian Vettel produced a superlative Abu Dhabi pole position lap to equal Nigel Mansell's 19-year-old record of 14 pole positions in one season.
When Vettel surpassed Mansell's record for the most laps led in a season in India, the 1992 world champion congratulated him and it was pointed out to Vettel that he had taken one race more to achieve the feat than Nigel, as there were only 16 races during Mansell's victorious '92 championship campaign.
This time, Vettel himself acknowledged that his pole achievement had taken two races longer -- Abu Dhabi is the 18th and penultimate round of this season's world championship.
That should in no way diminish an achievement that is in many respects more impressive. In '92, Mansell drove an active ride Williams FW14B that was hugely superior to the opposition. His two missed poles were to Ayrton Senna in a grunty V12 Honda at Montreal, a power track, and to Williams team mate Riccardo Patrese at Hungaroring.
While Vettel's Red Bull RB7 has undeniably been the class of the field in 2011, it has not been so by anything like the same margin as Mansell enjoyed. Mark Webber, a man who managed impressive qualifying feats in an uncompetitive Jaguar earlier in his career and has always been renowned as a strong qualifier, is a much tougher competitor for Vettel than Patrese ever was for Mansell.
Webber, however, has managed just the three poles this season with while Vettel (1:38.481) overcame a huge threat to his record-equaling potential when he saw off the challenge of Lewis Hamilton (1:38.622) and McLaren in an excellent qualifying session.
McLaren has been quick all weekend and the last sector in particular could have been designed for Hamilton, who always looks superb at Yas Marina. Once again though, Vettel was able to raise his game.
"Yesterday I wasn't that happy with the car or myself," Vettel smiled. "I crashed and cost myself a long run but this afternoon the car was quite a bit better. This place is tricky in many ways. When you practice the sun is up and it's a bit hotter, then you qualify in the twilight, the tyres come in a bit differently and the car behaves different.
"It felt better in qualifying on the soft tyres, Q2 felt much better than before, but then it's a long lap and it's difficult to put it all together. In particular after Turn 11, when you go left-right, left-right and if you take risks it's easy to lose a lot of time -- not hundredths but tenths. I wasn't happy with my first Q3 run but I was happy with the second one, got a bit of a cushion for the last sector and had just enough to jump ahead of Lewis."
Hamilton, by contrast, felt that his Q2 lap, eight hundredths quicker than Vettel's, was his best. "Neither of my Q3 runs were particularly spectacular," he said. "The car was understeering and that was really its limitation. I was pushing as hard as I could but was unable to improve."
Jenson Button (1:38.631) qualified the second McLaren just nine thousandths of a second adrift of Hamilton and found similar handling characteristics.
"We know the pace is in the car, it was just finding the right balance and I didn't feel 100% with it," Button explained. "Q3 was strange -- there was less grip, the circuit was cooler and I didn't get enough front end in the car. All weekend I've been reasonably happy with the balance but felt that there was more to get if I could help the rear end, which was nervous, which I don't like.
"Then, suddenly, I found myself with massive understeer and had to try to put front end into the car. But it was a pretty good lap."
Webber (1:38.858), at a circuit he never feels particularly well suited to, qualified 0.37s from Vettel and starts fourth, ahead of the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso (1:39.058) and Felipe Massa (1:39.695).
Nico Rosberg's (1:39.773) and Michael Schumacher (1:40.662) will line up seventh and eighth for Mercedes, ahead of the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil (1:40.768) and Paul Di Resta, who did not set a Q3 time as all four men paid close attention to tyre conservation. For the second time in five races, all six Mercedes-engined cars qualified in the top 10.
Vettel is confident that he can deliver a 12th 2011 victory but expects to have a fight on his hands with the McLarens, the race pace of the two cars seeming evenly matched during the longer runs in Friday practice.
Button, however, says that despite a double DRS zone and a long straight, overtaking will be no easy task.
"I think it's going to be tough," he said. "The zone does feel short still and I was using DRS out of Turn 7 yesterday all the way to T8, and still couldn't pass anyone."
Further down, Rubens Barrichello failed to get out in Q1 after the Williams team needed to change an engine, while Daniel Ricciardo did well to qualify just 0.13s adrift of Timo Glock's Virgin and ahead of Jerome D'Ambrosio and HRT team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi.