Vettel eases to pole position for European GP at Valencia
By Berthold Bouman
Sebastian Vettel took his third pole position of the season for Red Bull during qualifying for the European Grand Prix at Valencia, Spain this afternoon. The German topped the time sheets with a lap of 1m38.086s after one single run during the third and last qualifying session. Vettel did have to use a second set of soft tyres to take pole, be he reckoned it was worth it, as starting from the first place of the grid is certainly a huge advantage on a street circuit.
“I think it was a great recovery from Q1 and Q2 today, as I didn’t feel entirely happy in those,” said Vettel. And added, “It had been a good weekend leading up to qualifying, but conditions changed before Q1. However in the end we pulled it altogether. Everyone has worked very hard with preparing new parts for the car, which seem to be step forward.”
Team Principal Christian Horner was delighted with yet another pole, “After such a tight qualifying, where at stages the top seven cars were covered by less than a tenth of a second, for Sebastian to deliver a final lap that put him four tenths clear was a remarkable effort. It has earned him his 33rd pole, meaning he matches Jim Clark and Alain Prost, which are two extremely illustrious names.”
Certainly not a good day for Mark Webber who after he had experienced gearbox problems during the third free practice session this morning, during qualifying had hydraulic problems which meant his DRS didn’t work and the Australian had to throw in the towel in Q1 after taking a very disappointing 19th position on the soft Pirelli tyres.
Lewis Hamilton was the fastest McLaren driver this afternoon and took second place, 0.324s behind Vettel. “I’m extremely happy to be starting on the front row. To see other teams make big improvements to their cars this weekend, and yet still be starting from P2, is a surprise that I’ll happily take,” said Hamilton.
“We’d been struggling a little with set-up and front locking from the start of practice yesterday, so I went into qualifying really just focusing on getting a decent result and starting as high up the order as possible.”
Button again had problems with his front wheels locking and his car was as he said, ‘all over the place’ and the Briton was certainly not happy with his performance and didn’t get any further than ninth place, but at least this time he did make it into the top ten.
Pastor Maldonado had grabbed the first place for Williams earlier in Q3 but ultimately took possession of third place after beating Romain Grosjean who was fourth for Lotus with a time of 1m38.505s, the Frenchman was just 0.008s faster than his team colleague Kimi Raikkonen who will be leaving from fifth spot on the grid tomorrow.
Not a really good day for Mercedes who had high hopes ahead of qualifying, but although Nico Rosberg was able to clinch sixth place, Michael Schumacher, who was one of the favourites for this weekend, did not make it into Q3 and had to be satisfied with 12th position on tomorrow’s start grid. It seems Mercedes still hasn’t found the sweet spot when it comes to tyre performance during qualifying.
Even worse was the performance of both Ferrari pilots, Luca di Montezemolo’s presence in the Ferrari garage didn’t help very much. All Montezemolo could do was shake his head in disbelief after Grosjean had bumped Fernando Alonso out of the top ten in Q2. Alonso finished in 11th place on home soil, while a struggling Felipe Massa took 13th place.
It was a good day though for Force India, as Nico Hulkenberg grabbed eighth place and his team colleague Paul di Resta took tenth place at the Valencia street circuit this afternoon and were thus faster than both Ferraris.
Despite seventh place Hulkenberg had expected a bit more, “I think overall it’s a great result for the team to get both cars into Q3, but maybe we were hoping for a little bit more than P8 and P10, especially considering how we have performed so far this weekend.” And about the racehe commented, “we are still near the front and will take the fight to the cars around us to try and come away with some points.”
This time it was Kamui Kobayashi who made it into Q3 and landed seventh spot for Sauber with a time of 1m38.741s, while Sergio Perez had many problems and took 15th place lapping the circuit in 1m39.353s, almost one and a half second slower than the Japanese driver. “For me the car’s balance wasn’t good in qualifying, and the car felt a bit unpredictable. For the race I hope we can go at a consistent pace with a good strategy,” said Perez.
Also outside the top ten was Williams driver Bruno Senna who was 14th and was far off the pace of his Venezuelan team colleague.
Caterham had something to celebrate today, for the first time this season they qualified for the second session Q2 as Heikki Kovalainen did a great job and took 16th place beating both Toro Rossos, and thus it was all smiles in the Caterham garage this afternoon. Kovalainen attributed his progress to his hard-working team and the many upgrades they had brought for Valencia.
“Today’s performance was the result of a great effort by the whole team. This morning we weren’t sure if we could do it or not but both runs in Q1 were really good. As the temperatures went up and the track kept evolving my car just felt better and better and I really got the most out of it on that final lap on the softs,” Kovalainen commented.
Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were 17th and 18th for Toro Rosso, it was really the best they could do today. Vitaly Petrov was 20th in the second Caterham, while HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan once again beat Marussia and took 21st and 22nd place respectively.
Charles Pic was 23rd for Marussia, but the unluckiest man of the day was Timo Glock who didn’t even start qualifying as he was still suffering from a stomach bug and was way too ill to drive. Marussia will tomorrow morning announce whether the German will start the race or not.
It would have been an excellent opportunity for Maria de Villota to make her Formula One debut for a Spanish team in front of a Spanish home crowd, but unfortunately for the Spanish lady, the regulations say a driver cannot be replaced after qualifying.
The same weather conditions are expected for tomorrow, and with Vettel, Hamilton and Maldonado in the top three it will be interesting to see what happens at the first and especially the second corner, also keep an eye on Grosjean, Raikkonen and Rosberg behind them, as they are fast starters and could make up two or even three places.
The race strategy will be based upon the performance of the medium tyres, Pirelli expects at least two stops as the soft tyres will degrade very quickly at Valencia.