Australian GP qualifying: Vettel takes dominant pole

Sebastian Vettel today took a dominant pole position for tomorrow’s opening race of the 2011 season, the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel showed that he has every intention of continuing where he left off last season by setting a time nearly a second clear of the rest of the field.

The German was quickest in all three sessions, but especially so in the last where he was 0.8 seconds clear of the next fastest man, Lewis Hamilton. The two are both thought not to have had their KERS working during the session.

“It was a bit of a funny winter beause a lot of things changed, the car changed a lot, and we all had to work our way with the [new] tyres, but coming here it looks quite promising,” he said.

“The key is to finish the race, to see the chequered flag, because last year I had to retire halfway through. But we’ve had a very, very good preparation, we hardly had any reliability issues, and the car is not too slow, so things are looking good. Today was the base, and it couldn’t be any better.”

Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber will be third on the grid, with Jenson Button fourth.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso had a disappointing time in the first competitive session of the season, setting a time only fast enough for fifth.

“We were not super-competitive today (compared to) practice,” Alonso told the BBC.

“We knew if we took a big risk we may be fourth, if we are safe, we go fifth or sixth, so no need to take risks in the first qualifying of the season.
“Position we are happy, distance from pole we are not happy, so we need to look at that overnight. Overall grip was where we lacked. We were not so bad yesterday, so we missed something today. I suspect this was not normal pace from us and we will get better and better tomorrow.”

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov reinforced the suspected potential of the R31, going sixth quickest, and Nico Rosberg will not be unhappy with seventh after a challenging winter.

Felipe Massa will line up eighth, with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi underlining their improved testing performances with ninth and tenth respectively.

Michael Schumacher was very close to getting to the final Q3 shootout, but missed out on account of a poor out lap before his last Q2 effort. He starts 11th.

Jaime Alguersuari in the much-improved Toro Rosso will go from 12th on the grid, followed by a trio of rookies in the shape of Sergio Perez (Sauber), Paul di Resta (Force India) and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams. The latter two have the unusual honour for debutants of outqualifying their team mates – Adrian Sutil was the first to be undone by the new technology when he opened his wing flap by accident and was lucky to avoid a big crash, and Rubens Barrichello made an elementary error into Turn 3 and ended up in the gravel. Sutil will start 16th and Barrichello 17th.

From those to go out in Q1, the big name was Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, whose performance will have to improve if he wants to retain Robert Kubica’s coveted seat. The usual suspects were at the back, the Lotuses of Kovalainen and Trulli leading home the Virgins of Glock and d’Ambrosio. The Virgin team will be happy to have qualified at all, but the HRTs were outside the 107% cut and will have to rely on special dispensation from the other teams to race tomorrow.

Pos Driver Team Time
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.529s + 0.778s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.307s + 0.866s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m24.395s + 1.250s
4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.779s + 1.445s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.974s + 1.718s
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m25.247s + 1.892s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.421s + 2.070s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.599s + 2.097s
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.626s + 3.537s
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s + 2.442s
Q2 cut-off time: 1m25.882s
11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.971s
12. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.103s
13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.108s
14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.739s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.768s
16. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.407s
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
Q3 cut-off time: 1m27.222s
18. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m27.239s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.254s
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m29.342s
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m29.858s
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.822s
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m32.978s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m34.2932