As Sebastian Vettel sped well clear of the otherwise tightly-bunched Valencia field in qualifying, the latest rumblings about the legality of his 2012 Red Bull began to grow louder.
A new Adrian Newey-penned floor has debuted on the RB8 this weekend, which according to some sources produces a kind of ‘double diffuser’ effect. And veteran photographer Darren Heath said he heard from his regular trackside vantage point in practice “what sounds like off-throttle blowing” coming from German Vettel’s car.
Then, with the chasing seven drivers all separated by a similar margin, Vettel stunned the paddock late on Saturday by going almost four tenths faster than his nearest qualifying rival, Lewis Hamilton. So with hundredths or thousandths proving decisive among his chasing rivals, is there is a ‘secret’ to Vettel’s several-tenths gap on Saturday?
“What is your secret?” Hamilton, agreeing with the questioner, smilingly enquired of his rival after qualifying.
“Can’t tell you,” the German smiled back.
The smiles might not last for long. Germany’s Bild newspaper said the situation could lead to F1’s “next protest threat against Red Bull”.
Briton Hamilton is quoted by the newspaper as saying: “You only have to look at his car to know where the big gap comes from.”
The McLaren driver is expecting to be beaten by the upgraded Red Bull on Sunday.
“My boss wouldn’t like me to say this but … my target is to finish where I am,” he said.
Williams’ Pastor Maldonado starts third, but many in the paddock consider Romain Grosjean’s Lotus to be Vettel’s real challenger for victory.
Asked by Marca newspaper if he could be F1’s eighth different winner of 2012, the Frenchman answered: “I could be!
“I will start the race with the desire to win,” he confirmed, according to the French-language RMC Sport. “But I think that if Vettel keeps his pace, he is untouchable.”