Jenson Button pulled out all the stops to steal pole position from Sebastian Vettel in the dying seconds of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Invoking memories of the late Ayrton Senna, Button crossed the start/finish line to begin his final flying lap with just a handful of seconds on the clock remaining. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was the man to beat after he usurped Button’s teammate Rubens Barrichello with an impressive lap of his own moments earlier.
But Button quickly put the smiles back on the faces of the Brawn mechanics with a sensational assault on the Barcelona circuit. His lap of 1:20.527 was enough to edge out Vettel and gift the team their third pole position of the season.
The Briton admits that luck played its part: “It could have gone very, very wrong,” he said. “We timed it quite well but I had Kubica who I thought was on an out lap and I had to let him past. “The guys said you had four seconds less than a proper lap time to get across the line in time. I got across the line just with a couple of seconds to spare – it was more luck than judgement.”
“It was the best lap of my weekend. I had been having some trouble with this guy low fuel but I got the lap on the high fuel. I am very happy and it is a bit of a surprise in a way, when I heard Shov’s voice on the radio it felt pretty good.”
Felipe Massa put Ferrari back in the hunt by sealing fourth place, his best qualifying result of the year, but another tactical blunder from the team saw Kimi Raikkonen relegated to sixteenth place.
Mark Webber took fifth place paving the way for an epic scrap between the Brawn and Red Bull cars at the front, while Toyota continued to impress with Timo Glock pipping teammate Jarno Trulli for seventh place. Local favourite Fernando Alonso lines up in eighth place ahead of Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica.
It is the first time that Felipe Massa has progressed to the top ten shoot out since Melbourne, and the Brazilian, who set the pace in Saturday warmup, was clearly enjoying the new upgrades that Ferrari have brought to Barcelona.
It was development wasted as far as Kimi Raikkonen was concerned though after the team limited him to a single run in Q1. Raikkonen’s mechanics thought he was safe after he lapped fifth quickest in the early stages of the session but as the clock ticked down the Ferrari driver himself perilously close to the drop zone.
The team made no effort to prep their man for a second run and late flying laps from Nelson Piquet, Jarno Trulli, and Nick Heidfeld – all of whom lifted themselves into the top 15 – sealed Raikkonen’s fate. The Finn, who dominated the race last year from pole, will start Sunday’s race from sixteenth place.
Confirming the status quo for 2009 McLaren also struggled to make an impression on the front runners. The Woking team left Bahrain on a high after Lewis Hamilton’s fourth place finish, but they are on the back foot in Barcelona with the circuit’s long high-speed corners unmasking the true extent of the MP4-24’s aerodynamic problems.
A revised front wing and floor for this weekend was of little use to Hamilton. The best the McLaren driver could manage was twelfth place as he wrestled his ill-handling MP4-24 around the Spanish circuit.
“We did the best we could today,â€ he said afterwards. “My lap was not fantastic but the car was not fast enough either I didn t have the grip to go any faster. However, it will be quite a long and tough race for everyone tomorrow and we ll try and make up as many places as possible and hope to score some points. We ll learn from this, keep pushing and do better in the future.â€
The situation was even worse for Heikki Kovalainen. One year on from his horrific crash, the Finn, who lost valuable track time on Friday due to a hydraulics problem, was knocked out of the opening session.
“This was the first time this year that I didn t reach Q2,â€ he mulled afterwards. “Into the last sector, Nick was a little bit ahead of me but I don t think he lost me a lot of time. It s been quite a difficult weekend: I just couldn t find any grip today that s why the laptime was too slow.â€
BMW Sauber, who have brought a significantly revised F1.09 to Barcelona, at least managed to get one car into the top ten courtesy of a solid effort from Robert Kubica. Nick Heidfeld in the sister BMW Sauber was knocked out in the second session and will start thirteenth.
Under pressure Renault driver Nelson Piquet produced a solid effort to escape knock-out in the opening session, but late flying laps from both Toyota drivers and his teammate Fernando Alonso in Q2 saw the Brazilian drop to twelfth place behind Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima who had a similar fate.
Sebastian Buemi again had the measure of his Toro Rosso teammate Sebastian Bourdais. The Swiss star hauled his upgraded STR09 – now featuring the same chassis used by the Red Bull drivers – into the second qualifying session and lapped fifteenth quickest.
Bourdais momentarily clawed his way out of the relegation zone in the closing stages of Q1, only to be demoted back to sixteenth after late assaults from Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld. The Frenchman will line up for Sunday’s race sandwiched between Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen.
The Force India drivers bring up the rear of the grid with Adrian Sutil edging out teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.
1 Jenson Button Brawn 1:20.527 2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 0:00.133 3 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 0:00.235 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 0:00.407 5 Mark Webber Red Bull 0:00.522 6 Timo Glock Toyota 0:00.720 7 Jarno Trulli Toyota 0:00.727 8 Fernando Alonso Renault 0:00.865 9 Robert Kubica BMW 0:02.031 10 Nico Rosberg Williams 0:02.158 11 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 0:00.004 12 Nelson Piquet Renault 0:00.077 13 Nick Heidfeld BMW 0:00.149 14 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 0:00.278 15 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 0:00.540 16 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 0:00.764 17 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso 0:00.773 18 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 0:01.148 19 Adrian Sutil Force India 0:01.215 20 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 0:01.677