Vettel shines in Silverstone; Button with his work cut out
Sebastian Vettel charged to his third pole position of the season in Silverstone momentarily stealing the spotlight away from the off-track row engulfing Formula One over sport’s future as he saw off a close challenge from his teammate Mark Webber and Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello.
The Red Bull driver, who stole pole position away from Jenson Button in Turkey a fortnight ago only to slip up on the opening lap, set himself up for victory once again with another perfect lap in the dying seconds of qualifying, while Button could only manage sixth.
“It was the lap of the weekend,” reflected Vettel. “It was close to perfect. As a driver you always think there is a little bit here or there, but it went very well. I was surprised how quick I was at that stage, it was enough to get pole position.”
“It’s been a fantastic weekend from the beginning to the end we didn’t have a single problem,” he added, pointing to upgrades to the RB5 as a key reason for the result. “All the new parts we brought here worked very well. We made a step forward but when it comes to qualifying.
“There is tension there, you try to do your best, and it was quite difficult today. At the beginning I was struggling a little bit with traffic.
“The wind today was not such an issue but it’s always difficult when you have cars ahead, so in the first two sessions I was struggling a bit and in Q2 we put on a soft tyre and I was quite happy with the car.”
Mark Webber had looked the more likely of the Red Bull drivers to take the top spot after dominating the second qualifying session and posting a low 1:20.040 in Q3. But the Aussie’s lap was quickly beaten by Silverstone specialist Rubens Barrichello. Vettel then went one better going half a second quicker on a 1.19.509.
Webber responded with a quick first sector but he appeared to lose time negotiating a slowing Ferrari at Stowe and was forced to settle for third place ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli.
“I would have liked a slightly cleaner run on my last Q3 lap,” said Webber.
“Kimi was, I don’t know, drinking some vodka or dreaming or something, I don’t know what hell he was doing but he should have been on the right and he was on the racing line, dreaming. That wrecked my rhythm really into Stowe, I was very tight into there.
“Kimi couldn’t have done a better job of distracting me. He was right on the racing line, on the most important lap of qualifying and it ruined my rhythm.”
Championship leader and local favorite Jenson Button was forced to settle for sixth place, his worst qualifying position of the season, after struggling with the balance of his Brawn car.
“I’ve just been really struggling with grip and the rear end of the car,” he told the BBC. “I’ve just been skating all over the place and it’s been like that all weekend. It’s not fantastic but that’s the way it is.”
Lewis Hamilton gave the British fans little else to celebrate after he was forced to abandon his final flying lap in Q1 in response to a red flag. The Briton will start from ninteenth place and he conceded that his race was effectively over.
“I did all that I could,” he told the BBC afterwards, “I pushed as hard as I could but we were just dead slow. I gave it my all but we needed something special.”
Kazuki Nakajima confirmed Williams’ morning pace by vaulting up to fifth place with a sensational lap in the dying seconds of Q3, crucially dropping Jenson Button to sixth place.
It is the first time that the Japanese driver as out-qualified his teammate Nico Rosberg this year with the German lining up in seventh place ahead of Timo Glock in the sister Toyota.
“Fifth is the best qualifying result I ve had so far so I m really happy,” said Nakajima afterwards. “After yesterday s practice, I thought we could be quite strong today because the car is working really well here We seem to have taken a step forward so many thanks to the team as they ve brought a really good upgrade package to this race.”
“To be sitting in fifth position on the grid and racing on my favorite track tomorrow is great and my goal will be to have a solid race and score some points for the team.”
Kimi Raikkonen gave Ferrari little to smile about by hauling the F60 into ninth place ahead of Fernando Alonso who struggled with the balance of his Renault R29 in the high speed corners.
The session was brought to a dramatic halt in Q1 when what appeared to be a structural failure on Adrian Sutil’s Force India violently pitched the German into the barriers at Abbey, bringing out the red flag with just twenty four seconds on the clock remaining.
Force India later confirmed that it was a brake problem which caused the crash.
“I had a brake problem and then had no brakes going into the complex,” recounted Sutil. “I pushed on the pedal but there wasn’t anything. I tried to avoid a big accident but it was impossible so I crashed really hard. I’m completely OK, I was just taken to the medical centre for some checks as it was a big crash. We’ve now got a lot of work to do on the car.”
“Of course it’s disappointing as both cars lost their positions and definite possibility to go into Q2.”
Sutil climbed out of the cockpit unscathed, but the incident was a huge blow for defending world champion Lewis Hamilton who was forced to abandon his flying lap as he attempted to haul himself into Q2. It is the third time in a row that the McLaren driver has been knocked out of the opening qualifying session.
Hamilton, who dominated the race a year ago in the wet to extend his lead in the world championship, will start the race from nineteenth place on the grid, sandwiched between Adrian Sutil and Sebastian Buemi.
Hamilton later conceded that he would have been hard pressed to progress to Q2 anyway after spending most of the session wrestling with the balance of his McLaren MP4-24.
“I did all that I could,” he told the BBC afterwards, “I pushed as hard as I could but we were just dead slow. I gave it my all but we needed something special.” When asked if his race was over as a dejected Hamilton replied: “yep”.
Heikki Kovalainen, who started the race from pole position last year, also struggled throughout the session, and although he was able to find enough time to progress to Q2 he was unable to supersede the mid-field performance of this year’s current McLaren and was forced to settle for thirteenth place.
The Finn isn’t the only big name to start tomorrow’s race from the mid-field. Felipe Massa was unable to unlock the same kind of performance from the Ferrari F60 as his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and starts just outside the top ten.
BMW Sauber’s lacklustre season continued as they plateaued with another mid-field qualifying performance. Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld line up in twelfth and fifteenth respectively.
“Obviously we are not satisfied with the qualifying result,” rued BMW boss Mario Theissen. “Our goal was to get into the top 10. It did not help Robert that he has had technical problems in every free pactice session, and therefore was not able to do proper set-up work.”
Giancarlo Fisichella fell victim to the red flag situation instigated by his teammate. The Italian veteran will start sixteenth ahead of Sebastian Bourdais in the Toro Rosso and the hapless Adrian Sutil. All in all it was a frustrating result for Force India given that they had showed promising pace in the Friday running after bringing significant aerodynamic upgrade to their car for their home race.
Sebastian Buemi, who was consistently progressing to Q2 and Q3 in the early part of the season, will start last compounding Toro Rosso’s dip in performance.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:19.509 2 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 0:00.929 3 Mark Webber Red Bull 0:00.941 4 Jarno Trulli Toyota 0:01.164 5 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 0:01.289 6 Jenson Button Brawn 0:01.362 7 Nico Rosberg Williams 0:01.434 8 Timo Glock Toyota 0:01.563 9 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 0:01.788 10 Fernando Alonso Renault 0:01.814 11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 0:00.000 12 Robert Kubica BMW 0:00.381 13 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 0:00.426 14 Nelson Piquet Renault 0:00.465 15 Nick Heidfeld BMW 0:00.521 16 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 0:00.875 17 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso 0:00.971 18 Adrian Sutil Force India 0:00.982 19 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 0:00.990 20 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 0:01.309