12.39pm (BST) Welcome to forumula1.com’s coverage of the qualifying session for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya. The weather appears to be sunny, although it’s still not warm, as the McLarens found out yesterday to their cost. But there’s no sign of the showers that have been predicted for today at the moment.
12.43pm Vitaly Petrov’s mechanics are in a race to repair his Renault after an off this morning in the final practice session. But he will take a five-place grid penalty wherever he qualifies because of a gearbox change, so it’s unlikely this will be a great weekend for the Russian rookie anyway.
12.50pm Sebastian Vettel says that the limited upgrades the Red Bull team have made to their car are ”working”, and the evidence of the three practice sessions certainly back that idea up. Other teams with upgrades include Mercedes, whose car looks very different, particularly with a changed roll hoop structure. ‘We didn’t have the bits properly developed so we had to wait til the start of the European season to introduce it,’ Ross Brawn tells the BBC. ‘We’ve still got a lot to come.’
12.54pm Renault have very little new on their car. ‘Unfortunately [it’s] not a lot. I was hoping to have a bit more,’ says Robert Kubica wistfully. But he and the team haven’t been too far off the pace in practice, so it might not be so bad. Remember, upgrades can also upset a car’s balance and make it slower, so they are not always positive.
12.57pm The crowd are already doing a Mexican wave, perhaps pre-empting the borefest this circuit might produce. A good turnout, though; some reckon up to 70 000. We do have three Spanish drivers, after all, and a Catalan in the shape of Jaime Alguersuari.
1pm Qualifying One is go; Heikki Kovalainen the first out in his Lotus. The green team are looking good to be the best of the new teams today – not only are they the fastest with the new improvements, but Karun Chandhok for HRT and the two Virgins will also take penalties.
1.02pm Martin Brundle on the BBC has just pointed out that Ferrari’s new F-duct is operated by the drivers adjusting something on the back of their hands, so if they adjust the brake balance and that at the same time, they will effectively have no hands on the wheel. A bit mad perhaps, especially in the hands, one might waggishly say, of Felipe Massa.
1.05pm Jarno Trulli sets a 1.25.527, but Alonso is out, so it won’t last long.
1.06pm Massa trounces the Lotuses’ times, as expected, and then Alonso does a 1.22.572 to go top. The two Mercedes were just wheel-to-wheel going down the pit straight, a bit of an unusual sight during ultra-organised qualifying.
1.08pm Button sets the second fastest time, behind Alonso, and Nico Hulkenberg shows his accident yesterday didn’t upset him too much with the third quickest. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber are out.
1.11pm Lewis Hamilton sets two quick laps one after the other, the faster of which was a good six tenths up on Alonso. Apparently the Mercedes cars were out of sync because Schumacher had been mysteriously slow in the second sector.
1.15pm After a couple of attempts the fearsome Red Bulls finally top the timesheets in the hands of Mark Webber. Vettel is only a couple of tenths behind, from the two McLarens and Alonso. Liuzzi and Petrov are in a battle to avoid the drop.
1.17pm Petrov is languishing in the drop zone at the moment, along with the new teams. De la Rosa, Buemi, Alguersuari and Barrichello are in danger too. Petrov pulls out a ninth fastest time from somewhere, but it may not be enough.
1.18pm Schumacher is only just in front of that lot, and may be threatened. ”Second qualifying is going to be immense – it’s so close in the midfield,” says Martin Brundle. With thirty seconds to go, de la Rosa gets himself up into sixth place, putting Barrichello down, who can’t improve from 16th. He is the big scalp there; Petrov safe, Liuzzi safe. So Barrichello, Trulli, Kovalainen, Glock, di Grassi, Chandhok and Senna are eliminated in that order. Bear in mind, though, that the Virgins will be penalised.
1.23pm Barrichello had upgrades on his Williams, but Hulkenberg did not, and Hulkenberg was safe. So not a good weekend for Williams. The controversy is raging about Alonso’s ”no hands” trick; is it safe or unsafe? Eddie Jordan reckons it’s not a problem. Alonso did go very deep into a corner on a quick lap during Q1: maybe he had too much to think about.
1.27pm Second session is under way, with the recently battling Vitantonio Liuzzi the first man out. There are clouds on the horizon but it will surely stay dry for the rest of qualifying. Vettel has gone out early this session; his team not really having stretched their legs yet, probably.
1.30pm Rubens Barrichello is not a happy man. He is stalking down the pitlane after having vented his spleen on the radio. Red Bull apparently have more upgrades planned for Turkey, apparently, but they seem to be relaxed and confident here. Vettel pips Webber with a 1.21.189 to go to the top at the moment with nine minutes remaining.
1.33pm Webber and Vettel are swapping fastest times, with a feisty-looking Hamilton and Jenson Button third and fourth so far. Sutil in the Force India is scraping into the top ten as we speak, but this is subject to change. Just a bit.
1.36pm Rosberg is three-tenths slower than Schumacher at the moment, with the elder German having produced the third quickest time. Rosberg is only ninth right now and may be a candidate for the drop. He is rumoured not to be at all happy with the balance of this Mark II Mercedes W01. Interesting that Schumacher has pushed for change which suits him and not Rosberg.
1.41pm Vettel sets a fast time, but Webber immediately eclipses it. This looks like it’s going to be an interesting final qualifying. But let’s concentrate on the final moments of the second one…as the chequered flag falls, Sutil, de la Rosa, Hulkenberg, Petrov, Buemi, Alguersuari and Liuzzi are the fall guys, in that order. Kobayashi saves himself in the dying moments, a good effort from the Japanese.
1.45pm “The upgrades didn’t work,” says Rubens Barrichello, who of course was out after Q1. “I had traffic as well on my final run…I was thinking that we had a shot at Q3, but we caught the slower cars and that was it.”
1.46pm ”It’s a bit disappointing that we lost so much to Lotus. The team has to do a bit more,” Timo Glock exhorts his mechanics.
1.50pm Eddie Jordan backs Seb Vettel for pole as the third and final qualifying session gets under way. You’d be a wally to bet against a Red Bull front row, frankly, but this is F1, so we just have to wait and see.
1.51pm Ferrari released Fernando Alonso straight into the path of Nico Rosberg in the pitlane, forcing Rosberg to stand on the brakes and swerve towards the pitwall; ”Alonso should get a penalty for that, what he just did,” fumes the German on his radio. On the track, Hamilton and Kubica are on quick laps.
1.55pm With six minutes to go, Button is pushing hard, perhaps because he knows the McLarens might be vulnerable to Ferraris/Mercedes. Webber is going quickly, and sets a 1.20.229 which is a second quicker than the McLarens, would you believe.
1.56pm They’re all in the pits now, recharging for the final battle. Except for Kobayashi, who is pretty much destined for tenth. But he’s traffic-free, though, so who’s really laughing?
1.57pm Brundle describes the Red Bull inter-team battle as ‘personal’. Vettel starts a quick lap with a little over a minute left. He’s up in the first sector, and the Red Bull looks glued to the track. He’s up in the second sector as well, nearly a tenth. It’s a 1.20.101, but Webber looks faster already. Webber gets a 1.19.995 which beats his team-mate. Hamilton goes third now. Button is fifth, with Alonso fourth. We have Schumacher left to run, but he won’t challenge the very front…Schumacher sixth, faster than his team-mate.
2.00pm It’s Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Schumacher, Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, Kobayashi.
2.02pm So Mark Webber wins the latest instalment of his battle with Sebastian Vettel; it will be another run to the first corner for the two Red Bulls tomorrow. Hamilton will be happy with third place, and Alonso can’t be upset with fourth. Rosberg will be annoyed to be behind Schumacher, but the older man has been on top all weekend so far.
2.06pm Webber waves to the crowd, he looks chuffed. “The Red Bulls are very quick – this particular track obviously suits them. We were aiming for third, but it couldn’t happen,” concedes Stefano Domenicali. Pushed on whether Alonso’s no hands thing is safe, he says that ‘the car couldn’t turn with no hands.’ Cagey.
2.09pm “It’s not too bad. I lost a bit of time in the last lap, and I’d rather be further up, but it’s not a bad place to start. The gap to Red Bulls is massive. There’s not much else to say really…the race should be a walk in the park for them. Our race pace is better than the qualifying, so never say never, but when they’re a second quicker, you’d expect them to walk away into the distance,” muses Jenson Button to the BBC.
2.14pm The top three are having their press conference. ‘This pole is for the team,’ says Mark Webber. ‘Both sides of the garage have had five hours sleep the last two nights and they’ve worked incredibly hard. It’s a sensational qualifying for both Seb and myself,” he said.
Vettel was gracious in initial defeat.
“Congratulations to Mark, he was today not beatable. Too much for me. A great qualifying from us, at the moment it looks comfortable but we will see, it’s a long race. Starting second is a good result, the team has done a very good effort, they have been flat out the last few weeks.”
Third-placed Lewis Hamilton was shocked to be so far behind. His time is nine-tenths off the two Red Bulls, which is a lifetime, even if his McLaren’s race pace is better than its qualifying.
“I don’t think anyone expected them to be so fast, that is quite a decent gap. It’s great to be up there, and we can fight, they’re probably not as quick as us down the straight, so we’ll see,” said the Englishman.
2.18pm Well that’s all from me. It looks like a Bull-gone conclusion tomorrow, but Hamilton will be challenging if he gets a good start, and Alonso may have home advantage.
Here are the full times.
Position, Driver, Team, Q1 time, Q2 time, Q3 time
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:21.412 1:20.655 1:19.995
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:21.680 1:20.772 1:20.101
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:21.723 1:21.415 1:20.829
4. Alonso Ferrari 1:21.957 1:21.549 1:20.937
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:21.915 1:21.168 1:20.991
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1:22.528 1:21.557 1:21.294
7. Kubica Renault 1:22.488 1:21.599 1:21.353
8. Rosberg Mercedes 1:22.419 1:21.867 1:21.408
9. Massa Ferrari 1:22.564 1:21.841 1:21.585
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:22.577 1:21.725 1:21.984
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:22.628 1:21.985
12. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:22.211 1:22.026
13. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:22.857 1:22.131
14. Petrov Renault 1:22.976 1:22.139
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:22.699 1:22.191
16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:22.593 1:22.207
17. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:23.084 1:22.854
18. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:23.125
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:24.674
20. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:24.748
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:25.475
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:25.556
23. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:26.750
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:27.122