Red Bull’s new boy leaves Brawn GP with a face full of Renault gearbox in China
Sebastian Vettel rocked the formbook in Shanghai as he stormed to pole position for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, de-throning Brawn GP with a searing pace from his Red Bull car.
The German was left wondering whether he would start the crucial one hour qualifying session at all as his team worked frantically to fix a driveshaft failure that both he and teammate Mark Webber picked up in morning warm up.
Restricted to one lap per session to preserve the car, Vettel unleashed the full potential of his vastly improved Red Bull RB5 – still lacking a double diffuser but with undoubtedly the most advanced front end on the grid – to devastating effect, when it mattered.
The German took his second career pole position and Red Bull Racing’s first with a blistering lap of 1:36.184 in the closing stages of qualifying, edging out his teammate by a mere few hundredths of a second, and keeping a charging Fernando Alonso at bay in second place.
“It was always in the last minute: only one run in Q1, one run in Q2 and one run in Q3,” explained Vettel.”
“You don’t need more than that, but it wasn’t easy! We had a problem with the car so we tried to run as little as possible. The car was very quick. Mark (Webber) did two runs and I was also up there, so I had no concerns.
“But still, when you only have one lap you know you can’t make any mistakes. You have no second chance so it’s not easy. I’m very very happy. It’s unbelievable that we made it to pole position in the end.
“We had some problems in the morning. It’s like Melbourne. The less I run in free practice the better it is in qualifying. I’m really pleased. It’s a great job by the team.”
The Renault-powered Red Bull cars were quick throughout all three qualifying sessions dashing speculation that they are merely running light fuel loads.
The Milton-Keynes based team have been threatening to breakthrough in both the opening races of the season but so far have been unable to find an answer for the Brawn GP duo. Today though both drivers enjoyed a clear advantage from their Renault V8 engines as they traded lap times with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.
Webber drew first blood in the final shoot-out, usurping Fernando Alonso with a 1:37.188. Not even Jenson Button could respond to that as the Briton, likely running a heaver fuel load, missed the mark by two tenths of a second.
As the session came to a close it was Webber who held the advantage. But a final assault from Vettel saw the German ace take the top spot by three tenths of a second. Fernando Alonso slotted into second place with Barrichello pipping his teammate to put the Brawn GP cars in fourth and fifth behind Webber.
“I saw the track improve through Q2, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Vettel. “It’s difficult on your first run on the higher fuel load. You have to be quick from the beginning. I had a good lap, it was just right, and I had a lot of grip.”
“I’m looking forward to the race. It will be a long race. We haven’t scored any points yet, but I think we have the car to do so lets hope the race stays together.”
Jarno Trulli was sixth fastest for Toyota, ahead of Williams’ Nico Rosberg who has looked strong all weekend and could well be running a slightly heavier fuel load.
Then came the first of Formula One’s powerbrokers with Kimi Raikkonen in the KERS-less Ferrari heading Lewis Hamilton in seventh and eighth. McLaren are running considerably better here in Shanghai as a result of new aerodynamic components and an interim version of the split-diffuser.
But it was another nightmare session for Felipe Massa who failed to progress to the shoot-out after seemingly abandoning his second flying lap. The Brazilian will start Sunday’s race from thirteenth place.
Sebastian Beumi rounds out the top ten with an impressive display for Toro Rosso, especially given that his teammate Bourdais lines up in sixteenth place.
Several big names were excluded from the top ten shoot out after a frantic second qualifying session. McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen was unable to produce the same pace as teammate and Hamilton. and will line up in twelfth place, behind BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld who missed the top ten by a mere 0.010 seconds in his KERS-fitted F1.09.
Toyota’s Timo Glock paced fourteenth quickest, but the German will drop six places due to a gearbox change after Saturday practice.
Robert Kubica was the big scalp of the opening knock-out session. The BMW Sauber driver, who only last year found himself contending for the world championship here in China, struggled with the handling of his F1.09 after it was fitted with a KERS device for the first time. He will line up in eighteenth place for Sunday’s race.
Sebastian Bourdais (Toro Rosso) and Nelson Piquet (Renault) were also casualties of the opening qualifying session. Piquet ran as high as fifth place in the morning warm up and was disappointed to again start at the rear end of the grid, while Bourdais ran off the track at Turn 8 on his flying lap.
The two Force India drivers of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella bring up the rear of the grid.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:36.184 2 Fernando Alonso Renault 0:00.406 3 Mark Webber Red Bull 0:00.491 4 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 0:00.518 5 Jenson Button Brawn 0:00.557 6 Jarno Trulli Toyota 0:00.860 7 Nico Rosberg Williams 0:01.422 8 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 0:02.114 9 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 0:02.620 10 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 0:03.346 11 Nick Heidfeld BMW 0:00.000 12 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 0:00.057 13 Felipe Massa Ferrari 0:00.058 14 Timo Glock Toyota 0:00.091 15 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 0:00.218 16 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso 0:00.931 17 Nelson Piquet Renault 0:00.933 18 Robert Kubica BMW 0:00.991 19 Adrian Sutil Force India 0:01.694 20 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 0:01.697