Sebastian Vettel continued Red Bull's sweep of pole positions this season as he eased to the top of the timesheets, beating teammate Mark Webber in qualifying for tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix.
Vettel was happy to simply pass through from the earlier two round of qualifying, recording the seventh fastest lap in the first part of qualifying and fourth fastest to make it though to the final ten minute shootout for the pole position.
The German even waited until the traditional last minute charge to snatch the pole position, smartly putting down a banker lap in the first few minutes of the session, before returning to the garage for new tyres, waiting until he was the final man to cross the finish line.
In doing so he set up the obligatory dramatic climax, Webber crossing the line, putting down a 1:34.806, seemingly doing enough to give him his second pole position in succession. However Vettel managed to smash that marker into the ground by nearly three-tenths.
“I have no idea where Sebastian produced that last lap from, it was quite phenomenal,” said Christian Horner. “Mark was in great shape throughout qualifying today and got pipped right at the end there.”
“I had two very good runs in Q3,” admitted Vettel afterwards. “I think the first would have already been a good time, but I was too wide in the last corner. The second run was better – it was a fantastic lap.”
“We're proving that we have a very good car, no matter what the circuit. I'm very pleased with today. Thanks to the mechanics, as they had zero lunch due to all the changes that were required between free practice and qualifying.”
Fernando Alonso, running a new engine after another failure in practice was third fastest (1:34.913) ahead of Nico Rosberg (1:34.923), who again comfortably out-qualified Michael Schumacher (ninth, 1:35.646), beating him in every part of qualifying.
The third row sees a disappointed McLaren duo, both having gearbox problems, though not on their flying laps. The team had shown pace throughout the three practice sessions, and that form looked set to continue in qualifying with Lewis Hamilton was fastest in both the first and second session. “I don’t really know where the time went in Q3,” said Hamilton.
“”We’d been quick all weekend, but sixth was the best I could do in Q3. I think we ought to have been further up the grid — but we’ll fight our way as far up the field as we can tomorrow.”
The result must be even more disappointing for McLaren coming in the first race since the FIA banned the sort of ride height adjusting 'trick' suspension they believed was giving Red Bull their advantage.
In the weeks leading up to the race the two teams have entered into a war of words. Red Bull insist they have no such device, claiming that the belief that the RB6 was fitted with active suspension was purely an invention of other teams searching for an easy reason why Webber and Vettel have dominated qualifying so far this season. Christian Horner even allowed himself to say “who needs ride height control” to his pole winning a driver, a transmission that was then played to the world.
A transmission that unlikely to do anything other than add to the embryonic rivalry amongst the apparent 2010 title contenders.
The first session of the three had seen a return to normality after the lottery of the wet session in Sepang, the six cars from the new teams dropping out, with Timo Glock the fastest, ahead of the two Lotuses, Heikki Kovalainen's spin at the turn six hairpin one of the very few incidents through the qualifying hour, and even the Finn was able to continue undeterred.
The seventh man to drop out early was a surprise, with Tonio Liuzzi having an uncharacteristically bad session for Force India, despite being over two seconds faster than Glock his missed out on progressing by over tenth of second compared to Pedro de la Rosa's Sauber. “For the third time in four races I got caught in traffic, again with a Williams and an HRT. But that’s how it is, it happens,” said a resigned Liuzzi.
“We have to look at why and then work on this. Tomorrow I think we are in great shape for the race as the speed has been there when we were on the longer runs but when you start in 18th place it makes life much more difficult.”
The second session saw both Saubers drop out, along with the full complement of Toro Rosso and Williams and Vitaly Petrov's Renault.
While Williams were another the disappointed teams, Rubens Barrichello falling only three hundredths shy of making Michael Schumacher face the ignominy of watching the final part of qualifying from the pitwall.
However, the strategy behind Toro Rosso's session points to something far more intriguing – the chance of rain in tomorrow's race.
The team's Technical Director, Giorgio Ascanelli explains more.
“I don't like having all our eggs in one basket, so we split them, with one car [Buemi] anticipating rain tomorrow and one with a downforce level more suited for the dry. Guess which one was fastest today. Tomorrow we will see what happens!”
The likelihood of rain, as you would expects varies considerably, and a fortnight after everyone who assured us that the monsoons would arrive in Sepang was proved wrong it is a brave team who chances on the weather.
But, an intriguing prospect to ponder before the race, which starts at 8am UK time.
Who else is taking a gamble of rain tomorrow?