Mark Webber took his first pole position of the season for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix, repeating his Barcelona pole of last season, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. The superiority of the Red Bull car was confirmed as the gap between Webber and Hamilton was a second. It was the first pole for the Australian since last September.
Fernando Alonso managed to split the McLarens for fourth fastest time, despite being told by the FIA that Ferrari was not allowed to use the controversial new rear wing.
There was just 3/100ths of a second separating Hamilton in 3rd, Alonso 4th and Button 5th. It will be the first occasion this season on which Alonso doesn’t start in fifth place.
Amazingly the top five drivers are in exactly the same grid slots as they were for last season’s race. Vitaly Petrov did a strong job to qualify the Renault in 6th place and Pastor Maldonado gave Williams a smile with 9th place, his first time in the top ten.
Of all the races this season so far, this was the one which saw qualifying most affected by strategic thinking on tyre choice. Both Force India cars deliberately threw Q2 by running the hard tyres to give themselves more options for the race. Paul Di Resta is the second fastest car in the speed trap so overtaking won’t be a problem.
Michael Schumacher, whose KERS wasn’t working properly, went out on hard tyres in Q3, didn’t set a lap, but it encouraged the other top ten runners to go out and use up a set of soft tyres.
The problem with the hard tyres being so much slower than the softs certainly created some issues for some of the front runners, with Ferrari and Mercedes obliged to burn up a set of soft tyres to get through. In the end only Heikki Kovalainen of the new teams managed to make it through into Q2, a great reward for all the hard work the Lotus team. His time was faster than Felipe Massa’s hard tyre time, but Alonso and the two Mercedes drivers were not threatened by Kovalainen. Despite Nick Heidfeld looking unlikely to do a lap, due to damage from a fire on the morning, they clearly felt insecure and have put themselves on the back foot for the race with less new soft tyres than their rivals.
Also surprising was the gap between Mercedes and McLaren on hard tyres, which was over a second.
Along with Heidfeld who didn’t manage to get out, Rubens Barrichello was knocked out too, only able to do five laps due to a gearbox problem,
“The car is not competitive and it’s never running so it’s a bit of a mess right now,” said a very disgruntled Barrichello.
That was not the evidence of his team mate’s performance; Pastor Maldonado getting through into the top ten shootout in the updated Williams. He was the standout performer from the Q2 session and he ended up in 9th place, Williams’ best qualifying of the season.
In the second part of qualifying when they all used the soft tyre, Force India went for the hard tyre, essentially giving up on qualifying to focus on the race. They haven’t had the best of times this weekend, with correlation issues between what they thought their updates would give them and what they actually have given.
In Q3 we saw more tactical thinking, Michael Schumacher opted to run the hard tyres, but didn’t complete the lap, so he has the option to start on either tomorrow.
Webber seemed underwhelmed by pole position, competitor that he is, he was unsatisfied that his success had come about because of reliability issues for his team mate.
Vettel seemed relaxed and said that he felt the KERS would work in the race.
“Yes we are working hard on the KERS, but it’s not right to say that I didn’t have KERS and so that is why Mark is on pole, ” said Vettel “Mark did a better job today. It seems to be a bit of an endless story, the KERS, but the guys are pushing hard. We can’t speak of big disappointment.”
Although Red Bull are on a different planet in qualifying, it is always closer in the race, because they cannot use the DRS wing in the corners. It should be a fierce race tomorrow between the four leading cars with strategy likely to be the key.
The drivers who have taken a different tactic, like Schumacher or who qualified out of position, like Heidfeld who can now use three new sets of softs in a four stop strategy, will also be worth watching.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, Qualifying
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m20.981s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m21.181s + 0.200
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m21.961s + 0.980
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.964s + 0.983
5. Jenson Button McLaren 1m21.996s + 1.015
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.471s + 1.490
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.599s + 1.618
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.888s + 1.907
9. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m22.952s + 1.971
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes
11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m23.231s + 1.691
12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m23.367s + 1.827
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m23.694s + 2.154
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m23.702s + 2.162
15. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m25.403s + 3.863
16. Paul di Resta Force India 1m26.126s + 4.586
17. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m26.571s + 5.031
18. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m26.521s + 3.561
19. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m26.910s + 3.950
20. Timo Glock Virgin 1m27.315s + 4.355
21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m27.809s + 4.849
22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m27.908s + 4.948
23. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m28.556s + 5.596
24. Nick Heidfeld Renault No time