Sebastian Vettel took his seventh pole position of the season, ahead of team mate Mark Webber, showing that the FIA’s mid season rule changes to engine maps have had little effect on his or Red Bull’s competitiveness. It was the 22nd pole position of his career and the ninth in the last 11 races. Lewis Hamilton qualified third.
The German was on imperious form, setting the fastest time in both the second and final parts of qualifying. But after a tricky start to the session, it was a strong finish by Webber who ended up only a tenth and a half slower than his team mate.
In Q1, Webber and Felipe Massa were under pressure. Webber ended up 16th, while Massa was forced to use a set of soft tyres to be safe, again showing his struggles when harder tyres are on the menu.
Out in Q1 for the third race in a row was Jaime Alguersuari, the Toro Rosso driver really struggling with qualifying and surely now starting to feel the pressure within the team, with Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings. To be fair to Alguersuari he lost a lot of practice time on Friday with an engine problem. He maintains that he is focussed on improving and is not worried about being replaced by Ricciardo.
In Q2 the quick drivers were finding the soft tyres were well over a second a lap faster than the mediums, even allowing for track improvement this was significant. The session was red flagged for Pastor Maldonado stopping out on track. Webber and Alonso were both on a hot lap at the time.
Adrian Sutil did an excellent job to get into the top ten for the first time this season, pushing out Vitaly Petrov in the Renault. Sutil was almost 4/10ths ahead of team mate Paul di Resta, who also lost time on Friday after reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg crashed the car in first practice.
In Q3, Vettel again showed his pace on his first run and would have liked to leave it at that and save a set of soft tyres for the race, but such was the track improvement they all had to go out again using up their tyres. They went out but many of them aborted their laps, knowing that they would not improve, coming straight into the pits in an anti climactic finish to the session.
Only Webber improved in a second run at the end. He was giving away time to Vettel in the first two sectors in particular.
Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil opted not to go out in Q3, saving a set of soft tyres for the race and giving themselves an option as to how to start the race.
“It’s a very good day for us, important to have both cars on the front row,” said Vettel. “There was a lot of talk before this Grand Prix. Everyone will lose something and everyone was expecting us to lose more than others, but I disagree.”
EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX, Valencia, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m36.975
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m37.163 + 0.188
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m37.380 + 0.405
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.454 + 0.479
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.535 + 0.560
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m37.645 + 0.670
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.231 + 1.256
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.240 + 1.265
9. Nick Heidfeld Renault No Q3 time
10. Adrian Sutil Force India No Q3 time
11. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m39.068s + 1.763
12. Paul di Resta Force India1m39.422s + 2.117
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m39.489s + 2.184
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m39.525s + 2.220
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m39.645s + 2.340
16. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m39.657s + 2.352
17. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m39.711s + 2.406
18. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m40.232 + 1.819
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m41.664 + 3.251
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m42.234 + 3.821
21. Timo Glock Virgin 1m42.553 + 4.140
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m43.584 + 5.171
23. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m43.735 + 5.322
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m44.363 + 5.950