Sebastian Vettel’s rivals are again scratching their heads tonight about where he found half a second in the final part of qualifying after he took his 10th pole position of the season for the Italian Grand Prix, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. It had looked like he would face a closer challenge from the McLarens, but in the end Hamilton and Button couldn’t get close. Hamilton’s final lap started badly and he aborted it.
However both McLaren drivers point to the fact that Vettel has chosen to run with quite a short top gear and has the lowest top speed of any car through the speed trap at 327km/h. The Ferraris are doing 342k/h while the McLarens are confident that they have the right trade off between DRS and gear ratios with top speed at 333km/h. That means that if they can get within a second of Vettel, which would allow them to use the DRS, they will have a speed advantage of around 12km/h over the Red Bull.
Vettel’s tactic is based on getting pole and then opening a gap of more than a second over the McLarens before the DRS is allowed on lap 3. Vettel described his set up as “racy”, and Button alluded to the fact that the Red Bull had huge downforce despite running very skinny wings.
Mark Webber did only one run, saving a set of new soft tyres for the race, but his strategy didn’t work out too well. As he admitted himself there was poor communication with his engineer and they made the wrong choices, underperforming in a car easily capable of getting on the front row. He could manage only fifth. His can had some problems after Friday practice and the mechanics had to put in a late night, changing the engine. In qualifying he also had KERS problems.
Hamilton was noticeably down after qualifying, clearly upset that Vettel had found half a second in the final part of qualifying, something he hadn’t expected. This is something we used to see a lot but which hasn’t happened so noticeably since the rules were changed whereby engine maps cannot be changed between qualifying and the race. There is no suggestion that anything unusual is going in, more that Vettel found something. As Webber said, it was a sensational lap by Vettel, one of his best, according to Webber.
The Ferrari was very fast in the first sector, particularly Alonso, who qualified fourth. Massa was sixth, while Vitaly Petrov did a fabulous job to qualify ahead of the Mercedes, who were very quick in practice.
The track temperature was 44 degrees for qualifying.
In Q1, Jaime Alguersuari, the hero of Spa qualifying, was relegated together with the small teams, with Jarno Trulli 1.3 secs behind in the Lotus ahead of team mate Heikki Kovalainen. At HRT Daniel Ricciardo outqualified Tonio Liuzzi for the first time.
In Q2 Hamilton set a time of 1m 23.7secs on medium tyres and clearly toyed with the idea of not going out again in order to save a set of soft tyres. But the team didn’t want to risk it and sent him out again on softs at the end to be sure. In fact the P10 cutoff was 1m 24.1 so he would have got away with it, but we’ve seen those gambles go wrong in the past.
Bruno Senna left it late but managed to get into the top ten shootout for the second race in a row, pushing Paul Di Resta down to 11th. Also eliminated in Q2 were Sutil, Barrichello, Maldonado, Perez, Buemi and Kobayashi.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, Monza, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m22.275s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m22.725s + 0.450
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m22.777s + 0.502
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m22.841s + 0.566
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m22.972s + 0.697
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m23.188s + 0.913
7. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m23.530s + 1.255
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m23.777s + 1.502
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.477s + 2.202
10. Bruno Senna Renault No time
11. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.163s + 1.249
12. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m24.209s + 1.295
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m24.648s + 1.734
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m24.726s + 1.812
15. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m24.845s + 1.931
16. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m24.932s + 2.018
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m25.065s + 2.151
18. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m25.334s + 1.358
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m26.647s + 2.671
20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m27.184s + 3.208
21. Timo Glock Virgin 1m27.591s + 3.615
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m27.609s + 3.633
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 1m28.054s + 4.078
24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m28.231s + 4.255