Sebastian Vettel took his third pole position of the 2010 season and Red Bull’s fourth – a clean sweep so far this season. As in Australia he headed team mate Mark Webber in a Red Bull front row grid lock out.
But the margin was quite large, by their standards, over two tenths of a second, compared to the 8/100ths of a second in Melbourne. It was quite a turn around by Vettel, who had been shaded by Webber throughout the weekend to date and once again showed the German’s star quality. He admitted afterwards that he had been forced to copy Webber’s set up to get the best out of the car.
“Who needs ride height control?” said team boss Christian Horner over the radio, referring to the clarification made since the last race by the FIA to the rules regarding adjustable suspension and the suspicion that the team might be forced to take something off the car this weekend as a result. If anything Red Bull’s margin was bigger than before.
“It was tough today,” said Vettel. “This morning Mark was quicker than me. We made some changes to Mark’s direction. I was struggling in Sector 1 but then I found a better line. It was a fantastic lap. We are proving that we have a fast car, independent of the circuit type.”
“It was a good battle, it was definitely a good lap by Seb,” said Webber.
Fernando Alonso again finished third for Ferrari, this time the margin was four tenths of a second, compared to the 16/100ths in Melbourne. He said that he felt the car was better in race conditions. He eclipsed team mate Massa by 2/10ths of a second, but the difference in track position is huge; Massa has three cars between him and Alonso.
The biggest surprise was the poor performance of McLaren, who dominated practice and the early part of qualifying, but who could only manage 5th and 6th, behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Button and Hamilton both reported false neutrals several times, where the gearbox isn’t offering drive to the rear wheels. Luckily it only happened on out laps, rather than hot laps. It does not appear to have affected their performance.
Hamilton was fastest in Q1 and Q2, his advantage in sector one being clear, as it had been in practice. But both drivers struggled to get the most out of the soft tyre. On his hot lap in Q3 Hamilton lost time in the final sector and wound up behind team mate Jenson Button.
Interestingly, whereas Button went half a second faster than in Q2, Hamilton was a tenth slower. Had he found the same gain from Q2 to Q3 as Button he would be right with Vettel on a 1m 34.5.
“We were doing so well in practice and Q1 and Q2, but the car started bottoming out and I had no more time in the car,” said Hamilton.
As in Melbourne he was strangely not able to find the time in qualifying when it counted. He had been fastest in Q1 on the hard tyre and in Q2 on the soft, but once again the speed escaped him in Q3 and instead of challenging for pole he fell to P6 behind Button.
The other surprise was the performance of Michael Schumacher, who was totally subdued in comparison with Rosberg and ended up seven tenths of a second behind. It is the first time in his career that he has been behind a team mate four races in a row and raises more uncomfortable questions about the wisdom of this comeback.
“It was pretty tricky,” said Schumacher. “I didn’t find the balance of the car. We have a new rear wing solution and we have a different opinion. I’m not quick enough, on the exit of corners, I struggled a bit with rear end grip.”
Eclipsing the great man was Robert Kubica, who put in what he described as his best ever performance in qualifying, hoisting the Renault up to eighth place, just 8/10ths off the Red Bull. The Renault is getting closer all the time. If you haven’t done so already, read yesterday’s LG Technical Report to understand why.
The six new team cars were eliminated in Q1, as usual, the fastest of them was Timo Glock, some three and a half seconds off the pace. Joining them, surprisingly, was Tonio Liuzzi of Force India, who was just 2 seconds ahead of the Virgin car.
That Force India car has been a solid top ten car in the hands of Sutil this year. It adds pressure to the Italian especially with Force India test driver Paul di Resta, who has done a solid job on Fridays for the team, breathing down his neck.
Michael Schumacher squeezed through into the top ten shoot out by 3/100ths of a second, while Barrichello, Alguersuari, Buemi, Petrov, Kobayashi, Hulkenberg and De la Rosa were eliminated.
Rain is forecast for the race tomorrow.
Chinese Grand Prix – Qualifying
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:36.317 1:35.280 1:34.558
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:35.978 1:35.100 1:34.806
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:35.987 1:35.235 1:34.913
4. Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.952 1:35.134 1:34.923
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.122 1:35.443 1:34.979
6. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.641 1:34.928 1:35.034
7. Massa Ferrari 1:36.076 1:35.290 1:35.180
8. Kubica Renault 1:36.348 1:35.550 1:35.364
9. Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.484 1:35.715 1:35.646
10. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.671 1:35.665 1:35.963
11. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:36.664 1:35.748
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.618 1:36.047
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.793 1:36.149
14. Petrov Renault 1:37.031 1:36.311
15. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.044 1:36.422
16. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:37.049 1:36.647
17. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.050 1:37.020
18. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:37.161
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.278
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.399
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.520
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.783
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:40.469
24. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:40.578