Sebastian Vettel took his fifth pole position of the season ahead of team mate Mark Webber as Red Bull opened up a yawning gap over its competitors, but afterwards it emerged that the two cars were not in the same specification.
Red Bull had two of its new specification front wings at Silverstone. Vettel’s was damaged in an incident during free practice this morning, where the mounting broke as he turned into the new Abbey corner.
Team principal Christian Horner said that he had to take the difficult decision to give the other one to Vettel for qualifying, based on championship position and performance in free practice and regretted that the team was not able to run two cars in equal specification. “Sometimes I have to make difficult decisions,” he said.
Webber’s body language in the TV unilaterals and afterwards in the paddock spoke volumes. He said that the team is still evaluating front wings at the moment and refused to say that the wing was the reason for his loss to Vettel, but did suggest that it might have been worth a tenth of a second. When pressed he described himself as “the underdog” in the team situation.
Vettel meanwhile tried to play down the significance of the situation, “From the outside, it is often quite difficult to judge what is going on. We know what we are doing, I think. I don’t think it is black and white answer on the wing but I was very happy I could continue with the same kind of wing.”
Inevitably this episode will re-ignite accusations that the team favours Vettel, who was delighted with his second consecutive pole at Silverstone.
The conditions were a bit cooler on Saturday than they had been in practice on Friday.
The Red Bulls were ahead from the start, with Vettel quickest in Q1 from Webber, although the form book from practice was carried over as far as Ferrari were concerned. Alonso was just a tenth slower than the Red Bulls, as the upgrades to their package started to bear fruit. The team had experimented with the drag reducing F Duct wing on Friday and decided to run it on both cars for the rest of the weekend.
But as the session went on the Red Bulls stretched their legs over Ferrari and Vettel’s eventual margin over Alonso was 8/10ths of a second, which is as big as we have seen all season in normal conditions. The Red Bull is a rocket ship around this circuit.
“It’s just quick everywhere,” said Vettel. “We were very competitive in Valencia and also here. Our car likes corners where you need downforce so that will always help us. Compared to last year we have made a step forward all around.
McLaren in contrast, had real problems with their upgrade package this weekend and were on a damage limitation exercise on Saturday having used up Friday running to test the blown diffuser, which seemed to not only make the car unstable, but also overheated components and bodywork at the rear of the car.
Jenson Button, whose Silverstone jinx continued. He qualified only 14th fastest, half a second slower than team mate Lewis Hamilton and was eliminated in the second session. Button had complained all afternoon about low grip at the rear end of the car. The team had taken the exhaust blown diffuser off the car and it looked like a case of Hamilton being able to drive around a handling problem better than Button. The car was obviously unstable as the team patched up a new plan in light of the difficulties with the update package.
“Some of the new package didn’t work so we had to go back to what we had before, ” said Button. “The car was okay this morning, but it was a different animal this afternoon and there was no pace in the car at all. Hopefully we will find there is a problem, I’m very disappointed.”
Hamilton managed to drive around the balance issues and qualified an impressive fourth. “Fourth is … I’m so happy with it, you can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m so proud of my team because we pushed so hard all year, but in the last couple of days they pushed longer and harder than ever to get this update package, which is an improvement, but we just were unable to work it. Unfortunately we had to take it off last night. We knew we were a long way off.”
Both Pedro de la Rosa and Rubens Barrichello were on form in qualifying, making it into Q3. Barrichello ended up in 8th place on the grid. Williams have a big package of upgrades this weekend, including a blown diffuser.
BRITISH GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:30.841 1:30.480 1:29.615
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:30.858 1:30.114 1:29.758
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:30.997 1:30.700 1:30.426
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.297 1:31.118 1:30.556
5. Rosberg Mercedes 1:31.626 1:31.085 1:30.625
6. Kubica Renault 1:31.680 1:31.344 1:31.040
7. Massa Ferrari 1:31.313 1:31.010 1:31.172
8. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:31.424 1:31.126 1:31.175
9. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.533 1:31.327 1:31.274
10. Schumacher Mercedes 1:32.058 1:31.022 1:31.430
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:31.109 1:31.399
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:31.851 1:31.421
13. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:32.144 1:31.635
14. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.435 1:31.699
15. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:32.226 1:31.708
16. Petrov Renault 1:31.638 1:31.796
17. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:31.901 1:32.012
18. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:32.430
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:34.405
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:34.775
21. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:34.864
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:35.212
23. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:36.576
24. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:36.968