When Christian Horner grabs a brief moment of peace on a Saturday afternoon his thoughts must turn to the world championship standings. How, he must ask himself, are his drivers only 3rd and 4th in the table? How is his team not topping the constructors championship? How has this happened?
Because on a Saturday- and on this Saturday in particular- the Red Bulls are on another planet. Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix with ease, beating teammate Mark Webber by 4 tenths of a second. Third placed Fernando Alonso was more than a second adrift of the poleman, a margin equivalent to several hours in Formula One terms. Here’s how the walkover went down.
Qualifying 1 – Same Old, Same Old.
Why don’t we just create a template for the first part of qualifying? It could read ‘”all six of the new teams’ cars were eliminated, along with [insert name of unlucky 18th placed qualifier here]. The Red Bulls were quick, and it looks like one of them will be on pole.”
That would have worked perfectly today, as Hispania, Virgin and Lotus all dropped out, along with one unlucky extra. No surprise that the back row tomorrow will be an all-Hispania affair, with di Grassi and Trulli starting directly ahead of them. That left Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen battling to make their respective teams quickest of the newbies, and it was the German who prevailed, putting his Virgin Racing machine 19th on the grid. A hearty well done to Timo and the team.
And the dreaded 18th spot? Despite both Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button lingering in the drop zone late on the big guns escaped, and it was Kamui Kobayashi who dropped out in Q1. A bit of a surprise, as Kamui’s been putting in some impressive performances of late, but the Japanese hotshoe had his final run spoiled by a Hispania, and found himself benched early on. Out front the Red Bulls were very quick, and the smart money remained on them the second session loomed.
Qualifying 2 – Petrov Shines, Button’s In Decline.
On to Q2, traditionally the most competitive Saturday session. This one appeared seriously promising, with a few young drivers- particularly Petrov and Hulkenberg- having looked solid all weekend, and seemingly capable of gatecrashing the top 10 shootout. So who would miss out?
Petrov more than lived up to billing, producing a stellar lap to end the session 4th quickest and comfortably through to the top-10 shootout. Hulkenberg also made it through- just- in 10th place, whilst Pedro de la Rosa gave Sauber something to smile about after Kobayashi’s elimination by progressing with the 9th quickest time. Joining these three standouts were the usual suspects: both Red Bulls, both Ferraris, Rosberg, Kubica and Hamilton.
Michael Schumacher could only manage 14th, though his recent form makes this no great surprise. The bigger story was reigning champion Jenson Button’s elimination, the Brit being pipped by Hulkenberg by just 0.017s. Also eliminated were both Force Indias, both Toro Rossos and Rubens Barichello in the Williams.
And so Q3- also knows as the top-ten shootout, or the bit where a Red Bull gets pole– was upon us. Alonso put in the first quick lap, comfortably quicker than teammate Massa with Hamilton third fastest. Then Webber’s Red Bull appeared, and the paddock stood in silent expectation. Slower than the Ferrari in the first sector, Webber then demonstrated the Red Bull’s otherworldly brilliance by going half a second quicker through the middle sector, before adding another 3 tenths before the lap was over. But Vettel was out too, and going even quicker.
And did he ever make it count. After a little sawing at the wheel through the final corner Vettel planted his foot for the pit straight. The Red Bull streaked across the line, and Seb was 4 tenths quicker than his teammate- and over a second clear of Alonso’s Ferrari. Mega stuff from the Red Bulls.
As the front runners wound up for a second attempts de la Rosa, Petrov and Kubica were attempting their sole runs. Robert locked up badly in to turn 2, ruining his lap, leaving Petrov with a chance to outqualify his teammate for the first time this season. Vitaly too made a hash of his lap, but both got a second chance. It was the Russian’s time to shine, and after 11 straight defeats to Kubica he finally bested the Pole, sealing 7th on the grid. Bobby K had to be content with 8th. Meanwhile de la Rosa secured 9th, with Hulkenberg completing the top 10.
But there were still matters to be sorted at the front. Alonso was now out, trying in vein to get near the Red Bulls. No chance, though he would not be knocked from his 3rd place. Best of the rest will have to do. Behind him Massa went 4th- could he make another stellar start and get by his teammate?
Finally, Webber attempted to usurp his teammate. But his lap was scruffy, and the session ended in anti-climax- Webber second, Vettel secure on pole. The German attempted an even better lap, but couldn’t quite do it, though his second best attempt was still better than anything his teammate could manage.
So it’s the 11th Red Bull pole in 12 qualifying sessions, and today their quickest car was over a second clear of the quickest opposition machine. When Christian Horner takes a minute this evening he’ll once again wonder why his team isn’t romping off with both titles, and will be praying that his drivers can bring their cars home for a one-two tomorrow. On the evidence of today’s qualifying session it should be a breeze.