Sebastian Vettel took his second career pole position – and Red Bull Racing’s first – using just a single lap in Q2 and Q3 to deliver the perfect performance in Shanghai.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso qualified his light-fuelled and KERS-free Renault in an excellent second position, ahead of Mark Webber. It’s interesting that the top three cars are all powered by the same spec engine, each running without that fancy diffusers or KERS…
As for the dominant Brawns, they could only manage fourth and fifth positions, with Rubens Barrichello edging ahead of team-mate Jenson Button.
Vettel opted to make only one qualifying run in the second and third session to set the benchmark. His time of one minute, 36.184 seconds on a dry track at the Shanghai International Circuit was enough to take his second career pole, which follows his impressive result in Monza last year at the sister Red Bull team (Scuderia Toro Rosso).
In fact, it would have been a fantastic result for the energy drink-backed team with a front row lockout as Mark Webber set the initial pace with a time of one minute, 36.466 seconds. But in the final moments of Q3, Fernando Alonso split the Red Bulls with a lap time of one minute, 36.381 seconds.
The Australian was pushed back from first to third in the closing seconds, with Barrichello dropping to fourth having held provisional pole following his first Q3 runs.
Jarno Trulli completed the top six for Toyota, followed by Nico Rosberg’s Williams, who set the pace in final practice in the run-up to qualifying.
Kimi Raikkonen took eighth for Ferrari, while the current world champion Lewis Hamilton, producing his best qualifying performance of the season to take ninth for McLaren.
Toro Rosso’s rookie Sebastien Buemi also enjoyed a breakthrough session, reaching Q3 for the first time and taking tenth.
While Hamilton showed better form featuring a new front wing and diffuser on his MP4-24, his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen fared less well. The Finn could only manage P12, one place ahead of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian yet again made a driving mistake during his fast run and without the aid of KERS (the team decided not to use it this weekend), Massa will find the job of racing from the mid-pack more challenging.
So a Renault 1-2-3 on the grid in China, with the young German Vettel setting his sights on scoring the team’s dream victory. Can he do the job and take his second victory? What about Alonso? Will the Spaniard cause an upset to Red Bull in his light-fuelled R29? How about the super-soft option tyre from Bridgestone? Will this tyre compound be durable enough around the 3.44-mile track without falling to pieces? We will find out to this and more on race day.
Qualifying times from Shanghai:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:36.184
2. Alonso Renault 1:36.381
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:36.466
4. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:36.493
5. Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:36.532
6. Trulli Toyota 1:36.835
7. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:37.397
8. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:38.089
9. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.595
10. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.321
11. Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:35.975
12. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.032
13. Massa Ferrari 1:36.033
14. Glock Toyota 1:36.066
15. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:36.193
16. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.906
17. Piquet Renault 1:36.908
18. Kubica BMW Sauber 1:36.966
19. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:37.669
20. Fisichella Force India-Mercedes 1:37.672