Red Bull Racing maintain their outstanding qualifying performance this season with yet another pole position but this time it was Mark Webber who took the all-important grid slot at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The speed advantage from the Red Bulls reveal how great this Adrian Newey designed RB7 handles around the 2.875-mile race track. The level of grip and downforce seems unreal with Sebastian Vettel even using his Drag Reduction System mid-corner to gain extra straight-line speed.
By taking pole position with just a single flying lap in Q3, Mark Webber has the upper hand in saving a set of fresh soft ‘Option’ tyre for the race.
Both chose to make just one Q3 run, with Vettel – who had been suffering an apparent KERS issue earlier in qualifying – setting a lap time of one minute, 21.181 seconds before Webber beat it with his lap of one minute, 20.981 seconds. Under no threat from the others, the drivers sat out the remaining five minutes of the session.
Lewis Hamilton will start in third for McLaren, but the margin between himself to the pole sitter is 0.980 seconds. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was delighted to qualify in fourth – his best effort this season – in front of his home fans and ahead of Jenson Button. As for Felipe Massa, he will start in eighth position, nearly a second off from his Scuderia team-mate.
Vitaly Petrov was an impressive sixth for Renault, just ahead of Nico Rosberg, whose Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher chose not to go for a lap time in Q3.
Pastor Maldonado showed his strongest form in his debut season in Formula One by making it to Q3 for the first time – and only the second time for Williams this season – and was just off Massa’s pace in ninth.
The Toro Rossos and Saubers will share rows six and seven, but the most significant result of Q2 was that Heikki Kovalainen got Team Lotus into the second part of qualifying for only the second time in the team’s history. The Finn then went on to beat the Force Indias to P15, though the latter team had played it conservatively and opted to only use the harder ‘Prime’ tyres in Q2, saving the softer Pirelli compounds for the race.
Kovalainen’s progress was not just due to Team Lotus having made a step forward this weekend, for two big names dropped out in Q1. A gearbox problem stranded Rubens Barrichello’s Williams to P19 while Nick Heidfeld’s fire-damaged Renault – caused by a damaged exhaust – could not be repaired in time for qualifying.
Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix is going to be fascinating. Not only to see the intra-team battle between the Red Bull drivers but also if the new 2011 rules will allow cars to overtake one another on this notorious difficult race track.
Qualifying times from Circuit de Catalunya:
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m20.981s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.181s
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.961s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.964s
5. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.996s
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.471s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.599s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.888s
9. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m22.952s
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes No time
11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.231s
12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.367s
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.694s
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.702s
15. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m25.403s
16. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.126s
17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m26.571s
18. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m26.521s
19. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m26.910s
20. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.315s
21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m27.809s
22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m27.908s
23. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m28.556s
24. Nick Heidfeld Renault No time
107% time: 1m28.767s