Pole for Vettel as Lotus positions impress again

 

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are starting from the front row for this afternoon's European Grand Prix in Valencia, but both of them will have their eyes on their mirrors.

"The Lotuses look massively competitive, and will be the ones to watch out for," Hamilton said, referring to the black-and-gold cars of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen which start from fourth and fifth on a grid on which the top 10 cars are separated by less than a second.

Vettel might have annexed pole position by 0.316sec, but as the Red Bull pilot learned to his cost in Canada in this topsy-turvy season of tyre conservation, an even larger margin was no guarantee of success. Lotus have been knocking on the door since the start of the season, with two drivers who have something to prove.

Raikkonen, of course, is the disciple of James Hunt's style of riotous living who snatched the world championship in 2007 from right under the noses of the McLaren racers Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, then was shown the door by Ferrari when they became desperate to replace him with the Spaniard for 2010.

Grosjean had a horrible part-season with Renault as the replacement for the disgraced Singapore GP cheat Nelson Piquet Jnr, then was dumped. He's on fire now, after taking such a strong second place in Canada. The Lotus team boss, Eric Boullier, rubbed his hands yesterday, after getting the 45°C track temperature he had been praying for, and on which their cars thrive.

Praise from the Frenchman came from no less august a figure than Alonso, his former team-mate chez Renault.

"He won GP2 easily and in 2009 in Formula One I think the car was not so easy to drive and he found it tough, but now he's showing his potential. He's young, talented, very quick. He can keep up a very good pace with few mistakes over a whole race. Things to improve? Experience for sure, because this is something that you never stop learning.

"I'm happy with his performance, happy for him. I think he will have a very interesting season from now on, after the podium in Canada."

Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa were only 11th and 13th fastest, embarrassing in the presence of the Ferrari president, Luca Di Montezemolo, but the Spaniard only missed the cut into the last qualifying session by four thousandths of a second. Such is F1, 2012 style. Hamilton also expects them to fly come the race, however.

"I'm actually surprised to be second," the Englishman admitted. "We've really struggled with set-up, but you don't always get the perfect weekend. I was praying that some changes for qualifying worked and they seemed to. I was able to get out at the end and get a clean lap, and when you make sure that you maximise the potential of what you have, it really does satisfy me. Overtaking here is always very difficult, but DRS will definitely come into play throughout the race so I'll have some chances."

His McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, qualified ninth ahead of fellow British star Paul Di Resta, but said after reverting to a similar set-up to Hamilton's: "I'm still very confident obviously in myself but also in the car and my chances of fighting for the world championship."

Today's Grid

1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1min 38.086sec; 2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:38.410; 3 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:38.475; 4 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 1:38.505; 5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:38.513; 6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:38.623; 7 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.741; 8 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:38.752; 9 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:38.801; 10 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:38.992; 11 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:38.707; 12 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:38.770; 13 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:38.780; 14 B Senna (Br) Williams 1:39.207; 15 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.358; 16 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:40.295; 17 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:40.358; 18 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:40.203; 19 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:40.395; 20 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:40.457; 21 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 1:42.171; 22 N Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 1:42.527; 23 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 1:42.675; 24 T Glock (Ger) Marussia no time (did not take part in qualifying due to illness).

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