Christmas came early for Sebastian Vettel yesterday, in the form of the two fastest laps of qualifying for Red Bull Racing and a four-tenths of a second gap over his team-mate, Mark Webber. And just to fill the German's stocking to the brim, the third fastest, Fernando Alonso – their nemesis at Hockenheim – was eight-tenths adrift of Webber.
Small wonder, then, that Vettel's schoolboyish grin was so broad afterwards as everyone wanted to know the secret of Red Bull's speed. The answer was obvious, of course: Adrian Newey's RB6 has more aerodynamic downforce – "grunt" in F1 vernacular – with its blown diffuser and flexible front wing. But Alonso's Ferrari has the same go-faster accoutrements, and had been quicker than the Red Bulls only days before at Hockenheim. Now it looked like an also-ran, albeit a much faster also-ran itself than the other 21 cars that lined up behind it.
It's a while since we've seen such big gaps between the top qualifiers, and much of that is a function of the Hungaroring. The antithesis of that old police recruitment advertisement "Dull it isn't", it nevertheless imposes a series of conditions that only the Red Bulls seemed able to comply with. And a super-clean lap by Vettel accounted for the difference between him and Webber.
"It's quite a tricky circuit," Vettel said, "like a woman alongside you that doesn't behave well. Looking back on the races I've done here, you have to have the confidence over the kerbs, over the bumps, to brake five metres later, and then you have the speed coming out of the corners if you do it right. You need a lot of downforce, and I think we've got some."
Once he'd got the car fully dialled in, after playing with the settings for the differential, the front wing and the tyre pressures, he was on his way.
"Sometimes the tyre pressure can mean three-tenths," Vettel volunteered. "But there's no secret – if you look at yesterday we were already in good shape, though we didn't know how good, but definitely good enough to put the cars on the first row. All the cars haven't changed a lot since one week ago. In Hockenheim we were racing on a track that suited Ferrari's car quite good, and somehow this week it seems the track suits us very well. It's been a very good day for us. I said to the guys on the radio just now, 'This is your moment'. Mark and myself were pushing hard to finish one-two but I said, 'This is your moment, you built this wonderful car'. It's a pleasure to drive."
Webber was about the only other guy who could say that about his car, but he didn't get the clean lap. He'd been fractionally quicker than Vettel in the second qualifying session, 1min 19.531sec to 1:19.573, but he didn't get the job done when it mattered.
"It's pretty similar to Barcelona; we knew it would probably be between both of us, we knew it would be tight, that whoever did the cleanest lap would probably get the pole," Webber said. "It was all about getting everything in shape for one lap. I could have done better but I didn't, so I deserved to be second, not first. I didn't have the best preparation to start my lap because [Robert] Kubica was finishing his, and the tyres need to be ready to put together three perfect sectors."
Alonso, third but well beaten, was philosophical. "Six days ago we were winning at Hockenheim and Ferrari was the quickest car. Now we are 1.2sec behind, so it's a surprise. But I'm happy with the car's performance, there's nothing wrong with it, and there are people more worried than us."
Two of them were in McLarens. As Jenson Button struggled for grip and failed to make it through to Q3, Lewis Hamilton did a blinding job to put his MP4-25 fifth in the line-up, having suggested the previous day that such a position would be little short of a miracle.
"I'm happy with today's result," the points leader said, and that in itself told you how far off the silver cars were because Hamilton is never happy with fifth. "I was relieved to get into Q3 – it was very close – and I feel I pulled every last drop out of the car. All things considered, it's a good place for us to be starting from: it's on the clean side of the track, which is a positive, and it's a long haul down to Turn One. Bring it on!"
Until McLaren get their aerodynamics sorted out, Hamilton and Button have to keep scoring as much as they can to maintain their advantage.
As Webber observed, "It's going to be an interesting start", but given Alonso's belief that the start and the first corner could account for 60 per cent of the race order, the Australian's suggestion that it could be tough to stay awake after that point may prove not to be too wide of the mark. We've had processions here before.Reuse content