Like the master magician able to defy logic and suspend belief, Sebastian Vettel plucked his third successive pole position of the season here yesterday to leave Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton open-jawed.
The McLaren drivers were on the money in the second qualifying session, and Jenson Button in particular believed he had a shot at pole position. But moments after Button had lapped in 1min 34.421sec in the third and final session, Vettel stopped the clock in 1:33.706. Adrian Newey's Red Bull RB7 is the class of the field right now, and that's that.
"It wasn't as straightforward as planned, and I wasn't 100 per cent comfortable in Q2 and made a bit of a mistake," Vettel said. "But I was able to improve quite a lot in Q3."
While Vettel was waving Newey's magic wand, the McLaren drivers effectively reversed their Malaysian strategy. Button went for it, only to be mesmerised by Vettel's conjuring trick. Hamilton, meanwhile, took the strategic route and harvested tyres. Whereas his two rivals made two runs, he made only one, his tyre situation in Malaysia last weekend uppermost in his mind. Such is F1, 2011 style, where qualifying is less important to the overall race picture than it has been for years.
"You always hope that pole is possible but Seb's pace in Q3 was phenomenal," said Button, who was philosophical about Vettel's speed. "After a while I thought 'OK, maybe I'll have to settle for second'. It's my best grid spot of the year so we can be happy with what we achieved. The car was more consistent to drive and we extracted what it had."
Hamilton looked anything but happy. He has looked distracted all weekend, and was a lot less chilled about Vettel's pace than Button. "I decided on just one run because the last race showed how important it is to have fresh tyres in the race," Hamilton said. "In the last race I had only two sets of the softer tyres that I could use, so we had to make sure we had plenty of fresh tyres left.
"I was much happier with the car throughout qualifying. We haven't made much of a step this weekend, but we have some good things in the pipeline. It's gonna be tricky [in the race] but I'm in a decent spot."
If Anthony Hamilton was pleased for his son, he was also chuffed for his new protégé. Though he was celebrating his 25th birthday, it was Scottish rookie Paul di Resta who was giving out the presents to his Force India team as he underlined his great potential by qualifying a superb eighth, well ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil.
"I couldn't have wished for more," Di Resta said. "Luckily I did my quickest lap in the second running in Q1, as I struggled a bit in the others. Fingers crossed we can pick up points."
Red Bull's Mark Webber dropped out in the first phase of qualifying.
1. S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1min 33.706sec; 2. J Button (GB) McLaren 1:34.421; 3. L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:34.463; 4. N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:34.670; 5. F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:35.119; 6. F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:35.145; 7. J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.158; 8. P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:36.190; 9. S Buemi (Swi) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.203; 10. V Petrov (Rus) Renault No Time; 11. A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:35.874; 12. S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.053; 13. K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.236; 14. M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:36.457; 15. R Barrichello (Br) Williams 1:35.465; 16. N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 1:36.611; 17. P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:36.956; 18. M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:36.468; 19. H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 1:37.894; 20. J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 1:38.318; 21. J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing 1:39.119; 22. T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 1:39.708; 23. V Liuzzi (It) HRT-F1 1:40.212; 24. N Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 1:40.445.Reuse content