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Red Bull Front Row in Melbourne, Vettel on Pole

Sebastian Vettel snags another pole for Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel has snagged his second pole position in as many races this season.  He and team mate Mark Webber have secured an all Red Bull front row, a first for the team.  The Red Bulls were clearly the class of the field on Saturday, with only Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari being able to come within striking distance of Vettel and Webber.

McLaren pilot Jenson Button slotted into fourth position, more than half a second behind the top three drivers.  Button professed to be satisfied with his performance under the circumstances.  Many drivers failed to come to grips with the softer option tires in the third qualifying session as the track began to cool in the late afternoon under dark skies and windy conditions.

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, for one, had difficulty bringing his tires up to temperature.  He qualified fifth, behind Button.  Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher had similar difficulties, and opted to run the harder primary tires on their final hot laps of Q3.  They took sixth and seventh places on the grid, respectively, separated by only 0.043 seconds. It was the second time in as many races that Rosberg has out-qualified his more illustrious team mate.

The top ten positions from Q3 were rounded out by Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Robert Kubica (Renault) and Adrian Sutil (Force India).

The major surprise of the day came from Lewis Hamilton, who failed to make Q3.  In the late stages of Q2, as the track cooled, his tires went off and he used up his allotment of fuel.  He later said he was simply unable to extract any more pace from his McLaren under prevailing conditions.

“Today was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to be out in Q2,” Hamilton said, as reported on ESPNF1. “I felt I got as much as I could out of the car, but I just couldn’t get the grip from the tyres. On my first run in Q2, I was held up by traffic, so I wasn’t able to do a quick lap. I pitted early, got a clear lap, but still struggled to find time in the final sector, even with new tyres. I don’t know what the reason for that was. So I didn’t have a great day.”

Poor grip and slow traffic seemed to be a common complaint.  In fact, Michael Schumacher later claimed that both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had impeded his hot laps, and went so far as to raise the issue with FIA technical representative Charlie Whiting, to get a clarification on protocol for qualifying.

Image by f1photo.org, licensed through Creative Commons.

Pos. Driver Team Time Session
1 Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:23.919 Q3
2 Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:24.035 Q3
3 Alonso Ferrari 1:24.111 Q3
4 Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.675 Q3
5 Massa Ferrari 1:24.837 Q3
6 Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.884 Q3
7 Schumacher Mercedes 1:24.927 Q3
8 Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:25.217 Q3
9 Kubica Renault 1:25.372 Q3
10 Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:26.036 Q3
11 Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.184 Q2
12 Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:25.638 Q2
13 Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:25.743 Q2
14 de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.747 Q2
15 Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:25.748 Q2
16 Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.777 Q2
17 Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:26.089 Q2
18 Petrov Renault 1:26.471 Q1
19 Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:28.797 Q1
20 Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:29.111 Q1
21 Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:29.592 Q1
22 di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:30.185 Q1
23 Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:30.526 Q1
24 Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:30.613 Q1
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