It looks like Red Bull is having it all their way again, at least as far as qualifying is concerned. Once again, the Red Bull boys have sewn up the front row, with Sebastian Vettel on pole, and Mark Webber right behind him.
There was little question of their domination of the proceedings, as they were running super slippery lap times from the start. Most impressive, however, was the fact that they just kept getting quicker. In the end, they were the only drivers to post lap times under the 1m 30s mark.
Rounding out the quali podium was Fernando Alonso, who, midway through the season, has clearly put his stamp on the Ferrari team in his first year with the Scuderia. He’s consistently out qualified and out raced team mate Felipe Massa all year, pretty well installing himself as de facto number one driver in the process.
The Ferrari seems to have recovered some of the form they’d lost in the past few races, but Alonso was still subdued in the post quali interview. He allowed that gains had been made, but he was talking points and perhaps a podium, rather than a potential win tomorrow. He was more than a half second slower than the Red Bulls, and qualifying pace doesn’t always translate to an equivalent on race day, the Red Bulls have generally shown that they’re quick on any day of the week.
Reliability and driver errors have been their weak spots this year. Had it not been for the odd on-track dust-up, or failed gearbox, Webber and Vettel would very likely be sharing top spots in the points standings, rather than their McLaren rivals, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Speaking of Hamilton, he was the quicker of the McLaren drivers today. He was a little more than a tenth slower than Alonso, but he seemed delighted with his performance, declaring it his best qualification run ever. If this is more than just your typical Saturday afternoon hyperbole, it must be an indication that the McLarens were truly a handful today, as Jenson Button indicated.
Button, for his part, got mired in the Q2 session, and qualified an embarrassing 14th. He declared that the McLaren was undriveable, although his fiesty team mate found a way to haul his up to the second row on the grid.
Another embarrassing disparity between driver performances occurred at the Mercedes squad, with young Nico Rosberg coming within a tenth of Hamilton’s time, which was good enough to place him in fifth. Meanwhile, his illustrious team mate, seven-time world champ Michael Schumacher, scored the slowest time recorded in Q3, which placed him tenth. Not only will he be behind the Renault of Robert Kubica, but he’ll lining up beside Pedro de la Rosa in a Sauber, and will be staring at the rear diffusers of Rubens Barrichello’s Williams.
Even Mercedes boss Ross Brawn had to admit that Rosberg’s time was a benchmark for the car’s current performance level, which means that both Mercedes drivers should be trading competitive times with the Ferraris and the Renaults, not the Saubers and the Williams.
Previously, Schumi has blamed his struggles on various technical woes, which was to a certain extent legitimate, as Rosberg seemed to be suffering from some of the same gremlins. But today Schumi made no bones about it. He ran two flying laps in Q3, and said that he made a mistake in the first one, which cost him, and pushed too hard in the second one, hoping to recoup, but instead just compounded his mistakes.
While Ross Brawn tried to put a good face on it for the media, pointing out that Schumacher was actually quicker than Rosberg in Q2, the ract remains that there was a day when no one needed to make excuses for Michael Schumacher’s performance. He was the benchmark for the field.
Now, one might well ask if Schumacher has simply lost it, or if the explanation is a bit more complicated. While Schumacher has never been technically challenged, after a three year layoff, one wonders if the cars’ driving characteristics have changed enough in that time to cause Schumi problems. Example: during a radio transmission today, Schumacher’s engineer cautioned him against overlapping his brake and throttle, as the car’s electronics could interupt the drive train as a result.
But overlapping brake and throttle is a trademark element of the Schumacher driving style. Many drivers take an either/or approach, i.e. they’re either on the throttle or on the brakes. But Schumacher has always blended the two, as a means of carrying more speed through the corners. Clearly, however, this is something the current Mercedes doesn’t like. One can imagine Rosberg smiling at that if he overheard the transmission.