Red Bull once again proved that they’re the class of the field in qualifying today in Barcelona for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. Mark Webber took pole, with team mate Sebastian Vettel lining up beside him. It was the second all Red Bull front row in the team’s history.
Lewis Hamilton rounded out the qualifying podium, in third, nearly a full second behind Webber’s time. In the post-quali press conference, Hamilton allowed that he was surprised at the Red Bull’s speed. “I don’t think anyone expected them to be so fast this weekend,” the McLaren driver said. “However we knew they would be quick, that is quite a decent gap. We will continue to push and focus on the areas we know we are weakest.”
Nevertheless, Hamilton professed hope that the McLarens might shine in race trim “They are probably not as quick [as we are] down the straights, which is a bonus so we will see how quick they are tomorrow.” Hamilton is an assertive racer, to say the least, and generally if he qualifies well he finishes well. Look for him to at least make the podium tomorrow.
Fourth on the grid is local hero Fernando Alonso, for Ferrari. He was more than a half second in front of team mate Felipe Massa, who qualified ninth. Alonso continues to outshine his team mate Felipe Massa, making himself the de facto leader of the team.
Behind Alonso was Jenson Button in the second McLaren. While Button is the current championship points leader, and has shown himself to be a more savvy racer than Hamilton this year, Hamilton once again proved that he’s nevertheless probably the quicker driver on a lap for lap basis.
Michael Schumacher snagged sixth spot on the grid, for the first time this year out-qualifying his Mercedes team mate, Nico Rosberg. The Mercedes has undergone some extensive and well-publicized revisions for Barcelona, all of which have made the car, if not necessarily quicker, at least better suited to Schumacher’s driving style. Today it showed. Rosberg, who trailed Schumi by a bit more than a tenth of a second, will take eighth slot on the grid.
Robert Kubica once again hauled the Renault into Q3, landing in seventh. Kubica continues to flatter the Renault, keeping it in the mix with the Big Four teams. The other non Big Four qualifier to make Q3 was Kamui Kobayashi, in the Sauber. Both Kobayashi and his team mate, Pedro de la Rosa, have taken some stick from team boss Peter Sauber for not performing up to expectations thus far this season, so a 10th place on the grid should placate the Swiss team owner a bit.
Adrian Sutil, who has been a usual suspect in Q3 this year, was the quickest of the Q2 qualifiers today. He continues to outperform his team mate, Tonio Liuzzi, who was the slowest Q2 qualifier, in 17th. Sutil was followed by de la Rosa, in 12th, and Nico Hulkenberg on 13th. Hulkenberg’s time was notable, if only because he managed to out-qualfiy his seasoned team mate at Williams, Rubens Barrichello, by a full second.
The remaining Q2 slots were taken up by Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault, and the two Toro Rossos, driven by Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.
Rubens Barrichello, won the ignominious distinction of being the only driver in a non third tier (i.e. newbie) team not to make it past Q1 today. The other six Q1 positions were taken up in pairs, in descending order, by Lotus, Virgin and HRT. The Lotus is obviously slow, but the team deliberately opted for a conservative design, in order to concentrate on reliability. Nevertheless, the were a second quicker than the Virgins, and more than two seconds ahead of the HRTs.
As for the Virgins, Timo Glock’s car has gotten the bulk of available upgrades for that team, including a larger fuel tank. Lucas di Grassi has been told that he’ll have to conserve fuel. Nick Wirth’s boutique engineering firm, as you’ll recall, designed the Virgin, and somehow managed to underestimate the fuel needs of the car under the new refueling ban.
The caboose team, once again, is HRT. The HRT is another outsourced chassis, in this case provided by Dallara. Virtually everyone connected with HRT has slagged the car for being worse than sub-standard. They have been consistently six seconds off the pace, which is more or less the natural gap between Formula 1 and GP2 cars. Dallara builds the spec cars for the GP2 series, so perhaps this is no coincidence.