Vettel storms to Chinese Grand Prix pole

Vettel storms to Chinese Grand Prix pole

2011 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix: Saturday qualifying results

Sebastian Vettel has collected a third consecutive Chinese Grand Prix pole position and as many for the 2011 season so far. Alongside the German in Shanghai will be McLaren’s Jenson Button, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg sharing Row 2. However, the second Red Bull of Mark Webber starts only 18th.

The 18th pole of Vettel’s career also marks the fastest ever lap of the Shanghai International Circuit, with his early Q3 best of 1:33.706 eclipsing Rubens Barrichello’s previous record for Ferrari from 2004. Today’s result also marks Button’s first front row slot since Italy last year.

Today’s major drama came by as early as Q1. Having already lost use of his Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) in final practice, just as he did in Malaysia last weekend, Red Bull elected to run Webber on the slower, Hard compound Pirelli tyre; this decision proved costly, with Pastor Maldonado ensuring the Australian was demoted at the earliest possible point for the first time since Bahrain 2009.

Webber starts a lowly 18th

Webber starts a lowly 18th

Behind Webber, all other cars’ lap times were sufficient to make the 107 percent barrier. Heikki Kovalainen is best of the rest as the Lotus, Virgin and Hispania teams fly in formation once again. Notably, at Virgin Timo Glock – highly frustrated with the team’s pace this weekend – is out-qualified by 2011 newcomer Jérôme d’Ambrosio of Belgium for the first time.

Jaime Alguersuari was out first in Q2, for a session which saw both Toro Rossos successfully pass through to the top ten shootout – a feat which sister team Red Bull Racing was unable to achieve. The second phase of qualifying was provided with much drama, though, as Vitaly Petrov’s Renault came to a halt at Turn 5.

The resultant red flag ensured a rush for the end of the pit lane prior to the restart, with just two minutes left for the majority of drivers to set their quickest laps. However, after already posting times, Vettel, both McLarens and the Toro Rosso duo made the right decision to remain in the pit lane.

After qualifying, Schumacher confirmed a DRS problem

After qualifying, Schumacher confirmed a DRS problem

As the chequered flag fell, Paul di Resta narrowly started his lap on time and was soon delighted to make the top ten shootout for the first time on his 25th birthday. Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil was less fortunate, being the quickest Q2 runner but eliminated in 11th position. Also out of the action were the Saubers – with Pérez ahead of Kobayashi – plus the Williams cars.

Joining them Q2 eliminees were Germans Michael Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld, with the former having failed to make Q3 so far this season; the seven-time World Champion’s lap was ruined by running wide at the hairpin with a DRS problem. In Heidfeld’s case, the Malaysian podium finisher was unable to string a tidy lap together after his initial, single run was compromised by his team-mate’s stoppage.

Vettel’s eventual P1 time came with some six minutes still remaining in Q3, matching his achievement of Australia 2010 in the process. Most recent Shanghai winner Button, quicker than McLaren team-mate Hamilton and both sporting red overalls this weekend, racked up his first front row starting place since Italy last season.

A third consecutive Chinese Grand Prix and 2011 pole position for Vettel

A third consecutive Chinese Grand Prix and 2011 pole position for Vettel

As Ferrari continued to struggle for pace, with Alonso and Massa divided by just 26 thousandths of a second, Nico Rosberg made the most of an opportunity to seize fourth spot and therefore a second row starting position.

Respectable laps from Alguersuari and di Resta left them seventh and eighth as Buemi and the absent Petrov completed the top ten.

Post-qualifying feelings from pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel

   
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