Sebastian Vettel re-asserted his dominance over the rest of the field with a dominant display in qualifying this morning. The German has been on another planet all weekend and was sitting pretty before the start of Q1, having just topped the third and final practice session of the weekend.
In Q1, the usual drivers were out. The two Caterhams and Marussias made a valiant effort, but they just didn’t have enough performance to spring a surprise. Going out with those four cars were Pastor Maldonado of Williams and Paul di Resta of Force India. The former will be looking back on last season with much longing; he was started on the front row with Lewis Hamilton in 2012. The Red Bulls and Romain Grosjean managed to get through Q1 without using the SuperSoft tires, something that could pay dividends during the race tomorrow.
In Q2, the times really started to fall. As the first of the Mercedes’ went out, the crowd anticipated the start of a close fight for a place in Q3. And that is exactly what they got. Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean were through to Q3 with relative ease. Kimi Raikkonen has been experiencing back pain this weekend. A pinched nerve is the suspected culprit. The Finn did a good job to qualify 13th considering the fact that the team was getting their reserve driver ready to take the wheel, just in case. The major surprise of Q2, however, was Esteban Gutierrez. He backed up his pre-race weekend promise of being more aggressive in qualifying to end the session in 7th place, thus securing his first career Q3 outing. Even more spectacular was the fact that he out-qualified his teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, in the process. This performance will do his future no harm at all.
In Q3, the pressure was on. The five drivers really fighting for pole all headed out together, with Vettel and Nico Rosberg leading the group. Vettel kicked off the session by going over a second faster than Rosberg on his first flying lap. At this point, Vettel’s place on the first row of the grid was pretty much secured. It looked like no one would even get close to that time. As a result, Vettel elected to stay in the garage while the rest of the top-10 completed their second runs.
It was just a matter of time before Vettel took his 41st career pole position. He was a second faster than anyone, and there wasn’t a single hint that the rest of the field could even come close to him. Even so, Rosberg, Grosjean, Webber and Hamilton gave it their all on their final flying laps. Webber went fastest of all in the first sector, followed by a fastest second sector from Rosberg. Then, Grosjean bettered Rosberg’s second sector. It was all down to the final sector, the place Vettel has reined supreme this whole weekend. Rosberg crossed the line just .09 seconds off Vettel’s time, followed by Webber who lost time in the final sector and Hamilton who just didn’t have enough pace. Romain Grosjean crossed the line last, having just set the fastest second sector, only to fall two-tenths behind Vettel. The Frenchman slotted in third. Behind the top-five were Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez, who elected to not run and preserve his tires.
The end of a frenetic qualifying proved satisfying, indeed. We got a real fight when no one expected it; and that is better than anything you can ask for.