Vettel's Chinese take away

17/04/2010
NEWS STORY

Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32 degrees. It is bright and sunny.

While McLaren dominates yesterday's sessions, this morning Red Bull finally opted to give us a glimpse of its cards, Mark Webber topping the timesheets and Malaysia winner Sebastian Vettel finishing third.

Mercedes have been on the pace all weekend, with Rosberg continuing to enjoy a slight advantage over teammate Schumacher, while Ferrari has been somewhat disappointing, a situation not helped by the continued fears regarding the reliability of their engines.

Renault continue to impress, though Petrov blotted his copybook when he crashed out this morning, as do Force India and Toro Rosso, despite Sebastian Buemi's horrific failure this morning.

While Kamui Kobayashi was tenth quickest this morning, Sauber continues to disappoint, certainly when compared to its pre-season testing form, as does Williams, which appears to have given up on its version of the controversial F-duct device, at least until Spain.

Lotus is looking far from impressive here thus far, while at Virgin and Hispania it's business as usual.

Tyre options this weekend are hard (prime) and soft (option), and while the weather has been almost ideal thus far, it is widely forecast that there will be rain at some stage tomorrow.

After a seal broken on the gearbox of Karun Chandhok's Hispania last night, the Indian has been hit with a five-place grid penalty. Having qualified last for two of the three races thus far, this is hardly likely to bother the likeable Indian driver.

The lights go green and Heikki Kovalainen leads the way followed by Lotus teammate Jarno Trulli. Surprisingly, Massa is the third driver to go out, followed, shortly afterwards, by teammate Alonso.

A big spin by Kovalainen at Turn 6 as he hits the Brakes, however, the Finn is able to continue.

Trulli posts 40.533, however, seconds later Massa crosses the line at 36.997. Liuzzi goes second (38.822) but is demoted when Alonso posts 36.805 to go quickest.

Button complains that his car is involuntarily going into neutral as Kubica goes second with a 36.853. The 2009 world champion subsequently posts 36.600 to go second.

It's all over for Chandhok, his Hispania having come to a halt on the run-off at the hairpin. That said, the Indian is able to get going again.

Sutil goes third with a 36.671 as Webber leaves the pits, Vettel and Petrov yet to make an appearance.

Alonso raises the benchmark with a 36.327 but this is beaten by Hamilton who goes top with a 35.641 having been quickest in all three sectors. Schumacher goes seventh but is demoted when teammate posts 36.353 to go fourth.

As Webber comes to the end of his first flying lap, teammate Vettel leaves the pits. The Australian goes fourth with a 36.158. Elsewhere, de la Rosa makes full use of the (over) generous run-offs.

As Hamilton reports that he too has a gearbox issue - though it's not affecting his times - Vettel posts 36.434 to go sixth. Webber improves to second with a 35.978.

With just under six minutes remaining, Petrov finally leaves the pits.

The usual suspects - Hispania, Virgin and Lotus - fill the bottom places with de la Rosa keeping them company.

Petrov posts 37.053 to go eleventh as de la Rosa seeks to climb out of the danger zone. Teammate Kobayashi is just outside the danger zone, as are the Toro Rosso duo.

While the rest of the field seek late improvements, Hamilton, Webber, Alonso and Button appear content with their times, opting to sit out the remainder of Q1 in the pits.

Rosberg posts 35.952 to go second, while Petrov, now in fourteenth, returns to the pits. Liuzzi drops into the danger zone when de la Rosa makes a late improvement.

At the end of Q1, Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Rosberg, Webber, Alonso, Massa, Button, Vettel, Kubica, Schumacher and Alguersuari.

We lose Liuzzi - a big shock - together with Glock, Trulli, Kovalainen, di Grassi, Senna and Chandhok.

Q2 gets underway and Petrov is joined by Webber and Hamilton, with Alonso and Vettel also eager to get down to it.

Petrov crosses the line at 36.311, however, this is soon beaten by Alguersuari (36.167). Webber posts 35.413 but Hamilton posts 34.928 to take the top spot.

A 35.715 sees Schumacher go sixth, as teammate Rosberg takes second with a 35.134. Alonso posts 35.235 to go third.

The soft tyres are clearly only really good for one hot lap, while Hamilton reports that he is still having an issue with his gearbox.

Webber and Vettel fifth and sixth, both over 0.5s off the pace but they were on the harder compound.

With just under six minutes remaining, Barrichello, Alguersuari, Petrov, Buemi, Kobayashi, de la Rosa and Hulkenberg are all in the danger zone.

Hamilton, Rosberg, Alonso and Massa appear to have settled for their times, the other thirteen drivers, including the Red Bull duo, haven't.

Webber goes quickest in the second sector as Hulkenberg remains sixteenth having gone wide in the final corner. Webber goes second with a 35.100.

Button slows down in order that he gets some clear space, the Englishman currently seventh quickest.

Barrichello goes tenth with a 35.748 but he is demoted by Kubica and then Schumacher, the German making it into Q3 by the skin of his teeth.

Quickest in Q2 is Hamilton, ahead of Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Button, Kubica, Sutil and Schumacher.

We lose Barrichello, Alguersuari, Buemi, Petrov, Kobayashi, Hulkenberg and de la Rosa.

Having taken pole at all three races so far this season, will Red Bull make it four from four or is McLaren, particularly the car of Lewis Hamilton, finally ready to take that big step forward?

The lights go green for Q3 and within moments all ten drivers are on track.

On the first out lap, both Ferraris set a blistering pace, as does Button. All on softs as one might expect.

Alonso posts 35.065 to set the benchmark. Moments later Massa goes second (35.865), however, he is eclipsed by Webber (35.073) and Rosberg (35.139).

Vettel goes quickest with a 34.970 having gone quickest of all in the second sector. Hamilton is fifth and Button seventh.

Alonso is the first to pit the Spaniard preparing for the final assault knowing that his softs are only good for that one lap.

While his opponents return to their garages for new tyres and fuel, Hamilton is serviced in the pitlane, tyres only.

Hamilton begins his final flying lap. He posts a personal best in the first sector, and again in the second, which puts him 0.009s quicker than Vettel overall. At the line it's 35.034 which is only good enough for second.

Webber is quickest in the second sector, but Button and Vettel are both on hot laps. Button goes third (34.979) but is demoted when Webber goes quickest with as 34.086.

All eyes on Vettel who crosses the line at 34.558 to take pole by 0.3s his third of the season.

A 34.913 sees Alonso go third while Rosberg takes fourth thereby pushing the McLarens into fifth and sixth.

To sum up, Vettel is quickest, ahead of Webber, Alonso, Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Massa, Kubica, Schumacher and Sutil.

As Vettel whoops with joy, clearly aware that - reliability aside - he is in with a very good chance of securing the championship lead tomorrow, Christian Horner makes full use of the team radio; "who needs ride height control?" he asks, a question clearly aimed at Martin Whitmarsh and the rest of the sceptics.

The Red Bull being the car that it is, it comes as no surprise to see Mark Webber lock-out the front row for the Austrian team, however, did we really expect to see Alonso in third?

Another strong performance from Rosberg, who will start tomorrow's race from fourth, while, when push came to shove, McLaren failed to deliver which just goes to show how much one can read into free practice form.

While Massa will be disappointed with seventh, Alonso continuing to make his mark within the Maranello team, Robert Kubica must be delighted with eighth and the possibility of further points to his tally tomorrow.

In as much as Michael Schumacher's performance was disappointing, the German around 0.8s off his teammate's performance, Adrian Sutil will be delighted with his, especially on a day when his Force India teammate failed to make it past Q1.

An interesting session, and, despite the low key performances in each of the previous sessions this weekend, further proof that the Red Bull is something special.

As we look ahead to tomorrow, no doubt McLaren will join the many of millions of F1 fans around the world who are hoping for rain.

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    Published: 17/04/2010
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