Mark Webber took his first pole position since the Belgium Grand Prix last August after a stunning lap in Q3 saw the Australian top the timesheets 0.2s ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel came to this race seeking a record ninth consecutive pole but the reigning world champion’s efforts were thwarted by his teammate. The Red Bull drivers looked in superb form throughout the hour long session and enjoyed a comfortable advantage throughout. They will also enjoy the benefit of an extra set of option tyres over the majority of the field after using the harder tyres in Q1.
Speaking after qualifying Webber said:
“We got through on the first set of hards so that was nice to do that. Some other people did as well. Then coming to the crucial part of qualifying it was just getting the lap right for Q3 so that lap was pretty good. I was just praying my number went above number one when I crossed the gantry over the start-finish line and it did. It was a nice lap. It was a good battle with Seb and today was my day.”
Lewis Hamilton was once again the closest challenger to the Red Bull’s but the 2008 champion was almost one second off the pace and looked resigned to a tough race tomorrow.
Asked after qualifying if his race pace could challenge the pacesetters Hamilton said:
“No. They have got a second in qualifying, probably a second and a bit. But we will push as hard as we can. Obviously we have got to push to the amount where you also save your tyres through the run. We have been closer in the previous races so I anticipate we will be much closer than one second but whether or not it’s within a tenth or so we will wait and see.”
The McLaren has had a tendency of improving their pace throughout the race but it will be a very tall task for Hamilton to overcome the time difference on a circuit that plays perfectly to the strengths of the Red Bulls.
Fernando Alonso gave the home crowd something to cheer about with a stunning lap at the end of qualifying that netted the Ferrari star fourth. Alonso was just 0.003s slower than Hamilton after struggling throughout the session and afterwards it was clear just how good a job he had done to qualify on the second row.
“I did a perfect lap: I reckon that if I tried to repeat it twenty times, I could not do better!” said the Spaniard. “When you do a lap like that it’s hard to put into words what one feels: always being on the limit, in every corner is a really special feeling for a driver. I am very happy with this result, because we have never made it to the second row this year.”
Jenson Button was fifth fastest and will share the third row with Vitaly Petrov after the Russian had another strong showing for Renault.
Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa will line up on row four with Pastor Maldonado qualifying a career best ninth. The Williams showed signs of improvement in Turkey and while Rubens Barrichello suffered a gearbox failure his teammate showed his true talent for the first time in 2011.
“I am really happy for the team and all the guys,” said the reigning GP2 champion. “We’ve tried really hard to find a good balance all weekend. Yesterday’s practice, particularly the first session, was really difficult for me. The car wasn’t great so we took a bit of a risk and decided to run the new rear wing in qualifying.
“The car seems more competitive, but we still need to keep pushing and improve. I am happy today.”
Michael Schumacher had issues with his KERS and was unable to set a time in Q3.
Sauber and Toro Rosso look set to have a competitive race tomorrow with the teams locking out rows six and seven. Sergio Perez has been in good form throughout the weekend and could be a wild card for another strong race. The Mexican will start 12th.
Heiki Kovalainen impressed everyone with the 15th fastest time with the new upgrades aboard the Lotus clearly improving the package considerably. It is unlikely that the Finn would have made it out of Q1 if Nick Heidfeld and Barrichello did not have mechanical woes but the performance of the upgrades will surely have bouyed the spirits of Team Lotus.
Force India decided to save three fresh sets of tyres for tomorrow’s race with di Resta and Sutil the slowest runners in Q2.
Nick Heidfeld’s fiery morning session meant the German was unable to set a time in qualifying but the Renault driver should be very strong tomorrow. The Renault driver should make light work of the Virgins, HRT’s and Jarno Trulli in the early laps.