Saturday, 16 April 2011

Shanghai Qually: Predictably comfortable for Seb

Sebastian Vettel took pole position for tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai, by a comfortable seven tenths of a second from his next challenger. Just like in Melbourne. Hey ho.

While the previous round in Malaysia suggested that Seb's challengers may be closing the gap to the front, there were strong mitigating circumstances, with Red Bull having to change their set up fundamentally to preserve their tyres (at the expense on one lap performance). Seb sharply indicated to all that things are back to normal in China, his rivals have a lot of work to do it seems.

It was a rather unusual and bitty qualifying session, interrupted by a lengthy red flag halt (caused by Petrov stopping on the track in session two) and characterised by drivers seeking to preserve as many sets of tyres as possible for tomorrow. But even with this some of the themes of the first two rounds were present. McLaren continued to be best of the rest, and will line up second and third tomorrow, though this time Jenson Button is ahead of the two, continuing the theme of practice wherein he seemed the more comfortable of the Woking pilots. And Seb's team mate Mark Webber continues to have a frustrating time of it. Someone got it seriously wrong in qually one, Webber went out on harder tyres when all his rivals were on softs (and his KERS wasn't working, yet again), and Webber, amazingly, didn't make the cut for the next session, and will start way back in P18 tomorrow. At least him coming through the field will create some entertainment. Heidfeld and Schumi are also starting well down (P16 and P14 respectively).

And Ferrari, in qualifying at least, don't look to be any closer to the pace, lining up fifth and sixth almost a second and a half short of Seb's time, and but for the absence of Petrov and Webber in the final session they may have been even further back. They've gone a bit better in the races this year than in qualifying, and look after their tyres well, so it'll be interesting to see where they end up tomorrow (I wonder if they'll try to eke out a one-stop strategy? Bit of a long shot I know!). Either way, the head scratching down Maranello way will continue. And a shout out to Felipe Massa, who continues to do a solid job this year, and today got within half a tenth of team mate Alonso's time.

Mercedes confirmed their step up, hinted at yesterday, at least over a single lap, with Rosberg qualifying fourth, ahead of the Ferraris. Their tyre wear rates are still rather high apparently, so Nico may go backwards tomorrow, but it's a step in the right direction nevertheless. And well done to Toro Rosso for getting both cars into the top ten for the first time since 2008, Alguersuari will start seventh and Buemi ninth. Di Resta was mighty again and will start eighth, ahead of his team mate yet again.

But at the front, and not for the first time this year, it's not clear who or what can stop Vettel tomorrow. 

Results from qualifying

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