Saturday, 10 September 2011

Monza Qualifying: Vettel cracks Monza

So, Monza isn't a Red Bull bogey track after all. Sebastian Vettel claimed yet another pole position, his 25th, and becomes only the second man in history to get ten or more of them in two separate seasons (it won't surprise you that Ayrton Senna is the other). At this rate Seb will be able to claim a copyright on them.

Sebastian Vettel claimed yet another pole position
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
So while the pole itself wasn't a surprise, the fact that it came at Monza was. This wasn't supposed to be Red Bull country, they've never so much as finished on the podium here, usually finding themselves at a disadvantage on the track's predominant long straights. But the Bulls have spent the whole season proving people wrong at tracks that they were expected to be vulnerable at, and this weekend has been a continuation of this. They've looked like the team to beat for most of the weekend, and so it proved today as Vettel took pole with a time almost half a second clear of the next guy. Yes, his nearest challengers weren't able to maximise their final runs, but it was still a stunning performance.

Seb will hope to perform his party piece tomorrow: take the lead from pole, get immediately on the pace so to escape the DRS 'window', and then control things from there, going as fast as he dares while keeping his tyres in shape (blistering may be a problem tomorrow, just as in Spa). The Red Bulls are clearly the fastest through the track's final sector, meaning that getting near enough to make a DRS assisted pass on the start-finish straight won't be at all easy. A win for Seb will edge him ever closer to what seems his inevitable second world championship.

The McLarens, as expected, are Seb's closest challengers, with Hamilton lining up second and Button third and little between their best times. As mentioned, neither maxed out their final run, Lewis marginally missed his braking point at the second chicane and Jenson curiously abandoned his final quick lap when he looked set to improve his time. But even they look a bit surprised at Vettel's efforts, and both had the demeanour of one who'd been beaten up in the post-qualifying press conference.

The Ferrari drivers worked together in qualifying
Credit:  formulasantander.com / CC
As also expected, the Ferraris weren't quite on the pace today on this their home turf. Alonso did manage to salvage fourth place, helped by a novel strategy of having Massa run ahead of him so that Alonso could benefit from a tow on the straights (odd that in 2006 when Alonso in a Renault inadvertently did the same in regards to Massa here Ferrari insisted that it was an impediment). Fourth was possibly slightly more than Alonso or his team were expecting, and they will hope that the Ferrari's usually superior tyre management will get him onto the podium, at least. Massa, who's looked reasonably on it all weekend, starts sixth.

Between them is a slightly subdued Mark Webber, who despite Red Bull's new-found Monza form never seemed to be much of a factor in qualifying, a state of affairs that he struggled to explain post hoc. He's still within striking distance so may make progress tomorrow if he gets it together.

And the promise Mercedes showed in practice didn't fully translate itself onto the grid order. They'll start eighth and ninth with Schumi ahead. In Rosberg's case the result is explained by his running on prime tyres in the final qualifying shoot out. The Mercs have been bullets in a straight line all weekend, and Rosberg will be one to watch on his contrary strategy, especially towards the end when he'll be on the primes.

But, not for the first time this season, the big question for tomorrow is who is going to stop Seb.

Qualifying results

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