Saturday 23 June 2012

Valencia Qualifying: Seb stops the silliness

The Monty Python fans among you may recall a Sergeant-Major character who, when a sketch got (typically for Python) too madcap, would stride in front of the camera to order 'Stop that! It's silly!', thus bringing the tomfoolery to an abrupt close. It's tempting to see Sebastian Vettel in a qualifying hour as adopting a similar role these days. Not for the first time this season it looked late on that we'd get an unexpected pole sitter, as first Romain Grosjean then Pastor Maldonado topped the timing screens as the clock ticked down tantalisingly in the final session. But then, again not for the first time, Seb emerged at the last possible moment to remind them and everyone else of harsh reality by claiming pole, and claiming it by a distance.

Sebastian Vettel takes yet another pole -
bringing him level with greats Jim Clark and Alain Prost
Credit: Morio / CC
As argued before on this blog, even at this early stage of his career and of his life it surely is beyond contention that Seb is one of the best practitioners of a single qualifying lap that the sport has ever seen. Today's pole is his 33rd ever, which brings him equal in the record books with Alain Prost as well as with the legendary pole-claimer Jim Clark, who held the all time record for over twenty years. And it's only taken Seb a handful more races to achieve this mark than it did Jimmy (89 vs. 72).

And today all of Seb's magisterial qualifying qualities were on show: his lap was immaculate despite it being last chance saloon, and he found pace from thin air it seemed. All the way through qualifying (and indeed all the way through the weekend) there was almost nothing between the competitors' best times; the top 10 in Q2 was covered by just over two tenths of a second. But in his final effort Seb managed to dip under the bar set by his rivals by a full three and a half tenths of a second. A lifetime in F1 terms, even longer than that in super-competitive 2012.

It continues a weekend wherein Red Bull has brought with it a load of upgrades which have looked to be bang on the money. Nevertheless, Seb might not have things all his own way in tomorrow's race, as the evidence of practice is that over a longer stint the Lotuses have the legs of everyone.

Are Romain Grosjean and team mate
Kimi Raikkonen drivers to watch tomorrow?
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
The two Enstone cars will start in fourth and fifth places (which may be slightly lower than the team expected), with Grosjean ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Tomorrow's race outcome will depend a lot on whether their much vaunted race pace will materialise (in Spain we had a similar situation but the promised prodigious Lotus pace didn't show until the final stint) and if it does how quickly they can clear the cars ahead. After all, overtaking around the Valencia circuit has tended to be more common in theory than in practice. All the while, Seb will likely be doing his best gazelle impression out front, and the extent that he can build a buffer before the Lotuses get a run at him could be vital. And before anything else, Grosjean needs to stay out of trouble on lap one, something that he's not always managed to do this season.

Between the Lotuses and a crack at the leader are Lewis Hamilton, who surprised even himself by claiming second on the grid with what he admits was a set up with concocted with a large dollop of guess work, and Pastor Maldonado who interlopes by starting third. As we know and as we've seen this year Pastor's capable of egregious errors but when he's good he's very very good. Both he and Hamilton are rather unknown quantities and could go either way over a race stint, though it's worth reflecting that in Spain Maldonado was supposed to fade away in the race but didn't.

The tight pack, as anticipated, took some high profile causalities in qualifying. Both Ferraris missed out on the top ten, with Alonso to line up 11th on the grid and Massa 13th, even though both were within but three tenths of a second of the quickest time in Q2. Michael Schumacher is in a similar boat and starts 12th. But worst off of all is Mark Webber, who'll start way back in 19th place after yet more technical problems impeded him. Having missed most of Saturday morning practice he sat out the early stages of qualifying with a gearbox problem, and then when he did get out his times weren't sufficient to get him out of Q1, with this time a malfunctioning DRS the culprit. Nevertheless, watching him and others attempt to make progress should provide some entertainment tomorrow.

Seb however starts right where we expect him to. And he doesn't look in the mood to make things easy for those behind to usurp him tomorrow. He'll do whatever is required to stop things getting silly.

No comments:

Post a Comment