Red Bull overcame their Canadian hiccup on Saturday when Sebastian Vettel won the pole position from team-mate Mark Webber for the European Formula One Grand Prix.
Vettel got his fourth pole of the season and ninth overall to sooth his nerves after some rocky weeks highlighted by carsh with Webber four weeks ago in Turkey and a modest fifth-place finish two weeks ago in Canada.
Those two races saw a McLaren one-two from Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and the only non-Red Bull pole in Canada from Hamilton, who is threatening again in third place on the grid for Sunday’s race in Valencia despite a mistake in his last fast lap.
Vettel clocked 1 minute 37.587 seconds on the 5.419-kilometres street course, Webber had 1:37.662 and Hamilton had 1:37.969.
Both top teams were satisfied and a bit surprised as well with the qualifying results. Red Bull were expected to struggle again on a course not fully to their liking while McLaren were only tipped to be very fast in the race and not that high up on the grid.
“I am very relieved and happy it all worked out after the last not so smooth races ... We shouldn’t have been strong here so it’s good to put the car on pole. I am very happy for today,” said Vettel.
Vettel said re-introducing the F-duct aerodynamic device was a big boost, saying that “we feel the difference” but that they are still learning how to use it best. Vettel and Webber remained cautious about the outcome but team boss Christian Horner expressed his clear hope for a one-two finish.
However, McLaren are out to spoil the party in a race where just as in Canada tyre management could be a key element.
“I am really happy, really fortunate,” said the 2008 world champion Hamilton. “It will be an interesting race. Anything is possible. We will push as hard as possible to win it.” McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh lamented that Hamilton and the title-holder Button, who came seventh, made mistakes in their fast laps, but is also aware that his team has been better than Red Bull in the most recent races.
“We can race stronger than qualify. Lewis is up there and will be pushing hard and Jenson will be on recovery. We will give them (Red Bull) a hard time. We have done done it before from behind,” Whitmarsh said.
McLaren will be out to defend their championship lead in the 57-lap race Sunday. Hamilton tops the bill with 109 points from Button (106), Webber (103), Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (94) and Vettel (90).
Home boy Alonso had to settle for fourth and Michael Schumacher met disaster again, missing the final session the second time in a row in 15th place. Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg was not much better off as 12th. “We can’t get the tyres to work. We are at loss. We have tried our best but haven’t found the philosophers’ stone yet,” said the record seven-time world champion Schumacher after the latest setback.