Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying: State of Play
Much was expected of Red Bull after both drivers dominated the second and third practice sessions, with de facto leader Sebastian Vettel setting a searing pace in FP3, three-quarters of a second faster than teammate Mark Webber.
And so it transpired that the Red Bull cars utterly dominated Q3, with Webber slotting in front of Vettel, almost a full second ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who occupy the second row.
This was a statement of intent by the Milton Keynes squad.
With many predicting that the development race between teams would leave them trailing, such is their relative disadvantage in terms of finance and logistics.
Perhaps the most telling as we head into Sunday's Grand Prix was how the second qualifying session evolved. Webber again led the young Vettel, having set comfortably faster lap times on the harder prime tyre. All those behind the Red Bulls had used the third allocation of their softer option tyre.
If this pattern is continued during Sunday's Grand Prix, there will not be a time when Red Bull's rivals will be able to challenge.
Under any circumstance, Red Bull have been totally dominant this weekend. With a fuel load, without a fuel load, harder tyre, and softer tyre, it's nearly impossible to foresee anything other than a Red Bull win on pace alone.
Behind them, the fight between McLaren and Ferrari will be fascinating to keep track of.
Felipe Massa qualified ninth, and may find it hard to join the podium battle. The impetus that a home Grand Prix will give Alonso will be offset by the fact that both McLarens set a solid pace during both sessions Friday, and if reliability and the weather hold up, Hamilton is looking good for a second podium visit of the season.
The times on Friday also indicate that a rejuvenated Michael Schumacher could find himself involved in the fight for the podium, and a four-car battle for third place can't be ruled out.
Of course, there are a number of variables that could affect this predicted outcome. The weather forecast is still fairly patchy, with rain predicted later in the day in northwestern Spain. Whether this band of rain hits the Montmelo circuit during the race will be crucial in determining the outcome.
Furthermore, the first couple of laps will be important, with Hamilton determined to do something about the dominance of the Red Bulls and a faster car in a straight line, thanks to the McLaren F-duct.
I'd keep an eye on him on Lap One. Right on his coat tails will be Alonso with the updated version of the F-duct.
It promises to be a cracker into the first corner.
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