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Sebastian Vettel on Pole Again in China, but 2011's Qualifying Was Classic

Patrick AllenAnalyst IApril 16, 2011

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 16:  Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel (C) of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme with second placed Jenson Button (R) of Great Britain and McLaren and third placed Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and McLaren following qualifying for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

So far, Formula One 2011’s qualifying has given us the same man on pole for three consecutive races, and yet, it has also given us three great Saturday afternoons!

By far, today’s event in China was the best. The final session was pretty formulaic and dull, but the two first sessions were significantly enough to cancel out the boring final 10 minutes!

Qualifying One

Sergio Perez opened the session with a 1:38:295, but most of the early attention was focused on the Red Bull garage.

Poor old Mark Webber had hit yet more terrible luck when his car suffered problems in the final practice session. Red Bull mechanics were desperately putting the car back together as the session opened and they finished about seven minutes into Q1. However, Webber would be without KERS again!

Lewis Hamilton hit traffic on his first run and so a ‘shocking’ P7 on his first attempt wasn’t any trouble at all. In fact, within a few minutes Hamilton had found some clear track and had stolen his teammate Jenson Button’s P1.

Jaime Alguersuari would go on to have a very impressive day in China and he started with a bang when he occupied the top spot for a few short laps.

Ferrari have admitted that they are still not fast enough, and so both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa thought it was necessary to use a set of the softer tyres just to make it into Q2!

Mercedes GP have looked better in China, but they also feared an embarrassing early exit and fitted both their cars with the softer compound, too.

A fast lap from Kamui Kobayashi put both Renaults in the drop spots, but fast laps from Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld saved the team’s grace.

This left a tantalising battle for survival between… wait for it…. Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, and Felipe Massa!

The session went right down to the wire! As the Ferraris and Nico Rosberg crossed the line into safety, we all looked to Webber.

The Red Bull man was simply not very fast! He crossed the line in P16! He was just safe… but Pastor Maldonado, and Michael Schumacher were behind him and looking fast!

Schumacher crossed the line for P5…. Maldonado, P17! Mark Webber was out in the first session for Constructors’ World Champions Red Bull Racing!?

Obviously, terrible news for Webber, but a great show for the fans!

Q1 Results

Top Three:

Nico Rosberg

Vitaly Petrov

Fernando Alonso

Out:

Mark Webber, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Timo Glock, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Narain Karthikeyan

Qualifying Two

Alguersuari set the first time of 1:35:888, but dominance at the top was soon returned to McLaren and Sebastian Vettel.

Jenson Button set a rocket time to go P1 about five minutes in, but he was quickly beaten by Lewis Hamilton.

The Ferraris lapped well enough to survive, but not well enough to make any impression on the top three spots.

Paul Di Resta is worth a mention here. The Force India birthday boy did an excellent job all day. His best performance was probably in Q2 when he made it through by beating his more experienced teammate for the third Saturday in a row!

Mercedes GP looked shaky on the harder tyres but the big pressure seemed to be on Renault.

For the second race in a row, the Renault team decided to go for only one late run in Q2. The question was...would it pay off? (short answer, no)

Vitaly Petrov left the pits with about four minutes left and comfortably put himself in P4. O.K. things were working well for the Renault team and Nick Heidfeld calmly took to the track a couple of minutes later.. but what’s this? Petrov was slowing down and his engine sounded off!

Sure enough, the Renault man was forced to dump his car out on track with ‘power issues.’ In a dose of cruel irony, Renault had seemingly shot themselves in the foot as Petrov’s car caused the session to be red flagged and piled an intense amount of pressure on all of the drivers in danger of dropping out.

(Remember, this was basically everyone but McLaren and Vettel, and there were only two minutes left!)

When the session restart time was announced, 11 cars lined up at the end of the pit lane in desperate hope for a decent track position. This was a beautiful sight but also a strange one as the session would not be restarting for well over a minute! Could the car’s engines hold out?

When Q2 did restart, what followed was awesome!

It was like a little sneak preview of the race as the cars jostled for track position on their out laps. We saw close racing and even a couple of overtakes!

The madness that followed was great and went right down to the wire! I don’t think many people were shocked to see Schumacher bow out yet again, but it was great to see Di Resta and both Toro Rossos make it through, and it was also interesting to see that after all that, Nick Heidfeld failed to make it into the final session!

Q2 Results

Top Three:

Lewis Hamilton

Jenson Button

Sebastian Vettel

Out:

Adrian Sutil, Sergio Perez, Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Nick Heidfeld, Pastor Maldonado

Qualifying Three

I’m afraid after all the excitement in the first two parts of qualifying, the final ‘showdown’ was a total let down!

Jenson Button set the first time of 1:34:421, but yet again, Sebastian Vettel was simply able to pull something special from nowhere.

The Red Bull man was on fire and set a record-breaking 1:33:706 to become the fastest man in China.

After that, the only man who could even come close was Lewis Hamilton, but the McLaren driver simply wasn’t fast enough and must have made a few vital errors, as he crossed the line in P3.

Both Button and Vettel were behind Hamilton, but neither bothered finishing their final laps.

It was a disappointingly awful finish to the day, but I still believe that the fantastic show we got before that was enough to cancel out Q3 100 times!

China’s 2011 qualifying was a beast of a show!

I think you’d be a brave man to bet against a Vettel China hat-trick tomorrow, but with a stronger, race-trim Ferrari and those McLarens in the background, you’d be a fool to miss the race!

Provisional Result

1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:33.706

2 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:34.421

3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:34.463

4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.670

5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 11:35.119

6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:35.145

7 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari 1:36.158

8 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:36.190

9 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:36.203

10 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:35.149 (Q2 time)

11 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:35.874

12 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.053

13 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.236

14 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.457

15 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:36.465

16 Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:36.611

17 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:36.956

18 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:36.468

19 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1:37.894

20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:38.318

21 Jerome d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.119

22 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.708

23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:40.212

24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:40.445

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