VALENCIA, Spain, (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel chalked up his seventh pole position in eight races this year with a blistering lap as Red Bull swept the front row for today’s European Grand Prix.
Australian team mate Mark Webber was second fastest in yesterday’s qualifying with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton third and sharing the second row with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, racing in front of his home crowd.
Red Bull have now taken nine poles in a row dating back to the end of last year, the first team to do so since McLaren in 1998. Vettel’s career tally is 22 poles.
The team’s continued dominance, even if the top six were within seven-tenths of a second, seemed to make a mockery of suggestions the champions could suffer from a clampdown by the governing body on the use of engine electronics and exhaust gases to influence performance.
“People expect us to lose more than others but that’s where I disagree,” grinned the 23-year-old Vettel who will be chasing his sixth win of the year around the Mediterranean port city’s streets.
The German’s fastest lap of one minute 36.975 seconds was the fastest ever in Valencia and made pole a foregone conclusion with minutes still to run on a bright and breezy afternoon.
The crowd could almost feel the resignation of Red Bull’s rivals looking at the timing screens.
“I think we’ve said it enough. We’ve come here and we didn’t expect any different,” said Webber whose sole pole of the season came in Barcelona in May when Red Bull also swept the front row.
“Some other teams spoke a lot about it (the rule change), maybe even some people in our team spoke a bit that maybe technically are not completely on top of things, but in the end we’ve just got on with our job,” he told reporters.
Webber’s time was 0.188 slower than his team mate’s, with Hamilton’s best effort 1:37.380.
“We weren’t really — at least I wasn’t — expecting to be so high up,” said Hamilton whose last two races have been dominated by collisions and controversy.
“We’re as close as we can be. This is a track notorious for being difficult to overtake on … but we’ll see what happens.”
Brazilian Felipe Massa qualified fifth for Ferrari with McLaren’s Jenson Button, the winner in Canada two weeks ago and second overall in the championship 60 points behind Vettel, lining up sixth.
Mercedes filled the fourth row with Nico Rosberg seventh and Michael Schumacher eighth after choosing to save tyres and do just one timed lap in the final session.
“It’s not very good. The car felt pretty good in Q2 (the second phase) but then in Q3 I had massive oversteer. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get any rear grip,” said 2009 world champion Button.
“The car was great this morning in practice but with the heat maybe our balance isn’t working because of the track temperature. I just didn’t expect it. It’s not great but we’ll still have a good race.”
The second phase was red flagged and halted for four minutes after Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado’s Williams was left stranded on the track with what looked like an engine failure with seven minutes and 59 seconds remaining.
Alonso, the double world champion who was on the front row in Canada and was fastest in Friday practice, said he had not been surprised by the outcome.
“Even if there were those outside the team who built up expectations, within it we were well aware of the situation. The aim was to fight with the McLarens and we did just that,” he said.
“I did not expect that the very slight change introduced to the rules would change the order of things and that was the case: Red Bull was and still is the favourite.”