Sebastian Vettel once again demonstrated his searing qualifying pace today to take pole position for tomorrow’s European Grand Prix in Valencia.
The 2010 and 2011 winner of the event secured a hat-trick of poles to extend his run of domination at the circuit that began two years ago. The achievement also gave him his 33rd career pole position, level in the record books with the legendary Jim Clark and Alain Prost.
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton prevailed to take a distant 2ndplace almost four tenths of a second behind Vettel, with the
impressively-fast Pastor Maldonado snatching 3rd in his Williams Renault. Romain Grosjean failed to take his maiden pole after an encouraging final practice session on Saturday morning saw him just inches from the fastest time. He slumped to 4th on the final grid lineup ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who bested early pace-setter Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes and Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi. Nico Hulkenberg made it three Germans in the top ten with an impressive run for Force India as his stablemate Paul Di Resta took 10th behind Jenson Button who had looked fast all weekend but mysteriously experienced front brake locking in the final ten minutes of qualifying. Di Resta himself was disappointed to finish 10th after being the fastest man for much of his final qualifying lap, only to throw it away with a locked brake mere corners from the finish line.
Big-name casualties were a theme of the day, with Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa all failing to make the cut and ending qualifying two in 11th, 12th and 13th places respectively. Sergio Perez could only manage 15th despite the speed shown by his team-mate Kobayashi, but has the advantage of another fresh set of tyres for the race tomorrow. Mark Webber proved to be the biggest loser of the day as a DRS failure hobbled his Red Bull machine with what effectively amounted to a 1.3 second a lap time penalty. The Australian struggled to 19th on the grid.
On the other hand Heikki Kovalainen experienced a rebirth of sorts as he outpaced both Toro Rosso cars driven by Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne to take a superb 15th on the grid on outright merit, a perfect showcase of his talent and the progress made by his Caterham since their F1 debut in Bahrain in 2010.
Superb Kovalainen may have been, but neither he nor any other driver was even close to the turn of speed exhibited by Sebastian Vettel today. Could he be the first repeat winner of 2012 tomorrow?