Vettel's late run seals Valencia pole
Formula One:Sebastian Vettel produced an astonishing late hot lap to clinch the 33rd pole position of his Formula One career in Valencia. The German is now third equal on the sport’s all-time list, joining two of the greats in Jim Clark and Alain Prost in taking top spot on the grid for tomorrow’s European Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old, winner from pole of this race for the last two years, smashed the field and the Valencia street circuit with a lap of one minute 38.086secs.
Joining him on the front row, but 0.324 seconds adrift, is McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, with Pastor Maldonado reviving season by claiming third for Williams.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, many people’s favourite for pole coming into the weekend, could only manage fourth ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg sixth.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi starts seventh ahead of Force India duo Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta in eighth and 10th, split by Jenson Button in his McLaren - beaten in qualifying by Hamilton for the eighth time this year.
Preceding that was a staggering 15-minute Q2 session - just under three tenths
of a second separated the top 13 - with the top seven split by a mere 0.089secs over a lap lasting 100 seconds.
It was the Ferraris that suffered, and with president Luca di Montezemolo looking on from the garage in a rare visit to an F1 race.
For only the second time this year - since the season-opener in Australia - neither Fernando Alonso nor Felipe Massa made it into the top 10.
The duo will start 11th and 13th, sandwiched by Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, with Sauber’s Sergio Perez and Williams’ Bruno Senna 14th and 15th, disappointingly so with their team-mates in the top 10.
On merit Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen superbly out-qualified both Toro Rossos and the Finn will start 16th, with Daniel Ricciardo in 17th.
Kovalainen produced a fine late flying lap in Q1 to drop Jean-Eric Vergne into the bottom seven for the fifth time in eight grands prix this year, leaving the Frenchman in 18th.
But the big loser was Mark Webber, far from a fan of this track, but plagued by brakes and hydraulics issues that cost him nearly all of the hour-long final practice session.
Red Bull were forced to send out the Australian on the faster soft Pirelli tyres towards the end of the 20 minutes, but even they failed to aid his cause.
It resulted in Webber failing to make it out of Q1 for the first time since last year’s Chinese Grand Prix as he will start 19th.
Webber said: “The car put up a fight, but at a key point in the weekend it has cost us a lot of grid positions.”
Behind Webber will be Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov, the HRTs of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan, with Marussia’s Charles Pic in 23rd.
As for team-mate Timo Glock, the German failed to take part due to being overcome by a stomach bug he has been suffering with since Thursday.
The team will make a decision tomorrow on whether Glock will take part in the race, pending special dispensation from the stewards should he be passed fit.
Red Bull star Vettel, three points behind leader Hamilton in the championship, is now favourite to become the first driver to win two races this year.
Vettel said: “I had one shot there in the end, which turned out to be enough.
“A hat-trick of victories would be nice, but it’s going to be a difficult race, difficult to predict given the way this season has been going.
“It’s easier to predict the results of the football matches tonight and tomorrow (in Euro 2012).
“It’s going to be hot tomorrow, hotter than today, so whilst grid position is important this year, maybe not as important.”
Hamilton, appreciating the time gap between himself and Vettel, said: “I had to make guesses with the set-up, which seemed to work okay.
“Whilst the car felt pretty good the gap felt big, so it’s going to be a tough race for sure.
“If you look at the grid it’s so hot, with the Lotuses massively quick, and I’m sure the Ferraris will be good on long runs.”
Venezuelan Maldonado, who has struggled since his win in Spain, mainly due to grid penalties, early last month, showed some sort of return to the form that propelled him to that shock victory.
Maldonado said: “We’ve been working so hard, with the car quick from yesterday.
“We’ve done a really good job. It’s getting better and better, so I’m really happy for the team and my country. It’s a great opportunity for me to fight for a podium.”