November 12, 2011
Pole #14 on the season for Seb Vettel, tying the record held by Nigel Mansell. That's impressive enough, but how he did it today was the real story. To be blunt, this should have been Lewis Hamilton's pole. He had been fastest in two of the three practice sessions and in the first two quals periods. When Jenson Button crossed the line on his final hot lap in Q3, Hamilton was just a few seconds behind him on the track. It came as no surprise when Button's pole time fell to Lewis, though the .009 second time differential did cause some raised eyebrows and amazed chuckles here at Pond Central. And then the cameras cut to Seb Vettel.
Red Bull had gotten him out last for the final run to pole, and he had clear track in front of him. While he'd been quick in Q1 and Q2, it wasn't the normal Red Bull Dominating Performance®... you never got the feeling that he had something in reserve. It seemed like Vettel had been getting the most out of his car could give today, and for whatever reason it just wasn't as good as the McLarens.
But then Vettel began his final hot lap. The first two sectors were good, but nothing that would put him on pole. Third, maybe. In the previous two races at the Yas Marina Circuit the Red Bull chassis always stood head and shoulders above everybody else in the final sector, but not this year. The McLarens had been trading purple numbers between themselves for Sector 3 all weekend. Everything pointed to Vettel having no chance to be on pole. And then Vettel was perfect. That's the only way to describe that final sector... the perfect line, catching just the right amount of curb, putting just the right amount of pressure on the brakes and gas pedals, the absolute minimum of steering input used, gears changed at exactly the right moment. When he entered Sector 3, he was nearly .2 of a second behind Hamilton's pace. When he exited, he had pole by .141 seconds. Truly astonishing, and after seeing it I wondered how he didn't have 18 poles this season. However, and this is an important note, his pole lap was still slower than Hamilton's fastest lap in Q2. The McLaren and the Red Bull cars are, for all intents and purposes, equal. It should come down to the best driver between Hamilton, Vettel and Button for the race... and I'm not sure that doesn't mean Jenson Button won't win. We'll find out on Sunday!
You'll note that Rubens Barrichello did not turn a timed lap in Q1. He had an oil leak in his Cosworth engine, his seventh of the season's allotment of eight. The team wants him to have a fresh engine for Brazil, so to protect the seventh engine they decided not to put any extra avoidable stress on it. This decision brings up an interesting statistical note. Barrichello has made 330 starts in his F1 career, far and away the most in F1 history... and tomorrow will be the worst starting position he has ever had, either 23rd or 24th, depending on if he is placed ahead of, or behind, his teammate Vicar Maldonado who has a 10-spot grid penalty. Rubens has driven for some truly, epically bad teams: Honda, Jordan, Stewart. In some of those years, there were 28 cars on the grid. He's never been this low at the start ever.
In any case, we might just have ourselves something of a race tomorrow. F1U! will be all over it, see you then!
One more race after this one, and a chance for Vettel to set a record for poles. I wouldn't want to bet that he doesn't do it.
I hope he's enjoying this season, because he's never going to have another one like it. Just no way that the stars will ever again align so firmly in his direction.
Certainly he's making a lot of his own luck. No question that he's one hell of a driver. But so many other things have gone his way which aren't really under his control that it's almost beyond belief.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 12, 2011 05:53 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Wonderduck at November 12, 2011 08:57 PM (2YMZG)
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