Sebastian Vettel has ended Brawn GP's domination of the early stages of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship campaign, by storming to Red Bull Racing's maiden pole position in the top flight in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai this weekend.
Vettel may have covered the fewest laps of any of the leading contenders following problems during practice, but he did not let that hold him back as he produced a superb lap in Q3 to bring Brawn GP's hegemony crashing back down to earth – with Renault's Fernando Alonso and the sister Red Bull of Mark Webber similarly conspiring to spoil the Brackley-based outfit's party in joining the young German in the top three.
With the track the hottest it had been all weekend to-date, talk of rain for race day and cars having been pirouetting left, right and centre throughout practice, qualifying dawned full of anticipation. It would not disappoint, and Q3, as ever, was a breathless affair.
The early blows in the final, crucial phase of proceedings were traded between Webber and Brawn GP pairing Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, with Vettel keeping his powder dry and saving his efforts for one sole run later on. With the times tumbling as the seconds ticked down, Webber blitzed the benchmark by almost seven tenths of a second, but if you believed that was good enough to seal the top spot then you were mistaken.
Within moments, the Australian had been pipped by an inspired Alonso – with Renault the first of the non-diffuser teams to trial its new 'double-decker' in China, the result of which had been a scant three laps in FP3, in which the Spaniard had posted only the 19th-fastest time – and then both drivers found their efforts blown out of the water by a stunning effort from Vettel, visibly elated at having replicated his feat from Monza last year. Now to repeat it on race day too.
Behind the leading trio will be the two Brawns – Barrichello gaining the upper hand on Button for the first time this year – Toyota's Jarno Trulli and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who appears already to have relinquished all hope of regaining his crown this season.
The top ten was completed by FP3 pace-setter Nico Rosberg for Williams, defending F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton – who lived up to his promise of driving McLaren-Mercedes into the top ten for the first time in 2009 – and Scuderia Toro Rosso new boy Sébastien Buemi, who stunned paddock observers by dragging the small Faenza-based squad's troubled STR4 significantly higher up the grid than anyone, inside or outside of the team, could possibly have expected.
The greatest surprise of Q2 was perhaps the disappearance of Toyota ace Timo Glock, who was already running with a five-place penalty hanging over his head for a gearbox change during practice – and 14th position in qualifying will be converted into 19th on the starting grid, leaving the young German with much to do if he is to haul himself up into the points for the third grand prix in succession on Sunday.
Another big name to drop out prematurely – as in Malaysia a fortnight ago – was Ferrari's Felipe Massa just ahead of Glock in 13th, with Ferrari running KERS-less for the first time in Shanghai, leaving only three cars using the controversial energy-saving device three races into the new campaign.