Red Bull Racing is expecting 'a big day' in its Formula 1 history in tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix, after Sebastian Vettel left it late to lead the team to its maiden pole position in the top flight by just under two tenths of a second – a result the German described as 'unbelievable'.
Both Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber were bang on the leading pace from the word 'go' in qualifying in Shanghai, belying a troubled FP3 session that had seen them complete just 15 laps between them as a result of driveshaft issues. On low fuel loads for the first time in Q2, the pair wound up first and second respectively – and in the closing stages of Q3 looked set to do the same, only for a meteoric effort from former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in the Renault to split the two energy drinks-backed machines right at the close.
All-the-more impressive was the fact that Vettel pulled off his pole position feat despite only venturing out for a single run in the top ten shoot-out due to his practice woes, whilst most of his rivals benefitted from two – consequently putting him under considerable pressure to produce. He did so to perfection.
“I'm very, very happy,” enthused the 21-year-old, already the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner and a man who similarly stormed to the top spot on the starting grid for Scuderia Toro Rosso in Monza last year. “It's unbelievable, and it was a bit last-minute! I only had one run in each qualifying session but, as you can see, you don't need more!
“It wasn't easy; we had a problem with the car and had to run as little as possible. The car was really quick, though; Mark had two runs in each session and was always up there, so I didn't have any concerns. Still, if you have only one lap, you can't make any mistakes.
“I'm really happy – we made it to pole position in the end! This morning wasn't ideal, but it seems the less I run in the morning, the better it is in qualifying! A big thanks to the mechanics, who have been working very, very hard, basically all night, and thanks to all the team back in Milton Keynes too. We made it! I'm looking forward to tomorrow; it's a long race and there's a long way to go, but we have the best starting position.”
Webber will begin the grand prix from directly behind his team-mate in third, just under three tenths adrift and – as with Vettel – marking the Australian's highest starting position since last year's Italian Grand Prix. The New South Wales native admitted that the gaps in the times had taken him a touch by surprise, but he acknowledged that it was an 'incredible' outcome nonetheless – particularly given that only a matter of months ago he was laid up in hospital with a badly broken right leg.
“What a result!” the 32-year-old remarked. “The work that's gone into this from the team, especially over the last few weeks, has been incredible. It would have been good to have both cars on the front row, but Fernando did a great job.
“I was expecting to be a little bit tighter in the end, but we'll see how the fuel loads pan out tomorrow. We've done a good job. Q2 was strong for us and the car is behaving well, with a lot of grip. I'm doing what I can to give the youngster (Vettel) a hard time; we're pushing each other hard and it's working very well!”