Sébastien Buemi has confessed that making it through to the top ten in qualifying for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix was 'more than he had expected' – but Scuderia Toro Rosso team-mate Sébastien Bourdais, by contrast, was left ruing a mistake that turned his session into 'a disaster'.
After making encouraging progress in Friday practice, the two drivers were separated by barely a tenth of a second in FP3 on Saturday morning in 13th (Buemi) and 14th positions respectively. That saw them head into qualifying with slightly raised ambitions – but only one of them would come out of it smiling.
Having troubled the points-scorers on his debut in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last month, Formula 1 rookie Buemi has been increasingly winning over his detractors by getting to grips with life in the top flight with little fuss and seemingly comparative ease – and in lapping an outstanding eighth-quickest in Q1 in Shanghai, he comfortably moved through to Q2 for the first time in his fledgling career in the top flight.
Whilst few would have given the young Swiss ace much chance of making it any further than that, Buemi again begged to differ, outpacing no lesser names than Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen, Felipe Massa, Timo Glock and Kazuki Nakajima to similarly earn his place in the Q3 top ten shoot-out. It was a truly magnificent performance – his only regret, he conceded, was that by then he had already used up all of his best tyres and so was unable to go any further than P10.
“I am really happy to be in Q3,” enthused the 20-year-old, “as it's more than I had expected. I don't think I could have got any higher up the order. On low fuel, the car was very good, but we didn't have any new options left for Q3, so I had to do three flying laps on the prime; considering that, we can be satisfied with this.
“The team has worked really well, doing a fantastic job to improve the car a lot since the start of the season and today it worked very well. Now I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's race.”
Bourdais was far less pleased with his own qualifying effort, however, having been outperformed by Buemi for the second time in three outings and failing to make it beyond Q1 when an error on his final flyer proved to be costly indeed. The Frenchman will line up 15th on the starting grid following Glock's gearbox change-induced five-place demotion.
“I made a mistake, it's as simple as that,” rued the former multiple Champ Car king. “I tried to optimise my line to take turn eight, but I cut the apex too much and got on the marbles and the dirt on the left side and so the car never really turned in. Because of the dirt on the tyres, the next few corners were a disaster, losing me around half a second.
“Yesterday had been very promising, but for whatever reason, today it didn't work out. When you see my team-mate did two great laps, you can understand that the potential is there. Tomorrow, I will see what I can do, and even if it's hard to make up places here, I'll keep pushing.”
“It's fair to say we are learning a lot about the car and we must congratulate Buemi for getting into Q3 at only his third attempt,” summarised the small Faenza-based concern's technical director Giorgio Ascanelli. “He is still on a very steep learning curve and he didn't get it quite right in Q2.
“We had to use all our option tyres in the first two sessions, to make sure of getting into Q3. I also want to thank Red Bull Technology, because the car is clearly well-born. I think Red Bull Racing deserve their pole and I'm cheering for them.”