He may have stormed to his second Formula 1 pole position in qualifying for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, but Sebastian Vettel has revealed that there were moments when he wasn't even sure if his car would make it through the session.
Both the German and his Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber found their FP3 practice on Saturday morning halted by hitherto unencountered driveshaft woes, limiting them to just 15 laps between them. That left a question mark over the reliability of the RB5 heading into the all-important qualifying session – and Vettel having to complete as few laps as possible for fear of it breaking down again. It was not, he confessed, an ideal scenario.
“Obviously it was always a difficult situation sitting in the car and not knowing if it would last or not,” the 21-year-old related. “We [had] never faced this problem before coming here, so it was a bad surprise. We could fix it for qualifying and the mechanics did a very good job, but then, in my case, it happened again.
“We were really concerned that the car would not last for the rest of qualifying. You try to forget when you are on your 'hot' lap – my job is to drive the car, so I think it's better if I'm not too worried or thinking about those things too much. It is not an easy situation, but in the end you sit in the car and try to forget everything that happens around you and focus on your job, so I focussed on the driving which I enjoy.
“We can fix it again, but we have to find the reasons. There's always a reason for a problem; we have to find it, [but] there's not too much time to be honest. The boys have a hard enough time anyway – overnight they had very little sleep because they were working really, really hard, so thanks for that. I hope they can fix it and I hope it will last tomorrow. Mark's car was fine [in qualifying] as far as I heard, and I hope that both of our cars are without any trouble tomorrow.”
The upshot of the problem was that Vettel ventured out on-track as little as he dared in qualifying, leaving his entrance perilously late in both Q2 and Q3 and arguably putting him under more pressure than any other driver in the field. That, though, only served to make his performance in topping the timing screens on both occasions all-the-more impressive – as whilst he may have left his pole position flyer until the 'last minute', when he crossed the line it was more than worth the wait.
“Basically Mark got two runs in Q1 and Q2,” continued the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, “so we could see that the car was very quick – that was a good sign for me sitting in the garage watching the others. In Q1 it was quite tight; I had just one run on the hard tyre and we were only 13th, but in the end it was enough. In Q2 I had one run on the soft tyre; that was not easy, as you know that if you have any kind of problem, miss an apex or brake too late, then you are out as there is no second chance. Thankfully that was not necessary and we made it through.
“I saw the track improvement from Q2, so I was quite confident [for Q3]. Obviously it is difficult when it is your first run on the higher fuel load, though. You cannot adapt; it has to be right from the beginning, and fortunately it was. Every time I got the lap together I was very happy, and in the end it was even enough for pole. That is a very, very good sign. Unbelievable!”
In looking ahead to the race, with former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso alongside him on the starting grid, Vettel admitted that he was pleased the Spaniard is no longer running KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) in his Renault – a device that is reckoned to give an advantage of as much as ten metres away from the line, particularly on a start/finish straight as long as that in Shanghai, and is of particular use in terms of defending position.