Sebastian Vettel has admitted that he was 'surprised' to be so far away from the front row-sitting Toyotas in the final part of qualifying for this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix – even if he remains confident of being able to leapfrog them both by staying out longer in the first stint of the race.
The Red Bull Racing star arrived in Sakhir riding the crest of a wave following his stunning triumph – the Milton Keynes-based squad's first in Formula 1 – in the treacherous Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, and knowing that in the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered RB5 he has 'a very, very quick' car at his disposal indeed.
In topping the timesheets from Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli in Q2 – the first true indicator of drivers' real out-and-out pace over the course of the weekend – the young German again marked himself out as the man to beat, but when it really mattered in Q3 the two Toyotas seemed to step it up a further notch to a level he could not attain, even if he is expected to run some four laps longer than Trulli and six longer than Glock before pitting for the first time.
“It's always difficult to know what to expect when you go into qualifying,” the 21-year-old contended, “especially with different fuel loads. You either go aggressive, conservative or average. It really depends, but we have known since Friday that our car is quick. I think we proved that in Q1 and Q2, so that was very good.
“In Q2 there's no need to play around, so everyone tries to go as quickly as possible. I was surprised how good we were; we only needed one run, so we were able to save tyres for the race. I think it showed that we are doing well here; the car is behaving well, so in Q3, when I crossed the line and I got the message and also the lap times from the guys ahead, from Timo and Jarno, I was a bit surprised by how big the gap was to Jarno – he was very, very fast.
“On the other hand, you never know – sometimes your car is a lot better on lighter fuel levels, sometimes it's better on high fuel levels, but I think [third] was the best we could have achieved. We should be sorted for the race and I'm looking forward to it.
“It will be very hot [and] it will be a long race, so a long way to go. I think it was very important to be in front of Jenson [Button] as it was very tight with him. I think we did more-or-less the same lap time, so that was good; gaining any grid positions always helps.”
Indeed it does, but Vettel will need to gain two spots further still on Sunday if he is to reprise his Shanghai success and make it back-to-back glories for Red Bull in the desert kingdom, in a race where twelve months ago he failed even to go beyond the opening lap when the Ferrari engine in his Scuderia Toro Rosso expired within seconds of the starting lights having been extinguished.
Acknowledging that 'the whole field is very close together', he dismissed suggestions that the oppressive heat in Sakhir would be a problem in the grand prix and brushed off any concerns over brake woes, with Trulli having suggested that Toyota seem to be right on the limit [see separate story – click here