Red Bull Racing has revealed that Sebastian Vettel was hampered by an 'extraordinarily slow' Kazuki Nakajima in his efforts to secure a front row grid position for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality – and with the lowest fuel load in the field, the young German will now likely find himself up against it on race day.
Arriving in Monte Carlo widely viewed as Brawn GP star and current world championship leader Jenson Button's principal challenger for glory, Vettel proved to be either on or close to the pace throughout practice, and after setting the tenth-quickest-time in Q1 and the sixth-fastest in the low-fuel Q2, the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner headed into the all-important top ten shoot-out in confident spirits.
However, traffic would consign the 21-year-old to just fourth position at the close, with by some margin the lightest car on the grid [see separate story – click here
] and with the KERS-equipped Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes) in close attendance behind, and sure to benefit from their power 'boosts' when the lights go out.
To make matters worse for the energy drinks-backed outfit, team-mate Mark Webber wound up just eighth at the close, a little under four tenths of a second further in arrears after heading out for just a single run in Q3. All-in-all, the outcome was far from what had been anticipated.
“As I came out of the Rascasse, Nakajima was almost stopped on the circuit,” admitted Vettel, “and if you want to get everything right here in qualifying you have to have a clear lap. That wasn't the case in the last half of my lap when I was stuck in traffic – when that happens you lose downforce and start to slide. It was a shame today as the car was good and we could have done better – but there are 78 laps to go, so let's see what happens tomorrow.”
“That wasn't too bad,” mused Webber. “We knew it was going to be very tight, but we have a reasonable strategy for tomorrow. There are some different ideas going round about what tyres everyone will start the race on, as the hard and soft tyres have different characteristics in race conditions. I'm reasonably happy with what I did today, though maybe we could have done a different strategy in Q3 – it was my idea to do one run, but maybe we should have done two.”
Indeed, after going into the weekend seen as the team most likely to end Brawn GP's dominant run early on in 2009, Red Bull appears to have slipped back in Monaco behind a resurgent Ferrari – but having achieved its maiden rostrum finish in the top flight around the same track three years ago courtesy of David Coulthard and a strong fourth place with Webber twelve months ago, it has an encouraging record there and remains hopeful of notching up an even better result still on Sunday.
“A frustrating Q3,” reflected the Milton Keynes-based squad's team principal Christian Horner. “Unfortunately, Nakajima cost Sebastian some time – he seemed extraordinarily slow despite Sebastian giving him plenty of room before starting his final lap. Mark managed to save a set of tyres with a very good time in Q2; in Q3 he was unfortunately at the wrong end of a tenth of a second, but we believe we have a good strategy for tomorrow.”
“It's a bit of a frustrating result,” agreed Fabrice Lom, principal track support engineer for engine-supplier Renault. “Fourth and eighth is not what we expected coming here. It's a bit far from the front row where we know we need to be in Monaco so the start will be difficult, but let's see tomorrow – it will be a tough day and let's hope it will be better than our qualifying today!”