His self-effacing modesty is one of the very reasons why he is so universally liked within the F1 paddock, and whilst after storming to the first pole position of 20010 for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir this weekend Sebastian Vettel confessed that he was 'surprised' at his achievement, it is inarguable that the young German's primary goal now on race day is to hang onto that early advantage.
Having largely kept their powder dry during practice in the desert kingdom, Red Bull came out fighting right from the word 'go' in qualifying, with Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber trading times in Q1 and the former laying down a marker of intent in Q2 with a lap time almost three tenths out of reach of anybody else.
Whilst Ferrari looked – and quite possibly even expected – to have the front row locked-out in Q3, the man from Heppenheim clearly had other ideas, and a searing effort almost a full second below the previous benchmark proved to be just too much for Vettel's rivals to conquer. They might have closed, but none got close enough – meaning the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner and 'Luscious Liz' will lead the field away on Sunday afternoon.
“It's a big surprise to get pole,” the five-time grand prix-winner reflected. “We didn't know where we were with performance during the winter testing. Yesterday was a tough day for us, as we didn't do as much running as we would have liked. It was a long night for the mechanics and there were some tired faces this morning, but everyone was still so keen.
“I knew we had a good car, qualifying went smoothly and I'm very happy to be on pole. Thanks to the team, who have been so busy during the last month with a lot of testing – to be on top now is a nice feeling.”
There remain some question marks over both the reliability of the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered RB6 over a race distance, as well as how kind it will be to its tyres in the heat of the desert sun – but provided there are no issues on either of those fronts, the energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner acknowledged that things are looking good.
“A brilliant job today,” enthused the Englishman, a former racer himself. “It's great to be starting the new season on pole position. Sebastian drove faultlessly through all three sessions and delivered three laps that were good enough for pole. It's testimony to all the hard work that's gone in over the winter; the guys have worked wonders within Red Bull Racing, and first on the grid is a great place to be starting the new race format tomorrow.”
“It's such a great result for the beginning of the season,” concurred Renault engine co-ordinator Fabrice Lom. “We were in a bit of a fog over the winter as we didn't know where we were regarding performance. This is such a good answer to all the questions. We are quick and this is good. I think we're set for a good season.”