After defeating Felipe Massa to pole position for the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, Sebastian Vettel made a special point of warmly praising the performance of his Ferrari rival, insisting that 'big respect' must be shown towards a man who cheated death to come back and out-qualify double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso – the driver widely-considered to be the best in the field – on his return.
Alonso paced proceedings in both FP3 and for much of the early part of qualifying, but when it really counted, it was Massa who pulled the better lap time out of the bag in the top ten shoot-out, outpacing the Spaniard to the tune of almost four tenths of a second to claim P2 on the starting grid in the desert kingdom, where he triumphed in back-to-back seasons in 2007 and 2008 – not bad for a man whose life had looked to be in danger after an errant, 1kg metal suspension spring struck his helmet and almost blinded him at the Hungaroring last summer.
“Obviously it is very, very difficult [to come back] – well, I don't know, you can ask him – but from the outside big respect to what he's achieved,” Red Bull Racing star Vettel remarked after pipping Massa to pole in Sakhir, paying glowing tribute to the man sitting alongside him in the post-qualifying press conference. “First race he's back and bang, bang, bang – he's on the front row! It's good to have him back.”
That is a sentiment that is shared by the entire F1 paddock, after the 2008 world championship runner-up confirmed his strong pre-season testing pace and definitively proved that the accident had deprived him of none of his raw speed or competitive spirit.
“I think it's just fantastic and really nice to hear that, definitely,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner responded. “First of all, congratulations [to Sebastian] for the pole – I want to be in your place, but anyway I'm happy for you! I know we are here to compete for ourselves and race each other, but I think that the relationship and respect is something that goes over everything and I think every driver has a great relationship and great respect [for one another]. After such a difficult time, a difficult accident, I'm here 100 per cent ready to fight again.”