Sixth place might still have represented Renault's best qualifying slot of F1 2010 to-date, but Robert Kubica contended afterwards that it could perhaps have been even better had he not misguidedly 'destroyed' his tyres too early on in the final Q3 phase of the qualifying session for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
Almost a second clear of anybody in the opening knock-out phase in Sepang, Melbourne star Kubica swiftly proved that he was more than at home in the treacherous and unpredictable conditions, and keen to pick up from where he had left off with his superb podium finish Down Under a week ago.
A close second-quickest in Q2 confirmed that everything remained well on-track, but then the red flag three minutes into the top ten shoot-out seemed to blunt the Pole's momentum, and by the time the chequered flag flew he had dropped to P6, sandwiched between the two Williams' of rookie Nico Hülkenberg and the experienced Rubens Barrichello – and lamenting having perhaps shot his bolt a touch too early.
“Today's weather made for quite a challenging qualifying session,” reflected the 25-yerar-old Kraków native, “but the car felt good in the wet and I made it easily through Q1 and Q2. For the final part of qualifying we thought the rain would get heavier, so I pushed really hard on my first timed lap in Q3, which destroyed the tyres and made it difficult to improve as the track continued to dry. However, sixth place is a good place to start and I'm looking forward to the race. I think the weather could play a big role, and if it's like today the race could become a lottery.”
For some time, rookie team-mate Vitaly Petrov had looked like joining Kubica in Q3, lapping rapidly indeed in the middle phase of the session before other drivers improved more and knocked the young Russian out by just under four tenths of a second to leave him starting eleventh – still by some margin the 25-year-old's highest starting spot of his fledgling F1 career to-date
“It was difficult to predict the weather today,” acknowledged the man dubbed the 'Vyborg Rocket', “so we decided to go out as early as possible, which was the right decision because the rain kept getting heavier in Q1. In Q2 the car felt good on the intermediates and I pushed hard throughout the session, but I just missed out on Q3, which is a shame. Still, eleventh is a good place to start, and if we get more rain tomorrow, anything could happen. I will be aiming to finish the race and hopefully score some points.”
Finishing is something that Petrov has yet to achieve in 2010, but thanks to Kubica's stirring runner-up charge in Australia, Renault presently sits level with early-season pace-setter Red Bull Racing in equal fourth spot in the constructors' world championship standings – a position team principal Eric Boullier hopes to consolidate with the Enstone-based outfit's first double points-scoring finish of the season on race day in Kuala Lumpur.
“With the changeable weather today it was a difficult session to call, with lots of possible strategies going through our minds,” the Frenchman explained. “Overall, the team made the right decisions with the tyres for both cars and the drivers did a great job. For the race tomorrow the forecast suggests we can expect some more rain, so it's good to be starting towards the front of the grid. This is our best qualifying performance as a team this year, and I think we have a good opportunity to get both cars in the points tomorrow.”
“Today's session was great fun from the pit wall,” added chief race engineer Alan Permane, “and I'm pleased that we got the tyre choice right for both Robert and Vitaly in the first two sessions. Robert made it easily through to Q3, but Vitaly just missed out, which is a shame because he has been quick today.
“With quite a mixed-up grid for tomorrow, we should be in for an interesting race and I think we are well-placed to score some good points. The weather could play its part again, but as we have seen today our car works well in the wet and the dry, and the team has reacted well to the conditions. We're probably a bit more competitive in the wet, but I don't mind if it's wet or dry.”