He might have thoroughly dominated the qualifying session – indeed, pretty much all of Saturday – ahead of this weekend's F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, but Sebastian Vettel was nonetheless quick to urge caution after blitzing the field to earn himself a 16th career pole position in the top flight, stressing that 'if you look at the points, we still have zero like everyone else'.
In truth, nobody could touch Vettel around the streets of Albert Park on Saturday, and the marker the young German laid down during FP3 set the tone for what was to follow. No other driver could get to within eight tenths of the 23-year-old – not even his own Red Bull Racing team-mate and home hero Mark Webber – and that situation did not change any in qualifying.
Narrowly quickest in Q1, the reigning F1 World Champion improved to more than half-a-second out-of-reach in Q2 and then left his rivals trailing to the tune of almost eight tenths once more when it really mattered, in the Q3 top ten shoot-out, even if he confessed that he wasn't able to use KERS as he 'couldn't find' the button. As he launches the defence of his hard-won drivers' crown from last year and endeavours to clinch the only trophy in the sport adorned by a kangaroo [see separate story – click here
], it was an ominous manner in which to begin.
“It was a funny winter,” Vettel acknowledged, alluding to the fact that nobody really knew where anybody else stood pace-wise, arriving in Australia. “The cars changed a lot, and testing was really busy. We all tried to work our way around the Pirelli tyres, and coming here, we're all impressed by how they're working over one lap and also when there's more fuel in the car.
“I think we are all surprised in a way [by the gap over Red Bull's rivals], but the main thing is that we are in front, and in the end it doesn't matter if you are in front by one thousandth or a little bit more. Of course it feels nice to go quicker than last year when we came here, even though the rules made it tougher for us to build a quick car – and I think that's proof that the people back in the factory in Milton Keynes and all of us here Down Under are trying to push as hard as we can in getting the RB7 to where it is now.
“Especially after a long winter when you never really know where you are, it's good to come here with a good feeling and then get the result on Saturday when everybody pulls their trousers down. It's promising for Sunday, so we'll see how we get on.
“We have made the first step, and starting the season this way with a pole position is a good sign for the team – but it's a long race tomorrow and a lot of things can happen, and if you look at the points, we still have zero like everyone else, so we need to keep our feet on the ground and see how we get on.”
Indeed, such has been Red Bull's general lack of fortune in Melbourne that the energy drinks-backed outfit has yet to ascend the podium there, despite looking set for the top step last season, and the runner-up laurels in 2009. The fourth place achieved by David Coulthard on RBR's F1 debut back in 2005 remains its highest finish to-date at Albert Park, but team principal Christian Horner hopes the clear superiority of the RB7 brings an end to that run of bad luck on Sunday.
“A great team performance,” the Englishman reflected. “First and third for the first grand prix of 2011 is a very good start. Sebastian produced two stunning laps. Mark just lost out on the last run by less than a tenth to Lewis [Hamilton], but first and third on the clean side of the grid is a good place to be starting tomorrow's grand prix. It should be a fascinating race, especially with the new regulations – and we're delighted to achieve Pirelli's first pole position on their return to F1.”
“It's nice to be back on-track, and especially with the pace we had today,” agreed Cyril Dumont, from the team's engine-supplier Renault. “What a showing it was from Seb! Mark was a bit behind, but we will see tomorrow, as the race is long. Engine-wise, we were pretty happy to use all the tuning we have been working on during winter testing. It is a good result for Renault and Red Bull so far, and we will see tomorrow what happens in the race. Fuel consumption will be important.”