Home hero Mark Webber has confessed that he is 'disappointed' and 'mystified' by the gaping eight-tenths-of-a-second deficit that separated him from pole-sitting Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, revealing that he 'tried his best' and admitting he 'probably deserved to be further back'.
Although the pair proved to be evenly-matched during practice on Friday – with Webber even getting the better of the defending F1 World Champion in FP1 – Vettel shifted up to another gear entirely on Saturday and right from FP3, he set a pace that his team-mate was frankly unable to live with.
Following morning practice, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pointed to traffic as the cause of the gap between his two drivers, but after Vettel outperformed Webber to the tune of six tenths in Q1, the same again in Q2 and more than eight tenths in Q3, even the Englishman conceded that it was 'difficult to understand' the difference.
Webber was seen looking quizzically at Vettel's car at the end of the qualifying session, and after being bumped off the front row of the grid by McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, he conceded that it had been another 'frustrating' day around a circuit that has rarely smiled upon him.
“I was disappointed with my performance,” the 34-year-old candidly reflected. “Sebastian put in a very good lap. I'm a little bit mystified by the gap, to be honest – I tried my best. Q3 is where it's all at, and I would have liked for sure to have got more out of the car. It's clearly there – Seb did a great job today.
“It's probably the biggest gap that's ever existed between us in qualifying since we've been team-mates, and I was surprised. We've seen sometimes that when you get everything right, though, the gap can flare out to [something] quite big, especially with everything at the moment – the tyres and wings and bits-and-bobs.
“It wasn't the best-executed quali for me, and I'm lucky that there aren't that many cars close to us because I probably deserved to be further back. In the end that's where we are, though, and I need to dust myself down. I'll have to go through it and have a look at where I can improve and go from there.
“It's frustrating, but it's not the first time I've been in a situation where I haven't had the smoothest quali, and I can come back and have a decent race. The focus is on tomorrow's race and to try of course to get some champagne and leave here with a lot of information learnt. Obviously, I have a good baseline in Seb, so we know what we need to lift to.
“Credit to the team, too; the guys have done an incredible job. Obviously it wasn't the best day for me, but the bar is high. I would like to have done better, but reflecting on the performance of the team and what they've done over the winter – it's incredible.”
“I'm disappointed to lose the second place with Mark, letting Lewis get onto the front row,” concurred Horner, whilst underlining Vettel's 'phenomenal' job to snatch the first pole of 2011 and Red Bull's 'fantastic start to the new season'. “It's difficult to understand where the time between the two of them is – there's nothing obvious. It's particularly the last sector where there's been a difference, and particularly today. Obviously, we need to have a good look at the data to understand why.”