Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has held his hand up and admitted that it was 'the team's call' to send Mark Webber out on the harder compound Pirelli tyres for his second run in the Q1 part of qualifying for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix – a race that the luckless Australian will consequently begin from a lowly 18th position.
Whilst the plaudits rained down upon team-mate Sebastian Vettel – who seamlessly made it three pole positions in Shanghai in swift succession, and six from the last seven races full-stop – in the other side of the Red Bull garage, there was only misery.
Webber had already been hampered by electrical troubles in the morning FP3 session that restricted his running to a mere five laps and that were still being fixed when qualifying got underway. Following a modest first run on the Pirelli 'Prime' tyres, the Australian ventured out for his second and final effort in Q1 still on the harder rubber – and it was a tactic that cost him dear, as he could haul himself to only 16th place, with subsequent improvements from both Michael Schumacher and Pastor Maldonado bumping him back out-of-contention.
“It was a very frustrating day,” reflected the 34-year-old, forced to run KERS-less again for good measure, much as in last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. “We didn't have a smooth FP3 or Q1. We got caught out on the first set [of tyres] in Q1 and we just weren't quick enough at the end of the day – and we paid the ultimate price for that.
“We thought we had enough to get through on the 'Prime' tyres – we had the pace, but I couldn't get the tyre working on my second run. Anyway, that's the way it goes. We'll see what we can do tonight, but I can only go forwards. I can't remember the last time I was out in Q1; it was a long, long time ago, so it was a bad day for us.”
Not wishing to rub salt into the wounds, but the Bahrain Grand Prix two years ago was Webber's previous Q1 exit – although at Suzuka later that season he did not participate in qualifying at all following a hefty practice smash – and Horner concedes that with the benefit of retrospect, the over-confident tyre choice was a crucial error.
“It's been a rotten day for Mark,” the Englishman reflected, speaking to BBC Sport
. “He had an electrical issue this morning, then [there was] a Herculean effort by the entire crew – including the mechanics on Sebastian's car – to get his car repaired and out for quali.
“His first run wasn't great, so then we went to run again on the 'Prime' but unfortunately, those tyres weren't quite up to optimum temperature for his first lap and he missed the cut. It was the team's call, because it looked like another set of 'Primes' should be more than enough; with the pace that we saw in the car this morning, even with Mark's short amount of running, it should have been enough to comfortably make it through – but with the tyres not being up-to-temperature, it's obviously compromised him.
“It's very easy with 20/20 hindsight to say that was a mistake and that we should have gone on the 'Option' but it was just one of those things, and disappointing for both Mark and the team that we haven't got both the guys up there where we want them to be – it's the first time we haven't had both cars in Q3 for over a year. Mark has just had rotten luck this weekend, but I'm sure he can race very well from there.”
“There is one word to describe today – mixed,” concurred Cyril Dumont, from RBR engine partner Renault. “We had a bit of a problem with Mark's KERS this morning, and we weren't able to use it in qualifying. Unfortunately, he went out in Q1, but I have no doubt that he will have a strong race tomorrow and be back where he's supposed to be.”