Sebastian Vettel insists that Red Bull Racing was not too disappointed at losing its 100 per cent pole-winning record when Lewis Hamilton claimed top spot in qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix, noting that he was perhaps closer to the Briton than many would have predicted.
With McLaren appearing to be the form team heading into round 16 of the season, as Hamilton's qualifying run followed Jenson Button's victory in Japan and a strong performance throughout free practice at Yeongam, a gap of just a couple of tenths was encouraging for Vettel who, like RBR team-mate Mark Webber, has an extra set of new tyres for the race.
"It was close, closer than many people thought, as they were looking so, so strong this morning and the pace came so easy for them," the world champion admitted, "I think, if your car is quick, if you feel the balance is there, then you are quick no matter what conditions, and we were a little bit behind, or quite a bit behind, including this morning. But, again, we pulled ourselves together and, when it mattered most for today, we were there. In Q3, we were very, very close in the first run, [and] I thought we would have a crack at pole. My second lap was very good again - there wasn't much left but, obviously, and Lewis had a very good lap and deserves pole."
Seeing Red Bull's run of poles halted one race short of a new record might have been frustrating for some, but Vettel insists that the team's focus was always on a bigger prize.
"It was never really the target, to be honest, because it's so far away, there are so many races," he emphasised, "The run we've had so far is quite impressive and even today we are still on the front row and we're not so far off, so I'm very happy with that. It would have been nice, but it has never really been our target. Tomorrow is more important for us."
Pole and a close third place in Japan confirmed that the RB7 was still a major contender, but both Vettel and Webber struggled to match the pace of the McLarens through Friday's wet sessions and, again, on Saturday morning. Getting as close as he did to Hamilton in qualifying, therefore, was encouraging for the German.
"It is good that we made a fair step in the right direction and caught up, so tomorrow should be an interesting day," he claimed, "It's a long race, [and] we saved all our prime tyres, which I think will be crucial for tomorrow. Whether we can use that to our advantage or not remains to be seen, but I think we are in good shape. It is a long race here, [and] the tyres are reasonable soft, both compounds, so we will see."
After Friday proved, literally, to be a wash-out for all twelve teams, Saturday morning's hour of free practice proved to be a frenetic affair for most, as they attempted to learn what they could about their cars in dry conditions. While some focused on qualifying performance, Red Bull looked further ahead, confident that it would be at the sharp end of the field on Saturday afternoon.
"We had only a rough idea this morning with a little bit more fuel in the car, but I think we are in a good position," he confirmed, "It is not a long way down to the first corner and then turn three is a little bit exposed, so we will see. It is a long race, a lot of things can happen. I think tyre wear will be crucial. Jenson did a very, very good job last race in particular so I think that, again, will be very important tomorrow.
"[Tyre wear] did look a little bit better this morning than some people thought, so I think five stops is too many. Two is impossible, so somewhere in between - you know three or four stops is not a big secret. We know that, if there is a lot of tyre wear, we have seen races where we end up three-stopping and races where we end up four-stopping. All in all, we should be in good shape.
"You can't turn the world upside down and, yesterday, we had no preparation in dry conditions because it was wet. This morning, we still had only one hour [and] we had a lot of work to do, [but] we got most of it done, so we were very happy with this morning. It gave us direction with the car, with the conditions, with the fuel. The runs we did didn't look too bad, so we will see."