Sebastian Vettel was celebrating one of the best days of his fledgling Formula 1 career after qualifying for this weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia – and he helped to deliver Scuderia Toro Rosso their finest qualifying result to-date into the bargain.
The young German shone earlier in the campaign around the tortuous streets of Monaco – taking his STR3 to a season-high fifth place – and he looked impressive from the word go around the similarly winding streets of the harbour-side Juan Carlos I Marina circuit, posting the quickest time of anyone in opening practice on Friday and adding to that with a top six placing on Saturday morning.
The 21-year-old then went better still by lapping second to Jarno Trulli in Q1 and outpacing all 19 of his F1 rivals to go fastest outright in Q2 – setting a time around the new track that has yet to be beaten.
Though a mistake whilst on his final flying effort in Q3 – one that had looked good enough to put him on the front two rows of the grid – consigned the Red Bull Racing-bound star to sixth spot at the close, it was nevertheless a magnificent performance.
“My best result ever,” he grinned afterwards. “I am pleased, as it has taken a bit of time to improve on my P7 that I achieved in my first grand prix. It's been a fantastic day for us.
“We made some changes to the set-up overnight, and they all turned out to be positive. The team worked hard to make the most of the data. We didn't expect to do this well here, but it's a good thing to have both cars in Q3.
“My last lap should have been a bit better, but I made a mistake in turn twelve, locking the rear under braking. Now we have to keep our feet on the ground, because there are a lot of laps ahead of us tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the race, when I think we have a real chance to score points.”
STR's joy was completed by seeing Sébastien Bourdais make it both cars inside the top ten on the starting grid for the first time in both the Frenchman's and the team's history. Whilst the multiple Champ Car king seemed to have the potential to go quicker than tenth in the final reckoning, a conservative approach regarding fuel levels in Q3 left him on the fifth row for Sunday's race.
“This wasn't bad,” the 29-year-old commented afterwards, clearly relishing the opportunity to re-acquaint himself with the same kind of track as those on which he formerly enjoyed such staggering success across the Pond. “I am still having my problem of not finding grip on the 'option' tyre, so we need to work on that, but I am happy that our performance is getting better.