For only the second time in 2008, David Coulthard got the better of Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team-mate Mark Webber in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji this weekend – then quipped that the Australian was probably frustrated with his performance 'because he doesn't want to be behind a guy who's retiring, and [2009 RBR driver Sebastian] Vettel is looking pretty hot for next year'.
Whilst both of the Milton Keynes-based concern's RB4s had lapped comfortably inside the top ten during the damp final practice session this morning, with Coulthard sixth and Webber eighth, on a dry track in qualifying that pace was no longer evident, as both drivers failed to make the Q3 cut – albeit in the former's case by the narrowest margin of a scant eight hundredths of a second.
“It was very close today,” the Scot reflected, after achieving nonetheless his sixth-best grid spot of the campaign and out-pacing Webber for the first time since the season curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne back in March. “That was one of my better qualifying sessions; each of my laps was very tidy.
“On the last lap I was quicker going into the final corner, but I seemed to drag more speed going into the apex, which made me very slow down to the start-finish straight. I would love to have got through to Q3, as it would have meant more driving in the car on low fuel, but I don't think there was much more I could have got out of the car with the balance I had.”
“I wasn't quick enough today,” rued a phlegmatic Webber, who will begin the race from two spots behind Coulthard on the grid in 13th, “and when you don't get the times you don't go through. I didn't get it together in Q2, and you pay the price.
“There was more to get from the car, but I over-drove in the last sector. It was a shame as I had had a good feeling for the car both yesterday and this morning, but qualifying didn't seem to work out for us today. It will be difficult from there tomorrow.”
That much was corroborated by the energy drinks-backed squad's team principal Christian Horner, with RBR currently locked in a tight three-way tussle for sixth spot in the constructors' title chase with 'junior' outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso and Williams. To compound matters, both STR3s in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Sébastien Bourdais made it through to the top ten.
“While it's disappointing not to make it into Q3, David drove well in both sessions and was unlucky to miss the final cut by just 0.08 seconds,” reflected Horner, “but eleventh obviously leaves him free to pick his strategy for tomorrow. Mark didn't manage to string his best three sectors together, which leaves a lot of work for him from 13th on the grid.”
“That was disappointing not to get into Q3,” agreed Renault principal track support engineer Fabrice Lom. “DC had a good session and was very, very close to getting through to Q3 – I think he was just 0.08 seconds off.
“At least this is a track where you should be able to overtake and gain positions in the dry, so we'll have to make sure we're ready to make the most of anything that might happen ahead of us tomorrow.”