Sebastian Vettel has confessed that he was 'surprised' to qualify as far up the grid as third for this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, after enduring a run-up to the session throughout practice that he admitted had been 'far from ideal'.

The German has completed minimal laps of the Albert Park street circuit since the word 'go' on Friday morning - the legacy of a combination of mechanical woes aboard his Red Bull Racing RB5 in FP1, a mistake in FP2 and further reliability issues in FP3 - but nonetheless quickly got down to business in qualifying to prove that he really is one of the sport's very brightest and most promising young talents.

"It's been a difficult two days leading up to qualifying," the 21-year-old acknowledged. "I only had the pleasure of completing one lap in first practice, then I made a mistake in the second, which meant we couldn't run through our programme. Then we had a failure this morning, which cost us some track time, so we were struggling and it's been anything but ideal!

"We were trying to get some mileage as obviously here it is important to set up the car, but also for a driver you need to get the rhythm and you need to feel the track and therefore we didn't know what to expect. In the first session we had to stop the car as a precaution and unfortunately I stopped some 200 metres too late, otherwise they could have brought the car back; that's the problem when you have a lake in-between the two sides of the circuit!

"[The accident] was my mistake. You go down the main straight and the sun is very low and you cannot see the white line when you exit the pits, so you just keep right and hope you are far enough right - and the same when you go through turn three with the trees.

"It is quite tricky as you have a lot of shadows there. You try to get as close to the outside to get a good run into turn three. Obviously I was a little bit too optimistic and went onto the grass and spun, and unfortunately the engine switched off, so I could not continue yesterday.

"Nevertheless, I think we pulled everything together; we've been looking very deeply at the data and trying to prepare well for qualifying. I think we succeeded, so thanks to everyone. We had a tough winter, and I've been surprised how close actually the feeling in the car is to last year. With all the regulation changes it's pretty impressive what all the people have done.

"Coming from the winter, we came here and two days ago I sat here and we all said 'we don't know who is going to be in front' - probably Brawn will be there, but other than that it's difficult to predict anything. It looks very, very tight not just at the front but also throughout the whole of the midfield - at times we even wondered if we would make it to Q2!

"Overall I am a bit surprised that we managed to do so well in qualifying. We are third, on the second row of the grid, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I think we have put a good car on the track and it seems to work and this is for sure a good starting point, but points we will only get tomorrow, so the most important day is tomorrow and we have to work hard. It's obviously good that we are the power after Brawn right now, but we have to keep our feet on the ground. It's a long, long season and there's still a long way to go."

Vettel similarly admitted to having been 'surprised by two or three minor things' on the reliability front after the Milton Keynes-based squad believed it had solved its issues prior to the weekend, but he insisted he was confident there would be no re-occurrence of the problems on race day.

Meanwhile, team-mate Mark Webber - who had by-and-large matched if not out-paced the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix winner throughout practice - was angry with himself for having made a mistake on his final Q3 effort that left him just tenth at the chequered flag (eighth with the Toyota penalties taken into consideration).

"I'm not rapt with my last lap," the home hero rued. "My previous flying laps had gone well, so I would have liked a better result, but that's where we are so we'll try to make something from the race. The bumps were quite bad in turn nine on the final run.

"The team's done a good job, and we've worked well through our programme over the winter. It's a shame I didn't get the best time in qualifying, but we'll see how we go from there tomorrow."

Indeed, with two cars in the top eight, RBR has got its 2009 challenge off to an excellent start - and the energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner was full of praise for the performances of both of his drivers.

"It was a great team effort today," the Englishman enthused, "and we have two cars in the top ten. After losing some track time this morning, Sebastian has done a great job. Third is a fantastic place to start the first grand prix and he's the nearest car to the super-quick Brawns. I think we can enjoy a good race tomorrow.

"After all that Mark has been through in the last few months, recovering from a broken leg, I think he put in an excellent performance today. A small mistake on his final lap in such a tight grid cost him several positions, but I'm sure he will have a strong race tomorrow."

"After the last test, we didn't know where we were in terms of pace," added engine-supplier Renault's principal track support engineer Fabrice Lom, "so it's great to see that we are very near the front. Third is very good and Mark made some fantastic laps and showed good pace, so I'm positive for tomorrow.

"I'm happy and the engine is working fine. I have sadness for Pierre-Emeric [Benteyn - RBR engineer on Webber's car who tragically disappeared on Mount Everest's Glaciar de los Polacos in early January during a solo attempt to reach the summit] and want to remember him. I think about him, especially in this moment of qualifying, when he was so focussed and enthusiastic. So, we think about him and let's see for tomorrow."



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