F1: Round 5 – Catalunya, Spain – Qualifying

Qualifying in F1 is still proving amazingly unpredictable this year, with shock eliminations at each stage and a pole position for a driver who hadn’t looked in the best of form here in Spain but came good with literally a second to spare.

After the embarrassment of seeing Felipe Massa get eliminated in Q1 in Malaysia, the Ferrari team would surely have learnt from this and make sure there was no repeat, right? Right? Well, it happened again – this time to Kimi Raikkonen. While Massa himself impressively headed the Q1 timesheet, Raikkonen was left in 16th and out after tumbling down the timesheets in the final seconds after the team decided not to put him back on track.

Raikkonen was in good company though, with Heikki Kovalainen also eliminated. In Kovalainen’s case, however, he had looked to be struggling throughout and would have been lucky to get through, although admittedly his final run was impeded slightly by a BMW in front in the last few turns. However, McLaren’s lack of competitiveness (bringing them down to an earth with a bump after looking better in the last couple of outings) was confirmed by Lewis Hamilton going out in 13th place in Q2. Hamilton looked both despondent and angry at the poor car the team had given him this week and wasn’t trying to hide his disappointment in interviews, either.

In Q2 it was still hard to tell who had the form to take pole, with four different cars in the top four: Mark Webber in the Red Bull was second, Timo Glock in the Toyota third, and Massa continuing the promising green shoots of recovery for Ferrari in 3rd. But the man on top, and looking so much faster and more comfortable than his Brawn GP team mate, was Rubens Barrichello. Was it finally his chance to claim a pole for his latest team?

It started to look like it when Barrichello put in a flying lap two thirds of the way through Q3 that would prove hard to beat. But then the Red Bull wünderkind, Sebastian Vettel, knocked him off the top and it looked like the German would claim pole. The only man still left on track was Jenson Button, and the car just hadn’t been working for him in Spain. He’d even been incredibly lucky to make it onto his final flying lap, after slowing up to let faster cars through on his warm up lap meant he crossed the start/finish line just a second (or less) before the chequered flag terminated the session.

And a little over one hundred seconds later, Jenson Button’s time popped up on the screens and took the shine of Red Bull’s celebrations. From no where, the Briton (and championship leader) had found blistering pace to put himself on the top spot, relegating Vettel to the meat in a Brawn sandwich. Even the normally taciturn Ross Brawn beamed with happiness and – you had to think – not a little surprise at Jenson’s sudden breakthrough.

Fernando Alonso managed to deliver for the home fans, twice pulling off narrow escapes from elimination to get through to Q3. Team mate nelson Piquet had a decent qualifying but was still eliminated in Q2 and can’t shake the air of a driver serving out his last few races before being dropped.

The only significant off-track incident occurred in Q2 when Sebastien Buemi lost the back end of the Toro Rosso, went off into the gravel and lightly hit the tyre wall with his rear left. He recovered to the track, dropping gravel all over the place, but his qualifying momentum was well and truly gone.

Qualifying times

Pos  Driver       Team                       Q1        Q2        Q3
 1.  Button       Brawn-Mercedes          1:20.707  1:20.192  1:20.527
 2.  Vettel       Red Bull-Renault        1:20.715  1:20.220  1:20.660
 3.  Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes          1:20.808  1:19.954  1:20.762
 4.  Massa        Ferrari                 1:20.484  1:20.149  1:20.934
 5.  Webber       Red Bull-Renault        1:20.689  1:20.007  1:21.049
 6.  Glock        Toyota                  1:20.877  1:20.107  1:21.247
 7.  Trulli       Toyota                  1:21.189  1:20.420  1:21.254
 8.  Alonso       Renault                 1:21.186  1:20.509  1:21.392
 9.  Rosberg      Williams-Toyota         1:20.745  1:20.256  1:22.558
10.  Kubica       BMW-Sauber              1:20.931  1:20.408  1:22.685
11.  Nakajima     Williams-Toyota         1:20.818  1:20.531
12.  Piquet       Renault                 1:21.128  1:20.604
13.  Heidfeld     BMW-Sauber              1:21.095  1:20.676
14.  Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes        1:20.991  1:20.805
15.  Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:21.033  1:21.067
16.  Raikkonen    Ferrari                 1:21.291
17.  Bourdais     Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:21.300
18.  Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes        1:21.675
19.  Sutil        Force India-Mercedes    1:21.742
20.  Fisichella   Force India-Mercedes    1:22.204
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