F1: Round 7 – Istanbul, Turkey – Qualification

Sebastian Vettel came out on top as Brawn and Red Bull had an exclusive, superb battle for the top spots in qualifying in Turkey today.

Vettel had been quickest in both Q1 and Q2, but Jenson Button seemed to have the edge in Q3 and held the provisional pole for much of the time until Vettel put in one last push to take the top spot and become the first driver to go fastest in all three sessions of qualifying.

“It was a surprise to be quickest in all sessions. Finally we made it. In the last couple of races we tried hard and finally we are ahead,” he said. “We have a very good chance here, a very good car.

“I expected more difficulties in qualifying but we made it. This is just half way and the main task for us comes tomorrow, it is a long race, very tough, it won’t be an easy one, it will be exciting, so let’s see.”

With Button in second, it was up to their team mates Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber to lock up the second row of the grid as well. Rubens had a poor early run but somehow found the pace to pop the car into third, while Webber – who had only narrowly squeezed into Q3 after having just one attempt following an error at Turn 8 on his initial flying lap.

Qualifying specialist Jarno Trulli pipped the Ferraris for fifth place and the title of “best of the rest”. Felipe Massa, despite strong form in qualifying, only managed 7th behind his team mate – although it could all be down to fuel strategy.

But the biggest shock of qualifying was the elimination of Lewis Hamilton in Q1. he looked thoroughly off th pace and out of sorts in a car that seemed to be handling worse with each outing. It had been on the pace in practice, but once qualifying started he never looked in danger of squeezing through into Q2.

“Our car seems to have got slower relative to the others as the grip has gone down on the track,” said Hamilton. “I pushed as hard as I could today but I just had no grip out there.”

His team mate Heikki Kovalainen did get into Q2 but performed poorly, so that the two McLarens will actually line up one after the other on the actual grid tomorrow.

Both Toro Rossos were also eliminated in Q1 in their worst showing of the season so far, and Nelson Piquet’s desperate season continued when he also failed to progress from Q1 after he half-spun at turn 8 and then later plunged into the gravel at turn 3, citing brake troubles. Fernando Alonso managed to get into Q1 but had his own major similar slide-and-spin at the same corner in the final part of the session.

Qualifying positions

Pos  Driver       Team                      Q1        Q2        Q3
 1. Vettel       Red Bull-Renault        1:27.330  1:27.016  1:28.316
 2. Button       Brawn-Mercedes          1:27.355  1:27.230  1:28.421
 3. Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes          1:27.371  1:27.418  1:28.579
 4. Webber       Red Bull-Renault        1:27.466  1:27.416  1:28.613
 5. Trulli       Toyota                  1:27.529  1:27.195  1:28.666
 6. Raikkonen    Ferrari                 1:27.556  1:27.387  1:28.815
 7. Massa        Ferrari                 1:27.508  1:27.349  1:28.858
 8. Alonso       Renault                 1:27.988  1:27.473  1:29.075
 9. Rosberg      Williams-Toyota         1:27.517  1:27.418  1:29.191
10. Kubica       BMW-Sauber              1:27.788  1:27.455  1:29.357
11. Heidfeld     BMW-Sauber              1:27.795  1:27.521
12. Nakajima     Williams-Toyota         1:27.691  1:27.629
13. Glock        Toyota                  1:28.160  1:27.795
14. Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes        1:28.199  1:28.207
15. Sutil        Force India-Mercedes    1:28.278  1:28.391
16. Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes        1:28.318
17. Piquet       Renault                 1:28.582
18. Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:28.708
19. Fisichella   Force India-Mercedes    1:28.717
20. Bourdais     Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:28.918

Fuel weights

When Vettel snatched pole, the smart money was that he was running light. And figures released by the FIA hours later confirm exactly that:

Pos  Driver                 Team                  Weight (kg)
 1.  Sebastian Vettel       RBR Renault            649.5
 2.  Jenson Button          Brawn Mercedes         655.5
 3.  Rubens Barrichello     Brawn Mercedes         652.5
 4.  Mark Webber            RBR Renault            656.0
 5.  Jarno Trulli           Toyota                 652.0
 6.  Kimi Raikkonen         Ferrari                658.0
 7.  Felipe Massa           Ferrari                654.0
 8.  Fernando Alonso        Renault                644.5
 9.  Nico Rosberg           Williams Toyota        660.0
10.  Robert Kubica          BMW Sauber             664.0
11.  Nick Heidfeld          BMW Sauber             681.5*
12.  Kazuki Nakajima        Williams Toyota        680.4*
13.  Timo Glock             Toyota                 689.0*
14.  Heikki Kovalainen      McLaren Mercedes       665.0*
15.  Adrian Sutil           Force India Mercedes   668.5*
16.  Lewis Hamilton         McLaren Mercedes       696.5*
17.  Nelson Piquet          Renault                689.6*
18.  Sebastien Buemi        STR Ferrari            686.5*
19.  Giancarlo Fisichella   Force India Mercedes   688.5*
20.  Sebastien Bourdais     STR Ferrari            701.0*

* declared weight

With Ross Brawn confirming that Button will be pitting on lap 17, the figures show that Vettel will be in two laps earlier on lap 15 if all goes to plan. That will give master strategist Ross Brawn some 2 minutes to plot a response to whatever Red Bull do in the pit stop, before his own drivers come in.

But Webber is on the same fuel load as Button and could prove to be in the ideal position to outthink both Button and his own team mate.

The idea strategy for the fastest theoretical race time is to do two stops starting on lap 20, a longer middle stint and a shorter final one. The soft tyre – not much liked by the teams this weekend – would be saved for the shortest stint, especially as it isn’t doing much for initial pace according to qualifying performance.

Fernando Alonso is the lightest car – making his 8th place start more disappointing as it was clear that he was supposed to do a banzai lap and get Renault some lime light. Instead, he’ll be coming in on lap 13, his race already badly compromised.

Heaviest on the grid are Sebastien Bourdais followed by Lewis Hamilton, who will apparently not be pitting until around lap 33 as they try and strategise their way out of their qualification woes.

(Shared with DiffuseF1)

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