BARCELONA // Sebastian Vettel's stranglehold on pole position was broken at Circuit de Catalunya as his Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber set the fastest lap in qualifying ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.
Vettel had taken five consecutive poles dating back to last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But, under a scorching Spanish sun, it was the Australian Webber who secured the front position on the grid after clocking a lap 0.2 seconds quicker than his stablemate.
Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver who finished third, was close to a full second off the pacesetter.
Webber, who successfully converted pole position into maximum points here last year, started qualifying knowing his team had an enviable advantage on the rest of the field. He had dominated free practice on Friday, while Vettel had narrowly usurped him at the top of the time sheets in yesterday’s final session.
“We knew we had a bit of a margin and it was maybe going to be down to myself or Seb for the front,” Webber said. “Without sounding arrogant – you can never underestimate the other guys – but we thought we would probably be battling between ourselves for the pole.”
The result saw Webber secure his first pole since the Belgian Grand Prix in 2010 and will provide him a timely shot in the arm as he looks to chase down his teammate’s 38-point gap at the top of the drivers’ standings. It was here last year that Webber’s own world championship challenge gathered pace; his triumph in Montmelo being followed up with three further wins in his following seven races.
The 34-year-old’s victory last year saw him become the 10th driver in 10 years to win the Spanish Grand Prix from pole. Such processional races prompted the sport’s rule makers to introduce new regulations, such as an adjustable rear wing, quick-wearing tyres and an energy-saving power boost system called Kers, but and Webber said he is still “hoping we can make it 11”.
“We’ll see a different Spanish Grand Prix to what we have seen before,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a few positional changes here and there – hopefully not too many – but if I’m in this position coming into the last corner of course I’ll be happy.”
Vettel was unable to use the Kers device in the final two qualifying stints, effectively depriving him of between 0.2 sec and 0.4 sec per lap. The reigning world champion said he is confident the issue will be resolved in time for the race and refused to blame the defect for his inability to maintain his 100 per cent record of starting on pole this season.
“It’s not right to say Mark is on pole because I didn’t have Kers; Mark did a better job and deserved it,” said Vettel, who has been on the grid’s front row now for the past 10 races.
“I’m not afraid. We are working hard on the Kers and I think we will be on top of it in the race.”
His team will certainly hope so. Webber was forced to race without Kers in Malaysia and, after qualifying third, slipped to ninth by the end of the first lap.
“Obviously Sebastian didn’t have the smoothest of days, but that can happen: I’ve had many of those,” Webber said. “I wasn’t slow in Sepang or China, but I never had the greatest weekends – it’s small margins as we know.
“But it doesn’t take much and before you know it you’re back in the ball game.”
Spanish GP qualifying results
1 Webber, Red Bull 1m20.981secs
2 Vettel, Red Bull 1.21.181
3 Hamilton, McLaren 1.21.961
4 Alonso, Ferrari 1.21.964
5 Button, McLaren 1.21.996
6 Petrov, Renault 1.22.471
7 Rosberg, Mercedes 1.22.599
8 Massa, Ferrari 1.22.888
9 Maldonado, Williams 1.22.952
10 Schumacher, Mercedes 1.22.671
11 Buemi, Toro Rosso 1.23.231
12 Perez, Sauber 1.23.367
13 Alguersuari, Toro Rosso 1.23.694
14 Kobayashi, Sauber 1.23.702
15 Kovalainen, Lotus 1.25.403
16 di Resta, Force India 1.26.126
17 Sutil, Force India 1.26.571
18 Trulli, Lotus 1.26.521
19 Barrichello, Williams 1.26.910
20 Glock, Virgin 1.27.315
21 Karthikeyan, HRT 1.27.809
22 Liuzzi, HRT 1.27.908
23 d’Ambrosio, Virgin 1.28.556
24 Heidfeld, Renault No time