VALENCIA, SPAIN // With his index finger pointed skywards towards the blazing Mediterranean sun, Sebastian Vettel, much as he did for the majority of last season, delivered an ominous dose of predictability to what has proven so far to be a perfectly unpredictable season.
The Red Bull Racing driver last year sapped the life out of the world championship race by securing the drivers' title with almost a quarter of the season yet to be contested.
Saturday, he secured a third successive pole position at Valencia Street Circuit and his second in as many races this season ahead of Sunday's European Grand Prix.
The reason Vettel's result feels so premonitory is the fact he has converted a comfortably claimed pole position into a comfortably claimed race win at the previous two races here.
If he does likewise Sunday afternoon, the 24-year-old German, who has won only once this season, in Bahrain in April, will end an unprecedented sequence of results that has seen seven different drivers triumph in the first seven races of the year.
On Friday, running a seemingly much-improved car from the one that saw him slip from first to fourth in Canada earlier this month, the Vettel posted the fastest lap on an opening day for the first time this season.
In qualifying, he then emulated his achievement by outpacing his rivals by 0.324 seconds.
In comparison to the rest of the field, the gap was massive: little more than 0.6 seconds separated second-placed Lewis Hamilton from 10th-placed Paul di Resta. Pastor Maldonado of Williams finished third fastest.
Vettel conceded "it was a surprising gap", but added a hat-trick of titles on Spain's east coast is far from secure, despite the circuit persistently providing processional races.
"Difficult to predict," he said, smiling.
"We have seen too much this year to be honest to sit here on a Saturday afternoon and predict what is going to happen. It's going to be tough."
Hamilton did not expect to finish so high up the grid after enduring set-up problems throughout the weekend and acknowledged the "pretty big gap" between himself and Vettel. But he was understandably satisfied with a place on the front row.
"To be able to go out and do those single laps and make sure you maximise the potential of what you have, that really does satisfy me, so I'm happy with where we are," he said.
Ferrari were not so happy with how qualifying unravelled as both their drivers failed to qualify through to the final top-10 shoot-out session.
Fernando Alonso, a hero in his home country, will start from 11th, his worst grid position in Spain for five years, while Felipe Massa, the improving Brazilian, will line up directly behind him on the grid in 13th.
"When you don't qualify for Q3, it's obviously very sad and there is no point hiding that fact," Alonso said. "The result is a cold shower because our expectations were high and the car's potential has also increased."
Vettel ties Clark and Prost
Sebastian Vettel’s 33rd career pole ties him with the late Jim Clark of Scotland and France’s Alain Prost for third-most in Formula One history.
Pos driver, team and time
1 Vettel, Red Bull 1m38.086secs
2 Hamilton, McLaren 1.38.410
3 Maldonado, Williams 1.38.475
4 Grosjean, Lotus 1.38.505
5 Raikkonen, Lotus 1.38.513
6 Rosberg, Mercedes 1.38.623
7 Kobayashi, Sauber 1.38.741
8 Hulkenberg, Force India 1.38.752
9 Button, McLaren 1.38.801
10 di Resta, Force India 1.38.992
Eliminated after second session
11 Alonso, Ferrari 1.38.707
12 Schumacher, Mercedes 1.38.770
13 Massa, Ferrari 1.38.780
14 Senna, Williams 1.39.207
15 Perez, Sauber 1.39.358
16 Kovalainen, Caterham 1.40.295
17 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso 1.40.358
Eliminated after first session
18 Vergne, Toro Rosso 1.40.203
19 Webber, Red Bull 1.40.395
20 Petrov, Caterham 1.40.457
21 de la Rosa, HRT 1.42.171
22 Karthikeyan, HRT 1.42.527
23 Pic, Marussia 1.42.675
24 Glock, Marussia No time
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