SAKHIR // The new female figure in Sebastian Vettel's life may be providing the entire Red Bull-Renault team sleepless nights, but they were all awake and up to the job yesterday afternoon as the 22-year-old German clinched pole position ahead of today's Bahrain Grand Prix, the first F1 race of the new season.
Vettel, the winner of the final Grand Prix of 2009 in Abu Dhabi, has replaced last year's car with a new RB6, deciding to nickname her "Luscious Liz". And the pair looked formidable as Vettel, the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix, clocked a final qualifying lap of 1min 54.101secs to put him at the top of the standings and ahead of Felipe Massa by 0.141secs. Massa's Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso was third, ahead of the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes GP car of Nico Rosberg.
Jenson Button, the world champion, could do no better than eighth in his McLaren, one place back from Michael Schumacher, who struggled for pace in his first race back since coming out of retirement. In keeping with the start the of the season, which includes four former world champions, three new teams and five rookie drivers, the first qualifying session of the year proved unpredictable. With new regulations prohibiting refuelling and the 10 fastest drivers being forced to start the race using the same tyres they qualify on, few had been willing to predict this weekend's outcome.
Qualifying, however, had been billed as the first genuine indicator of each team's competitiveness and Vettel admitted the result was not foreseen. "It's a big surprise," said the German. "In winter testing, it was pretty clear there were four teams who would be close to each other, but nobody really knew where they were. I knew we had a great car, but [Friday's practice] was tough for us; we did not get as much running as we were hoping for. We had a long night - especially the mechanics - there were a lot of tired faces out there, but everyone was still keen to push. The boys have not had much sleep, but by getting pole we have shown how strong we are.
"We had to get it together and qualifying went pretty smoothly, so I am very, very happy." Vettel maintained that anything can happen today, adding any prediction is made more difficult by the scorching 35C weather, a stark contrast to that of Spain where the teams examined their cars during winter testing. However, the five-time Grand Prix-winner, knows he has put himself in the best position possible going into the season-opener. "It could be very exciting, it could be very boring - that is what I hope for, to finish more or less where I start. We have had a good result and there is no better position to start from, but it is only the first of 19 and it is going to be a long, long race and there are a lot of things unknown."
Red Bull at one point looked like they might emulate their performance in Abu Dhabi and secure a one-two finish, but as Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, pushed, the Australian went wide on a corner and slipped down sixth. "In the past it has been more of a sprint event," said Vettel. "You had to take care in the beginning, which I think everyone enjoyed. "But this year, the challenge is not to attack every lap."
firstname.lastname@example.org The Bahrain GP is live on Abu Dhabi Sports 2, 4pm