SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND // Red Bull-Renault have a reputation for knowing how to throw a good party. But they are equally capable of wrecking a carnival atmosphere. Record crowds have thronged Silverstone during the opening two days of the British Grand Prix, and most of the bunting pays homage to Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button.
The local favourites were mere bystanders yesterday, however, as Red Bull dominated qualifying yet again. Sebastian Vettel's pole position was the 10th of his Formula One career and his team's ninth of the season, but it triggered internal discord. Prior to qualifying, it had not been the smoothest of weekends for the German. He was plagued by brake problems during practice on Friday, and yesterday morning his front wing - a revised design, introduced this weekend - worked loose.
That is when the mood within Red Bull became unsettled: the team insist that their drivers are treated equally, but the updated wing from Mark Webber's car was removed and given to Vettel. The German's final two qualifying laps were both good enough for pole; he was 0.143secs faster than Webber. "The car feels unbelievable around here," Vettel said. "It's not often that you get to drive a car like this at a track like this. The cornering speeds are unbelievable and I think we'll be quick in race trim, too. The forecast for tomorrow is sunny: England is becoming more tropical, probably the place you should all go to invest."
His cheerful demeanour contrasted starkly with Webber's. The Australian remained tight-lipped throughout the official press conference. How did he feel about the session? "I think the team will be very happy," was his terse response. Asked whether he thought he had been given preferential treatment, Vettel said: "We are both different people. One of us might like coffee, the other tea." The look on Webber's face, however, said that he would quite like to have kept his new front wing.
Starting second on the grid, on the dirty side of the track, he knows he will have his work cut out fending off the challenge of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who qualified third. The Spaniard lost time during his final lap when he happened upon Michael Schumacher's slower Mercedes, but conceded that it had made little difference. "It cost me perhaps half-a-10th [of a second]," Alonso said, "but that doesn't explain the other seven-10ths."
The Red Bulls might be waging a private war, but they are doing so in a parallel universe. Vettel dominated last year's corresponding race, building a 20-second lead while Webber was trapped in third place, behind Rubens Barrichello's Brawn. Tomorrow, though, the only thing between them at the start will be a little simmering resentment. For McLaren-Mercedes, these have been two long, hard days. On Friday the team used their new exhaust-blown diffuser for the first time, but the system caused the cars' bodywork to overheat and triggered a handling imbalance.
The project was thus abandoned - for this weekend, at least - and older-style floors were fitted overnight. The team effectively started with a clean sheet of paper yesterday morning, and Hamilton salvaged fourth place after comfortably outpacing Button, who will start 14th. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Robert Kubica (Renault) completed the top six, ahead of Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Barrichello (Williams-Cosworth), Pedro de la Rosa (BMW Sauber) and Schumacher.
Williams, too, are using an exhaust-blown diffuser for the first time this weekend. Unlike McLaren's, it appears to work. firstname.lastname@example.org