x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Vettel grabs Hungarian pole with time to spare

Sebastian Vettel's pole position for today's Hungarian Grand Prix was no surprise, but his margin of superiority was extraordinary.

Sebastian Vettel was out on his own yesterday.
Sebastian Vettel was out on his own yesterday.

BUDAPEST // Sebastian Vettel's pole position for today's Hungarian Grand Prix was no surprise, but his margin of superiority was extraordinary. Vettel and teammate Mark Webber had been trading fastest laps all weekend, but the German's qualifying lap of 1min 18.772secs put him 0.411secs clear when it mattered, giving him his seventh pole this season and Red Bull-Renault their 11th in 12 races.

"That was a great lap from Seb," Webber said. "I just didn't get a clean run today." In 1986 Hungary became the first Eastern bloc country to host a Formula One world championship race, and this weekend's event will be its 25th. The 4.381km Hungaroring circuit is one of the most labyrinthine of the season and favours cars with efficient downforce, which is a Red Bull hallmark. "I don't think there's any big secret to our performance," said Vettel, whose latest pole coincided with Red Bull's 100th race as a grand prix team.

"I played around a little with the front wing, the differential and tyre pressures; sometimes fine-tuning the tyre pressures can find you three 10ths," he said. "We knew we were in good shape [Friday], but didn't know quite how good. If you look back just a few days to Germany, Ferrari was quickest in the race. I don't think any of the cars has changed a great deal since then, but it's very clear that this circuit suits us.

"It isn't an easy track; the bumps are quite harsh and that makes the car very nervous. It tends to move around a lot, but I felt confident and that means you can brake later and carry more speed into the corners. Everything just works, basically, so I should sleep well." Fernando Alonso, the Hockenheim winner, was best of the rest, ahead of his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, but more than one second behind Vettel.

The Spaniard acknowledged that a second victory in as many weekends is unlikely. "McLaren is still leading both championships," he said, "so we can take some points off them. But winning? We have to be realistic. Sometimes we are able to match Red Bull's race pace, but that's when they qualify a couple of 10ths ahead of us, not 1.2 seconds." Few weeks go by without some trace of controversy, and the latest is a row about the specification of the front wings used by Red Bull and Ferrari. Rivals believe both have wings that flex illegally when their cars are on the move, although technical checks have revealed nothing amiss.

Even so, Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, mischievously described his cars as "the fastest with fixed wings" in the wake of qualifying. Lewis Hamilton was an in-touch fifth, in a positional sense, if not in terms of lap time. But the world champion Jenson Button had a disappointing day and starts 11th. The Briton said he was "pretty happy" with the medium tyre but "couldn't find a balance" on the soft tyre. Button scored his first victory here, in 2006, from 14th on the grid. But that was a topsy-turvy, rain-hit race and sunshine is forecast today.

The Englishman's problems were but a fraction of those endured by Michael Schumacher. While Nico Rosberg did a solid job once again for Mercedes, qualifying sixth ahead of Renault teammates Vitaly Petrov and Robert Kubica, Schumacher floundered in 14th. "My set-up is targeted more towards the race than qualifying," he said. "It worked OK this morning, but became less effective as temperatures rose."

On a day of surprising numbers, the 0.819secs that separated Schumacher from Rosberg during the second qualifying session was among the most startling. sports@thenational.ae