x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Same again for Red Bull with Vettel on European pole

Red Bull Racing secure their eighth consecutive pole position from eight races ahead of today’s European Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel dominated yesterday’s qualifying for the European Grand Prix to take his 22nd pole position.
Sebastian Vettel dominated yesterday’s qualifying for the European Grand Prix to take his 22nd pole position.

VALENCIA // Monotonous regularity rarely inspires excitement. Barcelona and Real Madrid have proved such to football followers while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have provided similar proof to tennis enthusiasts.

When the winner of a league or a cup or a championship can almost inevitably be reduced to only two genuine contenders, the entire sport suffers. And such is the case in Formula One qualifying.

Yesterday, courtesy of world champion Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing secured their eighth consecutive pole position from eight races ahead of today’s European Grand Prix.

Mark Webber, the German’s teammate and the only driver to lap quicker than Vettel during a Saturday qualifying session this season, was his nearest challenger in second.

Ferrari have given up hope of catching Christian Horner’s team this weekend and such was the certainty of a Red Bull domination that even when Vettel clocked his imposing time of one minute 36.975 seconds and set a new record for the Valencia Street Circuit, the atmosphere in the paddock appeared more apathetic than astonished. This was no surprise.

And yet the sport’s governing body have taken action. A new regulation imposed this weekend dictates that teams must use the same engine set-up in qualifying as they intend to implement in the next day’s race.

The hope had been to pin the Red Bulls back and analysts predicted Vettel and Webber would lose up to 0.5s per lap. Only the other 11 teams have also been affected.

“It is a step back, but it is the same for all of us,” Vettel said. “For some probably more, for some less. We had to focus on what we have to do here and that’s it. People expected us to lose more than others, but that’s where I disagree.”

Even Vettel initially seemed presumptive when he appeared on his team radio after being informed he had secured his 22nd pole of his career. There was no passion as displayed in Malaysia when he yelled “that’s what I’m talking about”, instead came a rather calm, collected and curt “thanks guys”. The 23-year-old argued his lack of excitement was down to having to focus on other matters; he was parking his car when the team radioed him.

“It depends on the moment,” he said. “When you’re cruising on the circuit you have time to talk and you obviously have a bit more room to yourself to celebrate. I had to switch the car off, so I didn’t have a lot of time.”

Vettel also dismissed suggestions that the rest of the field are merely competing for the right to start in second place on the grid, but Webber was more candid.

“Seb’s done a good job on Saturdays for the past few years,” said the Australian. “Obviously, it was closer between him and I on Saturday [last year], but this year he’s on a phenomenal run, he enjoys this car and tyres and is doing a very good job. That’s how it is.”

While Red Bull’s grip on qualifying remains unbreakable, both Lewis Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes teammate Jenson Button have now beaten Vettel on a Sunday.

Hamilton, when asked whether he can jump the two Red Bulls and claim his second win of the season, remained cautious.

“That is always the question, but we’re as close as we can be,” he said. “This is a track notorious for being difficult to overtake on. Since 2008, it was always hard to overtake whoever was up front, but we will see what happens.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae