Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel is now the third most successful qualifier in Formula One history, joining Jim Clark and Alain Prost on 33 pole positions, after using Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tyres to set a time of 1m38.086s in Valencia. Only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna have claimed more pole positions in Formula One’s record books, while it was Vettel’s third consecutive pole on the Spanish street circuit.
Only the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, the two HRTs and the solitary Marussia of Charles Pic started Q1 on the soft tyres, which was held in ambient temperatures of 25 degrees centigrade and 43 degrees of track temperature. Williams driver Pastor Maldonado went fastest on the soft tyre, while Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was the fastest driver to get through on the medium, with third-quickest time.
Everyone who went through to Q2 started on the soft tyre, apart from the two Ferrari drivers who started the session with a run on mediums before switching over to the softer compound. Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen, who also used the soft tyre at the end of Q1, got through to Q2 for just the second time this year and will start from 16th on the grid: the team’s highest-ever placing. The first seven who got through to Q3 – led by Lotus driver Romain Grosjean – were covered by just a tenth of a second, making it one of the closest qualifying sessions that has ever taken place.
The final top 10 in Q3 all used the soft tyre to set their best times with Grosjean and then Maldonado going fastest, before Vettel seized the initiative with a time that was more than three-tenths of a second quicker than anybody else. In the closing seconds, McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton claimed second place on the grid ahead of Maldonado.
In the hour-long free practice session this morning, McLaren’s Jenson Button went fastest with a time of 1m38.562s on the soft tyre as the teams carried out their final qualifying simulations. Beforehand, most drivers also tried the medium tyres – with Vettel proving to be quickest on the harder compound.
With up to half a second per lap between the two tyres, strategy will be extremely important for the race. A two-stop strategy will be the most likely option for the frontrunners, with the soft tyres expected to perform at their best for 15-18 laps and the medium tyres having a useful life of approximately 20-22 laps.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Qualifying today was probably the closest that there has ever been here. The second session in particular was absolutely unbelievable, with seven drivers within just a tenth of a second of each other. We then saw a great lap from Sebastian Vettel who claimed pole for the third time this year by three tenths of a second, while everyone else was fighting for hundredths. With the same or slightly hotter weather conditions expected tomorrow, all the drivers will have to focus on managing degradation rather than wear, especially on the softer compound.”
Tyres used by the top ten qualifiers:
Vettel: 1:38.086s - Soft
Hamilton: 1:38.410s - Soft
Maldonado: 1:38.475s - Soft
Grosjean: 1:38.505s - Soft
Raikkonen: 1:38.513s - Soft
Rosberg: 1:38.623s - Soft
Kobayashi: 1:38.741s - Soft
Hulkenberg: 1:38.752s - Soft
Button: 1:38.801s - Soft
Di Resta: 1:38.992s - Soft