Sebastian Vettel is on pole followed by Lewis Hamilton and Alonso with potential threats from Lotus and Mercedes failing to materialize.
To me, the most notable part of the afternoon was the incredible margin between Vettel and Hamilton. Both drivers claimed to have had amazing laps and I do not doubt either of them (Lewis has been oddly magnanimous this season hasn’t he). This qualifying session is among the best evidence yet that the Mclaren has fallen behind and the Red Bull is quietly making significant gains.
Let me explain. I believe that Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso are the best drivers on the grid (everyone basically agrees with me on that). Each, however, has their own specialty, though, that is not to say that the other drivers are lacking.
Vettel is the best qualifier on the grid. His performance in 2011 should not leave any room for doubt. He put a car that was not overly dominant on pole everywhere leaving his team, and poor Mark Webber, flabbergasted. The margins by which Vettel took pole were not massive, but he always found the time. Vettel is also a good starter. Again recall 2011 and the number of times that he streaked ahead on the start and first lap. How many times did he pull out a two second gap on that first lap alone. That performance gap comes down to an understanding of the tires showing his other great strength, a very grounded nature that has no ego. This means that unlike Webber or Hamilton, Vettel can and does listen to his engineers very well and implements their guidance in his driving. Where Hamilton complained about his tires, Vettel simply got on with the process of learning the necessary style. Vettel is a good racer and an excellent defender but his blunders of 2010 are still too fresh in my mind.
Hamilton is probably the best overall racer of the bunch if it was not for his fatal flaw that was painfully obvious last year. He is incredibly sensitive to his surroundings and has an ego. His passes under breaking are breathtaking and his qualifying pace can be astounding. Last year, though, all was not well and it was incredibly painful to watch a giant crumble. Now he seems to be back on track. He was not nearly as quick as Vettel in picking up the tricks around the Pirellis, but better late than never. He also seems to be hampered by a somewhat dysfunctional Mclaren team, making a true read on his performance a bit more difficult.
Alonso is the best fighter on the grid and, with the most experience, the most knowledgable of how to lead a team to his wishes. Alonso is the reason Ferrari even have a chance at the championship this year, never mind leading it. Put any other driver in Alonso’s place and Ferrari would be among Mercedes and Lotus. Alonso, unlike either of the other two drivers, is able to be happy with a podium because he knows that it is the maximum his car can achieve. This is massively important because it means that he will not wear down from a lack of race wins as Hamilton did last year and Vettel might.
Be that as it may, I did this analysis to show that the three tenths of a second difference between Hamilton and Vettel shows a combination of Vettel’s qualifying skill as well as the impressive performance of the Red Bull. If Vettel is .1 better than Hamilton in equal cars in qualifying based on pure skill, it stands to reason that the Red Bull is .2 faster than the Mclaren.
If Mclaren fans are feeling shiver of fear at that statement, they should. Mclaren has seemingly lost .4 of a second from the first race when they clearly had the fastest car in qualifying. Uh-oh.