In a qualifying session that had been highly unpredictable due to the closeness of the field; Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel finally took pole position for the 2012 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe by 0.316s from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton with a stunning lap at the end of the session.
With Pastor Maldonado having just beaten Lotus’ Romain Grosjean for provisional pole, with 1m 38.475s in his Williams to the Frenchman’s 1m 38.505s for Lotus, it was an incredible lap from Vettel who completely moved the goal posts with a time of 1m 38.086s to crush the opposition in what had been an extremely close session up to that point. Vettel only did one run to save tyres having been forced to do a second run in Q2. In the end Hamilton got closest on his second run, with 1m 38.410s. That was a relief for McLaren as Jenson Button’s qualifying issues continued with him only placing ninth.
Kimi Raikkonen was fifth in the second Lotus on 1m 38.513s and will start from row three with Nico Rosberg for company after the German lapped his Mercedes in 1m 38.623s. Rosberg was frustrated that he had to abandon a final run as he was stuck behind Hamilton when trying to complete a second flying lap. Kamui Kobayashi, who is under investigation for impeding Nico Hulkenberg in Q1, was seventh for Sauber on 1m 38.741s, with Hulkenberg eighth for Force India on 1m 38.752s. In a session that promised much Paul di Resta could only qualify 10th in the second Force India on 1m 38.992s. Staggeringly a second covers the top 10 runners.
The track temperature had reached 46 degrees Celsius when Q2 began. As Grosjean led the way on 1m 38.489s and Rosberg, Di Resta, Vettel, Raikkonen, Button and Maldonado all shared laps in 1m 38.5s. Four-thousandths of a second kept local hero Fernando Alonso out of Q3, meanwhile. Kobayashi lapped in 1m 38.703s for 10th, and the Spaniard failed to get out of Q2 with 1m 38.707s.
This would have been slightly worrying for Ferrari as Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was in attendance. Michael Schumacher was only 12th for Mercedes on 1m 38.770s from Ferrari’s Felipe Massa on 1m 38.780s, then Bruno Senna took his Williams round in 1m 39.207s for 14th ahead of Sergio Perez’s Sauber on 1m 39.358s, Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham on 1m 40.295s and Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso on 1m 40.358s. It was an amazing session with just three tenths of a second being the difference between 12th and 1st in the session. Add to that another impressive performance from Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham beating some of the more established teams yet again this season in qualifying.
Q1 continued Mark Webber’s Valencian nightmare. The Australian who has struggled at the circuit in the past and had a spectacular crash a few years ago in the race didn’t make it out of the first session. Having missed the majority of the Saturday morning practice session with break issues. Webber struggled to 19th position.
Other than Vettel’s later pole there was nothing but bad news for the Red Bull brand, as right at the end of Q1 Kovalainen made the most of Caterham’s revised aero package to jump from P20 to P17 with a lap of 1m 40.087s which pushed Jean-Eric Vergne down to 18th and made the Toro Rosso driver the first drop-out with 1m 40.203s. Behind Webber, Vitaly Petrov was 20th in the other Caterham with 1m 40.457s, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT on 1m 42.171s, team mate Narain Karthikeyan on 1m 42.527s and Charles Pic in the sole Marussia on 1m 42.675s.
Timo Glock did not participate in qualifying due to his stomach bug, but stewards have confirmed that he will be allowed race if he is cleared by an FIA medical delegate.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m38.086s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.410s + 0.324
3. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m38.475s + 0.389
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m38.505s + 0.419
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m38.513s + 0.427
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.623s + 0.537
7. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.741s + 0.655
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m38.752s + 0.666
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.801s + 0.715
10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.992s + 0.906
Q2 cut-off time: 1m38.703s Gap **
11. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m38.707s + 0.218
12. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.770s + 0.281
13. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.780s + 0.291
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m39.207s + 0.718
15. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.358s + 0.869
16. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m40.295s + 1.806
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.358s + 1.869
Q1 cut-off time: 1m40.087s Gap *
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.203s + 1.378
19. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m40.395s + 1.570
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m40.457s + 1.632
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m42.171s + 3.346
22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m42.527s + 3.702
23. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m42.675s + 3.850
107% time: 1m45.742s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2