Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel fuelled fears that they only need turn up to the Spanish Grand Prix to win it by dominating qualifying, the Australian taking pole ahead of his team-mate and rival.
Trailing almost a full second behind them were former and current world champions Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher – the latter taking advantage of major upgrades to his Mercedes to finally outdo team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Button said of the Red Bulls: “It should be a walk in the park for them, and if it’s dry it will be. Never say never, but when they’re a second quicker you expect them to walk away into the distance.”
Hamilton added: “They are extremely quick throughout the high-speed circuits and high-speed corners. They seem to be ridiculously fast and have more downforce and efficiency than other teams and made a slight step forward from that which has put them more out of the lead.
“It’s good to see us up there as best of the rest. We have a good foundation to work on and we have a lot of work to do. This car has a lot of potential and we have to keep working on it.”
Webber said the lap times reflected the work put in by the team: “The guys on both sides of the garage have probably had five hours sleep the last two nights and it just shows the effort they are putting into the cars.”
In the final qualifying session Vettel briefly hit the front as Red Bull’s rivals jostled for position behind him, but then Webber – who had been fastest in both previous sessions – found a lap of 1min 19.995 to re-assert his dominance.
Behind the parade of world champions came Renault’s Robert Kubica in seventh ahead of Rosberg, then Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
The Japanese driver made his team’s upgrade package work for him by grabbing a spot in the pole shoot-out during the last moments of the second session. A vastly improved performance by the Swiss team saw Pedro de la Rosa qualify 12th, although he will be penalised five places for a gearbox change.
One team whose upgrades did not pay off was Williams. Nico Hulkenberg set the 13th-best time, while Rubens Barrichello went so far as having the new parts removed and reverting his old set-up. It did him no good as he got caught in traffic and failed to advance from the first qualifying session.
Lotus always planned a significant set of upgrades for Barcelona, and were rewarded by being the best of the new teams. Virgin was some way adrift, Timo Glock in the upgraded car only eight hundredths faster than Lucas di Grassi in the old one.
Hispania’s Bruno Senna was slowest, but will be promoted up the grid by penalties for the three cars ahead of him – team-mate Karun Chandhok changed his gearbox while both Virgin cars failed to notify the FIA about their intended gear ratios in time.
Qualifying times for the Spanish Grand Prix
Times shown are the fastest for each driver in the latest session in which he competed.
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:19.995 (Q3)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:20.101 (Q3)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:20.829 (Q3)
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:20.937 (Q3)
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 1:20.991 (Q3)
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 1:21.294 (Q3)
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:21.353 (Q3)
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 1:21.408 (Q3)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:21.585 (Q3)
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: 1:21.984 (Q3)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:21.985 (Q2)
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: 1:22.026 (Q2)
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1:22.131 (Q2)
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 1:22.139 (Q2)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:22.191 (Q2)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:22.207 (Q2)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:22.854 (Q2)
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1:23.125 (Q1)
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus: 1:24.674 (Q1)
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: 1:24.748 (Q1)
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1:25.475 (Q1)
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: 1:25.556 (Q1)
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: 1:26.750 (Q1)
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: 1:27.122 (Q1)