Image courtesy of www.mclaren.com
Robert Kubica was 6th for Renault. He was a dark horse for the front rows of the grid after strong practice form but couldn't quite repeat his Monaco performance on the Spanish streets. He remarked that the car was working better on the hard tyres but that he opted for the softer rubber in Q3 as it was a better strategic option for the race. World champion Jenson Button was 7th after locking up coming into the final corner. Williams had an impressive showing, getting both cars into Q3 for the first time since Malaysia. Both drivers set identical times but it was Nico Hulkenberg who took 8th on virtue of setting his time first. The German's performance is even more impressive when you consider that he could not run the F-Duct on his car as his longer legs made it awkward to operate. Rubens Barrichello also had problems adjusting the brake balance as his knee was getting in the way. Vitaly Petrov had a solid afternoon, finishing 10th.
Image courtesy of www.renaultf1.com
Not all the Germans were having a good day. Mercedes qualifying efforts were finished by Q2 with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher 12th and 15th. Schumacher needed a late lap to get into Q2 and had steering issues which may have hindered him. Rosberg has scored in both his visits to Valencia and even topped free practice 1. The big question is why the team have fallen behind despite new updates to the car. There seems to be fundamental issues that are hard to overcome and making it difficult to get the car competing at the front. The car is no disaster, it has scored podiums in the hands of Rosberg but is a major disappointment after the championship winning car of 2009. This years car seems a revoluion though, certainly on the outside with the Red Bull dip nose. Weight distribution and the narrow front tyres were areas which caught the team out and changes in Barcelona helped but have not totally recitfied the situation and Mercedes may now decide to shift focus to 2011 where the return of KERS could be a boost to them.
Image courtesy of www.mercedes-gp.com
It was also a disappointment for Force India, especially after confidence that they had got their switchable rear wing working to it's full potential. Kamui Kobayashi was the main Q1 casualty for the second qualifying in a row. In the new team battle, Lotus, who are conversely celebrating 500 races, were top but it was Jarno Trulli who led the charge. The Italian declared himself happy with his new chassis. It was also a good day for Lucas Di Grassi who outqualified Timo Glock for the first time. The German lost 6 tenths after going wide at the final corner. The 107% rule is returning for 2011 but if implemented today would have seen no drivers failing to make the race.
Image courtesy of www.forceindiaf1.com
So an exciting qualifying but perhaps a calmer race in store. The start and pitstops will likely influence the order. Hamilton will fancy taking advantage of the clean inside line to take Webber who may need to be on the defensive. If he can get between the Red Bull's then he will have a chnace of jumping Vettel at the stops. There was 11 cars out in the first 4 corners in the GP2 race earlier but expect the F1 men to be better behaved. Most drivers are likely to 1 stop and the soft tyre are holding up ok so the key will be getting back out into clear space to maximise pace on the out lap. The Valencia pitlane is the shortest on the calendar so this opportunity may present itself early on to the leaders. It might lack the action of Canada but it should be another close battle in this tight championship. The race starts at 1pm BST and UK viewers should note that the BBC race coverage is on BBC2. Check my twitter page for race updates and back here for post race analysis.