Sebastian Vettel dominated qualifying for the Turkish Grand Prix, setting fastest time in all three parts of the session.
His final time prevented Brawn from securing a lock-out of the front row and – gives him a vital opportunity to cut into Jenson Button’s points lead.
Unusually, the combination of high track temperatures and low track grip meant the teams were struggling to get good laps out of the soft tyre. Many started the session using the hard tyre, setting two laps on it to get the most out of the rubber.
At first the Ferrari drivers delivered on their practice pace but it soon emerged that Red Bull had something in reserve, Sebastian Vettel taking to the top of the times. He took the opportunity to remain in the pits and save tyres.
Meanwhile everyone else went out for a final run. Improvements by the BMW drivers promoted them from the ‘drop zone’, putting Lewis Hamilton in among the bottom five. His final lap was a 1’28.402 which failed to improve on his previous best.
But team mate Heikki Kovalainen scraped through with a 1’28.199. Perhaps even more galling for Hamilton was the presence of Adrian Sutil’s Mercedes-powered Force India on a 1’28.278, just four-hundredths quicker than Hamilton and, crucially, making it into Q2.
Also out – but rather more spectacularly – was Nelson Piquet Jnr. The Renault driver had brake problems on his final lap and spun into a gravel trap.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
16. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’28.318
17. Nelson Piquet Jnr, Renault – 1’28.582
18. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’28.708
19. Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India-Mercedes – 1’28.717
20. Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’28.918
The times continued to tumble in Q2, with Felipe Massa improving to a 1’27.462.
But now some drivers began experimenting with the soft tyre and it was Jenson Button who managed them best, finding a 1’27.322 to go quickest. But Vettel, also on the softs, moved into second just a hundredth of a second behind.
Mark Webber went off on his first attempt and had to abort his lap. That left him in the drop zone with two minutes to go, along with Sutil, Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Kazuki Nakajima. But when Webber finally got a lap in he jumped up to third, pushing Fernando Alonso into the bottom five.
Alonso escaped the drop zone in the dying moment of the session, relegating BMW’s Nick Heidfeld to the bottom five.
Glock was on course to make the final ten but lost time in the last sector, leaving him 13th. Just a few seconds later his team mate Jarno Trulli flashed across the line to set the fastest time of the session.
Trulli was later pegged back by Vettel, setting the best time of the weekend with a 1’27.016.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
11. Nick Heidfeld, BMW – 1’27.521
12. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota – 1’27.629
13. Timo Glock, Toyota – 1’27.795
14. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’28.207
15. Adrian Sutil, Force India-Mercedes – 1’28.391
The first run of lap times produced a top three covered by 0.067s: Vettel headed them, with Trulli second and Button third.
Webber took up fourth ahead of Alonso but the Ferraris were down in sixth and seventh, 0.6s slower than the fastest drivers, suggesting heavier fuel loads.
Also surprisingly far down the top ten was Rubens Barrichello, setting a 1’29.623 to split the Ferraris.
Pole position turned into a Brawn-versus-Red Bull shoot-out, with Trulli unable to do better than fifth with his final effort.
Webber went fastest to begin with, only to be pipped by Button who was then joined by Barrichello, threatening an all-Brawn front row. But Vettel’s final lap put him back at the top and, crucially, up at the front for tomorrow’s race.
Top ten drivers in Q3
1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault – 1’28.316
2. Jenson Button, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’28.421
3. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’28.579
4. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault – 1’28.613
5. Jarno Trulli, Toyota – 1’28.666
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1’28.815
7. Felipe Massa, Ferrari – 1’28.858
8. Fernando Alonso, Renault – 1’29.075
9. Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota – 1’29.191
10. Robert Kubica, BMW – 1’29.357