Silverstone: Red Bull fended off accusations of favouritism after Germany’s Sebastian Vettel beat team mate Mark Webber to pole position at the British Grand Prix on Saturday.
The jubilant Vettel, who won from the top slot at Silverstone last year, has now taken five poles from 10 grands prix so far this season but his latest success had a controversial edge to it.
It emerged afterwards that the Austrian-owned team had taken a new design front wing off Webber’s car and given it to Vettel just before qualifying, leaving the Australian with an older version.
Vettel had damaged his in the morning’s final practice.
“Unfortunately we found ourselves in a situation with only one front wing of a certain specification,” explained team boss Christian Horner, who can expect his drivers to disappear into the distance on Sunday such was their pace advantage.
“Sometimes I have to make a difficult decision and with only one wing available, and the facts to hand that we had and based on championship position which was the criteria that we used, that wing went to Sebastian today.”
Vettel, 0.143 of a second quicker than Webber, was happy enough with an afternoon that brought him a second pole in a row and Red Bull’s ninth of the campaign.
“I hope we can repeat last year’s story,” said the 23-year-old.
“It’s not my home grand prix but I feel at home because my team’s home is here,” he said. “We have a strong car here so we should be able to win.”
As he spoke, Webber sat next to him with a face as stony as a gravel trap.
“I think the team will be happy with the result today,” said the Australian, without a flicker of a smile.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified third for Sunday’s race with McLaren’s championship leader Lewis Hamilton fourth in his home race at a classic circuit that has been lengthened and reconfigured since last year.
“I honestly feel it was the best lap I’ve done since I’ve been in Formula One,” said Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, whose team ditched plans to deploy a new aerodynamic update after troubles in Friday practice.
“Bit by bit I’ve adjusted the car, and although it wasn’t perfect, I’ve really strangled its neck and pulled out every little bit.”
World champion Jenson Button, second overall and six points behind team mate Hamilton, saw his Silverstone jinx continue with 14th place on the grid.
The Briton has yet to stand on his home podium after more than a decade in the sport and he did not hide his disappointment.
“This morning the car felt really good but the car was undriveable this afternoon, (I knew) as soon as I jumped in it,” Button told reporters in the Silverstone sunshine.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done on the upgrades to improve them. It wouldn’t have been right to run them here,” he added.
Alonso, who expressed his feelings in no uncertain terms after Hamilton escaped any meaningful sanction for illegally overtaking the safety car at the previous race in Valencia, was happy to be lining up ahead of the Briton.
“We continue to develop the car and perform better and better,” said the Spaniard.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg again outqualified Mercedes team mate Michael Schumacher, the younger man starting fifth with the seven-times champion 10th after a mistake on his flying lap.
At the back Japan’s Sakon Yamamoto, replacing Brazilian rookie Bruno Senna for one race, qualified last for Hispania in his first grand prix since 2007 and was reprimanded for impeding another driver.