Sebastian Vettel says the change to Pirelli’s tires at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix cannot be used as an excuse for his run of pole positions coming to an end.
The German arrived in Barcelona off the back of three consecutive pole positions and was once again in the frame as he ended up just 0.132s adrift of Lewis Hamilton and less than 0.1s off second-placed Valtteri Bottas. That result marked a first front-row lockout of the season for Mercedes after Ferrari had shown strong form in qualifying of late, and coincides with Pirelli bringing a thinner tread to Spain to combat overheating worries, something Mercedes has struggled with in the past.
With the recent trend of Ferrari being a stronger car on the softer compounds being reversed in Barcelona – where Mercedes completed Q3 on supersofts compared to Ferrari on softs – Vettel referenced the Pirelli changes but says every team has the same equipment to work with.
“I think it’s pretty straightforward,” Vettel said. “The tires are different. They are different for everyone so everyone needs to cope with that. I think it was exceptional that Mercedes were struggling in the last events as much as they were – but thinner tread, basically the tire is harder… So, we still have the same tires if you look at the colors, but they are harder than they used to be. As I said, it’s the same for all of us.”
After using the soft tires to advance through Q2, Vettel’s first run in the final part of qualifying was on the supersoft compound and left him off the pace in fifth place. While he was unable to get the better of the Mercedes pair on his final lap, Vettel counts third place as a success having reverted to using the softs for his final attempt.
“Overall I think it was a smooth session. Q1 was pretty good,” he reckoned. “The car was fine. We didn’t have to do that much. Obviously we were quite OK this morning and we were trying to find the right direction. But it was straightforward in qualifying and in Q3 in the first run I locked up a little bit into Turn 1, so the first sector was already slow. I tried to get it back and recover but to really fight for pole I knew it was not enough.
“I didn’t get a great feeling on that tire, on that set. I asked to go back [to the softs] and I think it was the right call – we were very quick. I think the tires this weekend are different because obviously we had the change, it’s for everyone, but I think they are a bit harder. For me it was pretty straightforward as I said, because I was happier with the car with that tire.
“If it’s within one tenth, a tenth and a half, you always think that maybe… But I was very happy with the lap until the end. So I think we expected Mercedes to be very strong and so they were. So hat’s off to them and tomorrow I think it will be a close race. Anything can happen, really, just like the last couple of races.”
– Chris Medland