by Stuart Sykes
World champion Sebastian Vettel said recently he intended to eliminate mistakes from his driving now that he is World Champion.
At Albert Park on Saturday the 23-year-old German gave stunning proof of his success with a flawless lap that carried him to the first pole position of 2011 and the 16th of his stellar career, with the rest of the field nearly eight-tenths of a second in his wake.
Vettel’s Red Bull-Renault was on pole here last year too – but that was despite a last-sector scrabble where he hung on by the seat of his pants.
The 2011 version was error-free and super-quick – in fact, his 1min 23.529 was the fastest lap ever seen at Albert Park, and by the handsome margin of nearly four-tenths of a second over last year’s pole.
Home hero Mark Webber in the sister Red Bull was never close to his team-mate and was bumped from the front row by a sensational last-gasp effort from McLaren-Mercedes ace and 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
“I couldn’t do the times today,” admitted Webber. “I’m a little bit mystified by the gap to Seb – I’ll have to go through it all and see where I can improve.”
Webber will start the 58-lap race with 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button alongside him in the second McLaren.
Frantic upgrades from the UK have helped McLaren vault over Ferrari, for whom two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was fifth-fastest ahead of surprise package Russian Vitaly Petrov, sixth for Renault. Petrov’s effort was all the more surprising as Nick Heidfeld, the stand-in for the injured Robert Kubica, failed to make it out of Q1 in the second Renault.
In another tale of two team-mates German Nico Rosberg took seventh in the leading Mercedes while Michel Schumacher’s failed to make it through to Q3, the 42-year-old veteran of 91 Grand Prix wins ending up 11th.
Brazilian Felipe Massa managed to spin at Turn 1 on his final out lap and ended up eighth in the second Ferrari, Japan's Kamui Kobayashi worked wonders to put his Sauber ninth on the grid and Swiss Sébastien Buemi performed a minor miracle to get his Toro Rosso into 10th place.
Massa’s compatriot Rubens Barrichello lost his Williams at Turn Three (“a silly mistake”) and will start from 17th, while Adrian Sutil for Force India recovered from a 360-degree spin at Turn 16 but still joined Barrichello in missing the top ten shoot-out.
At the back of the field, the two Hispania cars both emerged and ran reliably, but without the pace to break through the 107 per cent rule. As a result, Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi and Indian Narain Karthikeyan were not fast enough to take part in Sunday's race.