Vettel on pole for Chinese GP

Red Bull-Renault team members cool the brakes of their driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany during the last free practice session of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. (AFP)

Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel ran away with Chinese Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday to plant his Red Bull on pole position for a likely season-opening hat-trick of wins.        
The 23-year-old German, gunning for his fifth win in a row dating back to last November, nailed his fourth successive pole with so big a margin that McLaren's Jenson Button felt he might as well not have bothered trying to beat him.     
"We did it again but I tried to keep reminding myself and the team as well that every single time it's tough," Vettel, winner in Australia and Malaysia for a perfect score of 50 points, told reporters after his lap of one minute 33.706 seconds.     
Button, the 2009 champion who won at the Shanghai circuit last year after Vettel also took pole position for that race, needed no reminding.  
He was seven tenths of a second slower in securing the other slot on the front row.       
The Briton did one lap more than team mate Lewis Hamilton, who completed a trio of champions in the top three slots, in the final third stage of qualifying but that also left his compatriot with one more set of fresh tyres for the race.         
"Sebastian was just too fast...if I had realised Sebastian was seven tenths up the road, maybe I would have thought again," he said.           
While Vettel celebrated his 18th career pole, team mate Mark Webber was left staring at 18th place on the grid and wondering where his luck had gone.     
The Australian had to sit out most of final practice in the morning due to problems with his kinetic energy recovery (KERS) system and then the team made the wrong tyre call at the crucial moment in the first phase of qualifying.           
"I don't know the last time a Red Bull guy was out in Q1 but it's been a long time. We didn't do it last year for sure," he told reporters.        
"There's a lot more people worse off than me, mate," he added when asked if he felt 'cursed'. "So I'm not beating myself up too much."      
Team boss Christian Horner recognised the championship-winning team had got it wrong.          
"It's been a dreadful day for Mark today. He had some electrical problems this morning and it was a massive effort to get the car ready," he said.
"It was the team's call. He's just had rotten luck this weekend and I'm sure he can race very well from there."       
Germany's Nico Rosberg completed the second row for Mercedes with Ferrari's Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa qualifying fifth and sixth in another tough afternoon for the Italian team.    
Alonso said he had not expected much more, with the placings representing "the maximum we can aspire to in our current situation.         
"We already knew all about Red Bull and McLaren but here we saw an improvement from Mercedes, so the situation is now even more difficult," he added.
The second phase was red flagged with two minutes and two seconds to go when Russian Vitaly Petrov's Renault stopped on the track with a suspected gearbox problem.           
"I don't know what happened, after the second or third corner something was wrong with the car, the throttle was not working, or maybe the gears," said Petrov who qualified 10th.   
"I'm very disappointed, we did a big step up and the car was really nice to drive."          
That left a queue of drivers at the pit lane exit jostling to set a lap quick enough to see them through, with Mercedes' seven times world champion Michael Schumacher among those who failed to make it.
Force India's British rookie Paul di Resta was one who did, celebrating his 25th birthday with eighth place on the grid.
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