Mark Webber in China © Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Seventh place for the better of the two RB8s is a puzzling qualifying result for Red Bull Racing, but as Mark Webber says, this is a peculiar time for Formula One…

It’s not giving anything away to suggest that Red Bull Racing’s start to the 2012 season hasn’t replicated the form of the last two and a half years. But even so, qualifying seventh and eleventh without Vettel or Webber saying there was something wrong with their laps is a little bizarre. 

Here’s what Mark had to say after qualifying…

Mark, your Q2 time was much better than Q3. Was that the wind, the temperature, the track conditions, what?
It was all of that. The conditions were tricky for all of us. We saw a lot of fluctuations in lap times from session to session and also a little bit from [tyre] compound to compound. I was surprised, even in Q1, with what people found when they went to the option tyres – there were big chunks of time going on, which was bizarre. And yeah, a lot of people had to run twice in Q2. It was tight and quick drivers were exposed. We went out again and so only had one set of tyres left for Q3 and that lap didn’t come together. It wasn’t good enough but we’d shot our bolts. That’s it.

You and Seb are running with different generations of rear bodywork in China, with Seb reverting back to the style that ran in the early winter tests. What’s the team’s thinking behind that?
The team decided to give it [the old specification] another crack for testing purposes. Obviously Seb had a good winter with it and I think there was a collective decision made by the team to gather some more data with both specifications, particularly to give us a bit of confidence for fresh tyre running. I think the car is quite solid on used tyres in a grand prix – which we saw at Albert Park and also in the limited run we had in the dry at the Malaysian Grand Prix – so there was a decision made to bring it here on the Friday and see how that unfolded. The team obviously committed to running it for the rest of the weekend and the investigations continue.

There are so many parameters now involved in getting the maximum out of these cars. In previous seasons, if you were missing two or three tenths, it maybe wasn’t a big deal. But in 2012 it is. It’s a tight field, you have competitive cars and that’s how it is. We’re clearly still learning how to get the most out of the RB8.

Why is the car good on used tyres and not so good on new ones?
It still feels pretty good on new tyres – just not enough! It doesn’t feel ridiculous, it still has a pretty good balance, but it seems we are more competitive on Sundays.

You obviously feel more comfortable with the updated car than Seb. How different does it feel from where you’re sitting?
It’s different in different areas of the lap. It’s a question of where you want to be comfortable and where you want the balance to be for corner entry, corner exit, things like that.

If you and Seb end up preferring different generations of the RB8, is that going to compromise the rate at which the car develops?
It would do, but I doubt it will happen.

The temperature has been variable this weekend – what sort of weather is going to suit the RB8 best?
Based on our performance in Malaysia I’d think a higher track temp would be good, because the car seemed to be better there. I think the Mercedes turns out to be pretty strong on a cool track and the McLaren might be in the middle. But it's still  early days. We’re just going on what happened with us in Sepang where I was only a tenth off the front row.

Last year in China everyone was keen to save tyres for the race. It seems now the trend has gone back to maximising grid slot…
Of course. The first priority is qualifying grid slots. You can save all your tyres thinking it’s going to be awesome on Sunday, but it isn’t very useful from the fifth row. People would prefer to be one set short and gain some qualifying advantage because the first stints are important for track position.

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