After his all-conquering four-year reign over Formula 1, Sebastian Vettel this season has become used to getting beaten.
The four-time world champion from Germany was eliminated Saturday in the second round of qualifying on his team’s home track and missed out on a top-10 start position in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Vettel only managed the 13th fastest time though he will start in 12th because of the five-place grid penalty for Force India’s Sergio Perez from the Canadian GP.
Vettel will even be five places behind a driver from Red Bull’s B-team, Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso.
“I had two rounds and they were both too slow,” Vettel said. “I don’t know why. There wasn’t much more in it.”
It’s the third time this season that Vettel failed to reach the final qualifying round.
The qualifying saw Felipe Massa earning his first pole in six years and Williams pushing Mercedes off the front row for the first time this season.
Vettel’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo ended Mercedes’ six-race winning streak in Montreal two weeks ago, but Red Bull has already lost touch with the leading team again despite competing on its own circuit in the Austrian countryside.
Ricciardo still managed to qualify in fifth. For the sixth time in eight races this season, Vettel has to play catch-up with his teammate in front of him.
Earlier Saturday, Ricciardo and Vettel were more than half a second off the pace in seventh and 10th respectively in the final practice.
“This morning it looked slightly better than yesterday, so we believed we could make another step forward,” said Vettel, who trailed Hamilton by more than 1.4 seconds in Friday’s practice. “That didn’t happen. We’ve just not been fast enough.”
Apart from persistent struggles with its turbocharged Renault engines, Red Bull is also facing problems with the temperature management of its tires.
“It’s a very disappointing result,” head of Red Bull Motorsport Helmut Marko said about the qualifying. “I am disappointed that we didn’t manage to solve the problems we were already having on Friday.”
Marko added that Red Bull was “lacking power on the straights and that’s what makes Williams strong here.”
The 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) track, which is part of the F1 calender for the first time in 11 years, features only nine turns and has long straights.
“Overtaking is going to be very difficult here,” Marko said.
Vettel still showed some confidence ahead of Sunday’s race.
“Everything can happen,” the German said. “When the speed is right, maybe we’re closer than everybody thinks.”Austrian GP, Formula 1, Sebastian Vettel