YEONGAM, South Korea (Reuters) - For the first time this season, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh enjoyed a Formula One qualifying session on Saturday without having to make a pitwall lunge for the radio off-button.
Red Bull had been on pole for 16 races in a row until McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton ended their sequence at the Korean Grand Prix with his and the team’s first pole since Canada in June last year.
Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, who became the sport’s youngest double world champion in Japan last weekend at the age of 24, has got used to yelling in jubilation after taking pole for 12 of those races this season.
“I have to confess, we do listen to some of the other drivers and on the monitor I have a driver-button and afterwards, when they’ve gone on pole, I have to turn it off immediately so I don’t have to hear Sebastian whooping it up in the car,” Whitmarsh told reporters.
“Today I wasn’t feverishly looking for that button to turn it off. So that felt good,” he smiled.
The other satisfaction for McLaren, apart from Hamilton’s return to form in a year of troubles for the 2008 champion and in their 700th grand prix, was that their driver had denied Red Bull the chance of becoming the first team since Ferrari in 1952 to take every pole in a season.
McLaren almost managed the feat in 1988 and 1989, when they took 15 poles from 16 races -- a record single-season tally that Red Bull have equalled and can still break with three races remaining.
Williams also came close with 15 out of 16 in 1992 and 1993 while Red Bull had 15 poles last season.
“It’s worth something to us I guess,” Whitmarsh, sitting between Hamilton and team mate Jenson Button, said of the pole.
“Pole position is lovely to get but we are here obviously to try and win the race and that’s more important to us.”
While Whitmarsh smiled and Button looked his usual relaxed self, Hamilton appeared more sombre and focussed than ever on a day that answered some of the criticism directed against him.
He had not spoken on the radio after being told he was on pole and let only the trace of a smile cross his lips in the post-qualifying news conference.
”It’s not obligatory to whoop,“ said Whitmarsh in his defence. ”We all have different styles and views and I think we all enjoyed the moment.
“At the same time, I think we are focussed on the fact that we’ve got a race I think we can win tomorrow and I think we are concentrating on that.”
Hamilton said he had not known he had the 19th pole of his career until he had reached turn three or four.
“It was good to hear, I have not heard that for a long time,” he said. “It was just a comforting feeling.”
Asked whether it was the most satisfying pole of his career, bearing in mind all the troubles with stewards and rivals this season and the falling off of performance while Button went from strength to strength, he shrugged.
”I don’t think so,“ he replied softly. ”Probably the most satisfying of my career would have been my first pole position in Montreal (in 2007).
”This one is like them all, it’s a great feeling when you come across the line knowing you’ve done a good lap and it’s a great feeling when you eventually have your engineer come across the radio and tell you.
“I could hear the guys in the background cheering so that made me happy.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Dave Thompson