Leaving behind the inevitable distractions of his last race weekend before entering retirement, Vettel was sixth fastest in Q1 and showed great commitment as he weaved his way through slow-moving cars at the end of the lap.
He was then eighth in Q2, having he felt he’d lost a little time after following a Red Bull across the line in both sessions.
In Q3 he had a clean lap on his way to ninth on a day when his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll qualified only 14th.
“I think it was a good session,” said Vettel when asked by Motorsport.com about his charge to Q3.
“I’m happy with how the session went. It was a bit emotional before getting in the car, but once I was in the car it was all thoughts in into qualifying the laps.
“It was coming alive, I was coming alive. So it felt good. Always in the laps before the Q3, it was always a Red Bull in the last corner. If you staged it, you probably wouldn’t be able to.
“But yeah, the last lap was clear.”
Elaborating on an emotional weekend, Vettel admitted that his thoughts before qualifying had been on “the people that can’t be here because they’re not with us anymore, or they didn’t make it”.
“There’s a lot of people that are here, which is very special,” he said.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR22
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
“But yeah, it’s been a long time [in F1] and it’s a funny feeling, I have to admit. But as soon as you’re in the car and you drive out, you’re quite busy so I guess it’s a good sign.
“And I enjoy it most when I’m present, and I was, I think it was a good session.”
In addition to the obvious personal target of points in his final race, his Aston Martin team needs Vettel to score well in order to beat Alfa Romeo to sixth in the championship.
“Absolutely, we’ll try to do that,” he said. “I mean, we’ll see what happens, but I feel we have the right tyres with us. And yeah, I think it should be a good race.”
“Yeah, I was very happy,” said the Spaniard, who qualified 11th in a special helmet paying tribute to Vettel.
“It’s not that we try to help him, but we will all try to have an eye on him when we see him on the mirror, or when he’s coming on the fast lap or whatever, because we want a smooth weekend for him.
“Even tomorrow I think he starts ninth, I start 10th [after a…