Sebastian Vettel took pole position for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix, by just 2/1000ths of a second from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in a fantastic qualifying battle. It was Vettel’s sixth pole of the season and the 11th in his 54 Grands Prix, a ratio of 20%.
But the exciting thing was that Alonso and Ferrari had been the pace setter throughout qualifying, building on the improvement they showed in Silverstone. But on the final run, Vettel found two tenths of a second to edge out the Spaniard.
It is a huge weekend for Vettel, who needs to get a win to inject energy back into his championship campaign and get back in front of team mate Mark Webber. Vettel is seven points behind Webber and 24 – a win – behind Hamilton.
Webber wasn’t on Vettel’s level this weekend so far and qualified fourth, after making a mistake in Turn 1 on his final run. It is the first time since Bahrain that he has not started on the front row of the grid.
He qualified behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. That Massa was half a second slower than Alonso and yet still qualified third says a lot about the performance of Alonso, but also about how far off the pace the McLarens and Mercedes were. Button outqualified Hamilton for the first time since China. But he was six tenths slower than Vettel and Alonso in the final sector alone!
“Seven tenths behind is a little bit disappointing, ” said Button. “It was a good lap and I’m only a tenth off third. We’ve made a step forward, but not enough in qualifying, it seems.”
The morning practice had been wet, but it was fairly dry by the time qualifying started. Session one was cut short by a red flag for a large accident by Tonio Liuzzi. Coming out of the final corner, Liuzzi got up on the artificial grass, where some water was lying and the car snapped out of control, smashing into the pit wall.
Alonso set the fastest time in the first session, half a second faster than his team mate Massa, who was third behind Vettel.
Liuzzi was eliminated along with the new teams, although it was notable that Jarno Trulli’s Lotus was within a second of Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso. Also making a step was the Hispania of Bruno Senna who was only 2/10ths slower than Timo Glock in the Virgin. Di Grassi had a gearbox problem and did not take part in qualifying.
In Q2, Alonso again had the edge, but no-one was feeling very confident and all the front runners used up a set of new soft tyres for the final run in the session.
Michael Schumacher was edged out in the final seconds by the young German Nico Hulkenberg, who is managed by Schumacher’s former manager Willi Weber. Also missing out was Kobayashi, who had been very competitive in the Q1 session. Schumacher was only a few hundredths of a second slower than his team mate Nico Rosberg, but it was enough to eliminate him in front of his adoring public.
It was noticeable that Button was consistently three tenths of a second slower than Hamilton, but he was losing four tenths in final sector of the lap alone.
Having been beaten by Alonso in the first two parts of the session, Red Bull were under pressure to do what they have managed to do in the final runs of qualifying all year, which is to step up a gear, especially on the soft tyres. Vettel found the two tenths, but Ferrari’s pace has injected some real adrenalin into the second half of the championship. Now Alonso just needs to stay under the stewards’ radar tomorrow…
German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, Qualifying
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:15.152 1:14.249 1:13.791
2. Alonso Ferrari 1:14.808 1:14.081 1:13.793
3. Massa Ferrari 1:15.216 1:14.478 1:14.290
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:15.334 1:14.340 1:14.347
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.823 1:14.716 1:14.427
6. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.505 1:14.488 1:14.566
7. Kubica Renault 1:15.736 1:14.835 1:15.079
8. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:16.398 1:14.698 1:15.109
09. Rosberg Mercedes 1:16.178 1:15.018 1:15.179
10. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:16.387 1:14.943 1:15.339
11. Schumacher Mercedes 1:16.084 1:15.026
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:15.951 1:15.084
13. Petrov Renault 1:16.521 1:15.307
14. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:16.220 1:15.467
15. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:16.450 1:15.550
16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:16.664 1:15.588
17. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:16.029 1:15.974
18. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:17.583
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:18.300
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:18.343
21. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:18.592
22. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:18.952
23. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:19.844
24. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth No Time (Gearbox)