Fernando Alonso survived a spin in Q1, a yellow flag in Q2 and picked the right moment in Q3 to set the pole lap for the British Grand Prix.
It was the Spaniard’s first pole position since Singapore 2010, as he edged out Mark Webber by 5/100ths of a second with Michael Schumacher third.
In a rain delayed qualifying session Alonso used all his experience and guile to be in the right place at the right time to take his 21st pole position. During the 10 minute final shoot out the timesheets changed constantly with Webber, Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton each holding provisional pole.
Hamilton faded however; he could not match the pace he had shown in Q2 and ended the session in 8th place. The McLaren team’s fortune was even worse with Jenson Button, who struggled with front tyre warm up on wet tyres in Q1 and ended the session in 18th place, his worst of 2012.
The rain delay came during Q2, lasting almost two hours. FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting was concerned about aquaplaning on the standing water.
When the cars went back out on track the conditions were treacherous but improving, with track position being the key to making it into Q3.
As the cars re-emerged for the final 6 minutes times dropped immediately with every car improving their previous time, making for a mighty scrap to find good track position as the chequered flag was dropped. Hamilton managed to claim the top spot at the climax of the session as Alonso and Vettel scraped through in the dying seconds, with their place in the final shoot-out being made secure by Romain Grosjean who spun in to the gravel at the final corner and ceased any chance of progression for those outside the top ten.
The beginning of Q3 saw the teams split on tyre choice, some opting for extreme wets whilst the majority chose the intermediate compound; the latter proved to be best suited to the drying track. Alonso looked threatening throughout the final ten minutes and used his ever wearing intermediate tyres to suit the track conditions.
Behind the top 3, Sebastian Vettel had a fairly quiet session and put in a late flying lap to join Schumacher on the second row. Felipe Massa had a very good session, although he was 1.3 seconds off Alonso, taking 5th place and managing to keep his nose clean in the terrible conditions. He is to be joined on the third row by Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn putting in a very solid performance, considering he had no KERS for the duration of qualifying.
Pastor Maldonado once again proved his prowess for qualifying, jointing Hamilton on row four in 7th place.
The final top ten places were filled by Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean. However, Hulkenberg will receive a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Whilst Grosjean did not run in the final part of qualifying as he beached his car in the final seconds of Q2 and had to be rescued by the marshals.
Nico Rosberg was third in Q2 before the rain delay and didn’t get back into the groove, he exited the session in 13th place. However, due to grid penalties for Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi, he will begin the race in 11th position with an extra set of intermediate tyres should the conditions allow it.
Alonso almost exited in Q2 as well, he was outside the top ten when he came across the zone of Romain Grosjean’s spin, but examinations of the data showed that he did slow down in that sector.
Someone who is sure to be disappointed is Sergio Perez, topping the timesheets in Q2 before the rain delay but finding himself down in 17th place by the end of the session.
The promised rain chose to play mind games with the Formula One paddock; staying dry all day until just ten minutes prior to the qualifying session meaning that all cars used the intermediate tyre in Q1. With the threat of more rain the first phase of qualifying became very chaotic as the showers briefly stopped and the track began to dry. And this stop in the rain proved crucial as a short burst of heavy rain fell with five minutes remaining meaning that no cars would improve for the remainder of the session, and therefore with Jenson Button sat in 18th place at this time he was the biggest loser as he would be unable to improve on his position. Although, the Briton chose to try his luck on a final set of intermediates and was set to reach Q2 were it not for yellow flags in the final sector of his final lap.
[Additional Reporting: Matt Meadows]
BRITISH GRAND PRIX, Silverstone, Qualifying
1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m51.746s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m51.793s + 0.047
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m52.020s + 0.274
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m52.199s + 0.453
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m53.065s + 1.319
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m53.290s + 1.544
7. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m53.539s + 1.793
8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m53.543s + 1.797
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m54.382s + 2.636
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus no time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m56.931s Gap **
11. Paul di Resta Force India 1m57.009s + 2.112
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m57.071s + 2.174
13. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m57.108s + 2.211
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m57.132s + 2.235
15. Bruno Senna Williams 1m57.426s + 2.529
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m57.719s + 2.822
17. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m57.895s + 2.998
Q1 cut-off time: 1m47.105s Gap *
18. Jenson Button McLaren 1m48.044s + 1.765
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m49.027s + 2.748
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m49.477s + 3.198
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m51.618s + 5.339
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m52.742s + 6.463
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m53.040s + 6.761
24. Charles Pic Marussia 1m54.143s + 7.864