The qualifying in Hockenheim showed for a second race in succession that Ferrari and Red Bull has an advantage in wet conditions when it comes to finding grip.
One of the leading engineers from a rival team suggested to me in Silverstone that both teams have “found something” to generate front tyre temperature and this has undoubtedly played a part in the outcome of the last two qualifying sessions.
There is a limited amount of possibilities of what could be happening as the rules don’t allow many options here but clearly heat is being generated in the front tyres from the outset which is important with these Pirelli wets and intermediates as they can lose temperature very quickly. This is what others were finding.
At the same time, Ferrari’s Pat Fry said after qualifying yesterday that the decision to do a pit stop with Alonso before the final run in Q3 to give him fresh wet tyres for the final laps, was due to concerns that they were “overheating” the wets.
It was judged perfectly, Alonso’s stop gave him wets with fresh bite and his two timed laps were both fast enough for pole. In contrast his rivals from Red Bull and McLaren were toiling around on tyres that had done five laps. The track was improving as the rain eased off, but they weren’t able to take full advantage.
As McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh said afterwards,”Every time you go out in wet conditions it’s different, there’s different amounts of water and different conditions on the track. These tyres are undoubtedly very peaky, they have a very small sweet spot.”
Drivers have different methods for dealing with the problem; at one stage we saw an interesting and revealing on board shot of Michael Schumacher deliberately understeering his car and then accelerating hard to drive temperature into his front tyres by forcing them to slide. It was a crude technique but seemed to work reasonably well, as he set the fourth fastest time. It shows that the old master still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
The challenge then is to find out what Ferrari and Red Bull are doing with the fronts, the likely explanation is something to do with heat soak through the wheel rims from brake temperature, but it seems that there’s something more sophisticated than that going on.
It also doesn’t explain why Felipe Massa was eliminated in Q2 when the rain started. Sent out on intermediate tyres with instructions from engineer Rob Smedley to get the lap time straight away he made a mistake on his first lap and couldn’t get the lap time after that.
However to argue that the conditions made it impossible to improve is not accurate as Mark Webber managed to set his best Q2 time on his third flying lap, some seven minutes before the end of the Q2 session. It was a full second faster than his first effort.