Lewis Hamilton extended the Mercedes run of qualifying dominance to take pole position in a tight session for the German Grand Prix, edging out Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
It is the first Mercedes-Benz pole position at the German Grand Prix since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1954 at the Nordschleife.
With this morning’s final Free Practice session highlighting Vettel’s pace it looked set to be a home pole position for the German driver, especially with Hamilton seemingly lost on set up. Midway through FP3 he described the car as “undriveable”.
However, come the afternoon there were a number of drivers contending for the top spot.
This was brought about by higher air and track temperatures which played in to the hands of Lotus and Ferrari, initially showing them as the pacesetters. Massa was on top in Q1 and Q2,. But they were unable to match the single lap pace of Hamilton and the Red Bull duo when it came to crunch time in Q3.
It could have been another front-row lock out for Mercedes as Nico Rosberg has had the upper hand over Hamilton throughout the weekend. But a touch of complacency from last weekend’s winning team saw the German sat in the pits whilst those around him improved in Q2 and pushed him out of the session. They had totally underestimated the track improvement during the session.
“We misjudged how quickly the track was improving and got caught out,” said Mercedes boss Ross Brawn. “He clearly had the pace to qualify at the front today but found himself on the wrong side of the top ten by half a tenth.
“Ultimately, the final decision on the pit wall rests with me and it’s clear we could have done a better job today.”
The fortunes of Rosberg’s team-mate continued to rise, however. He saved his best for the perfect moment to take his 29th career pole and the third this season, by 1/10th of a second.
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed, to be honest, because I have been struggling since first practice this weekend,” said Hamilton. “We were so far off this morning that we took the set-up back to where we started, tried to analyse everything and just worked really hard to improve it. I’m so grateful for the work the engineers and mechanics did for me, and it’s all down to them really.”
The higher track temperatures allowed Lotus and Ferrari to generate heat in their tyres and with Felipe Massa topping the first two phases of qualifying he looked set to put himself amongst the front-runners.
But Ferrari turned their attentions to the race for the final ten minutes of qualifying and opted to run the prime tyre as they look towards the race. This is in the hope of gaining track position when the cars ahead pit early after starting the race on the tyres they used in today’s session.
For Lotus, their downfall thus far in 2013 has been their qualifying pace as they have most often began the race at the tail of the top ten. Today they were able to take fourth and fifth on the grid, with Kimi Raikkonen claiming the bragging rights ahead of Romain Grosjean.
The long run pace that was illustrated in Free Practice puts Lotus in with a good chance of a podium tomorrow, should the temperatures remain high.
Daniel Ricciardo once again impressed his potential future employers Red Bull Racing with a strong run to sixth on the grid, sandwiched between the Lotus pair and the two Ferrari’s behind. Following his fifth place grid slot in Silverstone, Ricciardo is hitting the form of his life at the ideal moment.
Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten and allowed themselves a free choice of tyres for the race after not setting a time in Q3. This is set to leave us with a number of cars beginning the race on the prime tyre, as Ferrari, Button, Hulkenberg, Rosberg and Di Resta likely to attempt a different strategy to the top six.
Alonso and Massa will start the race on the medium tyre and seek to make up ground when the front runners hit high degradation on the soft tyres around lap eight.
“The strategy we used today was dictated by looking at our average qualifying performance, given that pole is not yet within our grasp and the two scenarios were either starting fifth or sixth on the Soft tyres or start sixth or seventh on the Mediums,” said Alonso.
“We won’t know the true worth of our choice until tomorrow. Maybe here it’s not too important to start from the front because the Soft tyre shows very high degradation and so, from lap 8 onwards the run of pit stops will begin and traffic will build up. At that point we will have to push like if they were all qualifying laps.”
It was a desperately disappointing day for Williams as both cars were eliminated in Q1, on the weekend they celebrate their 600th Grand Prix. For the team that dominated the sport during several periods, this was a tough centenary.
GERMAN GRAND PRIX, Nurburgring, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m29.398s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m29.501s +0.103s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m29.608s +0.210s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m29.892s +0.494s
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m29.959s +0.561s
6. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m30.528s +1.130s
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.126s +1.728s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.209s +1.811s
9. Jenson Button McLaren No time set
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber No time set
11. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m30.326s +0.501s
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m30.697s +0.872s
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m30.933s +1.108s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m31.010s +1.185s
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m31.010s +1.185s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m31.104s +1.279s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m31.693s +1.146s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m31.707s +1.160s
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m32.937s +2.390s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m33.063s +2.516s
21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m33.734s +3.187s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m34.098s +3.551s