If this 2014 season needed another Saturday afternoon twist, then the British fans at Silverstone witnessed the most dramatic one thus far with Nico Rosberg snatching pole position for the British Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton decided to not complete his final qualifying lap. Hamilton therefore starts sixth, whilst Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button complete the top three.
First Canada, followed by Austria, now Silverstone; Hamilton had all he needed to take pole but made a mistake and then compounded it by not completing the lap. The final sector was mush faster than previously, so Hamilton would have had a chance to do better than sixth, even is the driving error at Turn 4 cost him the pole.
The Briton had set the pace throughout in the changeable conditions as showers appeared, halted and then returned as quickly as you read. The lap times fluctuated by plus or minus eight seconds at times with rain and then dry.
As the final stage of qualifying began Hamilton was once again the pace setter, gently steering his car through a damp final sector on dry tyres to lead a provisional front-row lock-out for Mercedes. Rain fell and it was questionable whether the track would again retain its grip.
A return to the pits for the top ten saw the rain stop for a final time and they made their way out for one final effort.
Hamilton radioed in to say the track was slippery and subsequently made his biggest error of the season so far.
if pole was a surprise bonus to Rosberg, Vettel had to set a lap time on the final run because he had not set one to that point as was down in 10th place.
He was the first to begin his final lap, ending the first two sectors two seconds off the pace. It seemed to be a popular pole position for Hamilton. But when Vettel entered the now dry final sector the Red Bull driver hustled his car through Stowe and the final chicane to take the top spot. It was clear that the track was very fast in Sector 3.
Hamilton had almost stopped Rosberg getting his final lap in as the pair were together and passed just before the chequered flag. Rosberg had radioed demanding Hamilton increase is pace.
After his driving error, Hamilton had to let the faster Rosberg through. Unaware of the improvement to be had in Sector 3, he pitted without improving his time and we watched as his name tumbled down the time sheets to sixth.
To add insult to injury Rosberg was rapidly improving and, finding time in the final sector, took pole position by 1.6s. It is his 8th career pole and the fourth of this fantastic season for the German.
Like in Austria, Hamilton must now make his way through the field to stop his team-mate extending his substantial Championship lead.
For Vettel, who made it through Q1 by two tenths of a second it was perfect timing and a brave final sector that puts him in with a good chance tomorrow. The Red Bull race pace was strong in Free Practice and it will be interesting to see if the four-time World Champion can cause Rosberg some trouble tomorrow.
It was a very good day for Button, who was fast throughout in the changeable conditions. The McLaren driver lost his father earlier this year and a campaign to ‘Paint Silverstone Pink’ in memory of John Button made for an emotional 2009 World Champion. “The old boy was smiling down on me today,” he said afterwards.
The shaken up grid sees Nico Hulkenberg take fourth place for Force India, ahead of the second McLaren of Kevin Magnussed with Hamilton completing the top six. Hulkenberg;s Force India team mate Sergio Perez had looked set for a career best 3rd on the grid before the final runs.
Each session today had it’s part in the drama and Q1 gave a hint of what was to come.
Following a shower in this morning’s final Free Practice session, qualifying began in damp conditions with the intermediate tyre chosen to develop a dry line. Hamilton set the pace initially and radioed in to say that dry tyres would be soon needed if the rain stayed away.
With six minutes remaining those in lower positions threw caution to the wind and bolted on a set of medium slick tyres as they sought after a place in Q2. And with purple dots covering the timing screens the rest of the field were prompted out of their garages.
A busy track and an abundance of opposite lock gave the British fans plenty to enjoy. The Mercedes pair were comfortably through within the top three places but there was a shake up behind. Marussia took two cars through to Q2 for only the second time in their history and with them through, two others must fill their place. It was a career best 12th on the grid for Jules Bianchi and 13th for Max Chilton, although he drops five places due to a gearbox change.
The Williams and Ferrari drivers struggled to put temperature in to the slick tyres in greasy conditions and with yellow flags covering the middle sector they were unable to improve. Fernando Alonso was the cause of a short yellow flag and starts the race in twentieth place, behind Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.
As Q2 got underway, it was a return to the intermediate tyre due to light rain reappearing. A banker lap from each car was followed by a replay of Q1 as all cars left the pits in the final six minutes on a set of medium tyres. This time there was no shocks, with the Lotus pair joining Marussia and the Saubers out of qualifying.
Max Chilton, with the thirteenth fast time, will take a five place penalty for a gear box change but nevertheless gives the Banbury-based team a result to cheer about.
British Grand Prix, Silverstone, Qualifying
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.766s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m37.386s +1.620s
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.200s +2.434s
4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m38.329s +2.563s
5. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m38.417s +2.651s
6. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m39.232s +3.466s
7. Sergio Perez Force India 1m40.457s +4.691s
8. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m40.606s +4.840s
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m40.707s +4.941s
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m40.855s +5.089s
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m38.496s +3.626s
12. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m38.709s +3.839s
13. Max Chilton * Marussia 1m39.800s +4.930s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m40.912s +6.042s
15. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m44.018s +9.148s
16. Adrian Sutil Sauber no time
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m45.318s +4.938s
18. Felipe Massa Williams 1m45.695s +5.315s
19. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m45.935s +5.555s
20. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m46.684s +6.304s
21. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m49.421s +9.041s
22. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m49.625s +9.245s
* Drops five places due to gearbox change