Champion unbeatable thanks to stunning third sector
Michael Schumacher had only taken one pole position and two wins at Hockenheim prior to this weekend, but this afternoon he took at least one step to rectifying that situation by taking pole position for tomorrows German Grand Prix.
Whenever he fails to shine in Saturday practice you know that its an illusion, and so it proved as he set a midfield time in pre-qualifying to set himself up as the 10th man out in qualifying. When it came, his big lap was smooth and very, very quick in the third sector in particular, and the resultant 1m 13.306s would never be challenged.
As usual, the drivers of the lesser teams fought it our initially. Zsolt Baumgartner, Gianmaria Bruni, Nick Heidfeld, Giorgio Pantano and Cristiano da Matta took it in turn to displace one another, with respective laps of 1m 18.399s, 1m 18.055s, 1m 16.309s, 1m 16.192s and 1m 15.454s, before Mark Webber took his Jaguar to 1m 14.802s. His team mate Christian Klien was the first to break this flow of successively quicker laps, but his 1m 15.011s effort left him satisfyingly close to the Australian.
Takuma Sato redefined things again with 1m 14.287s, and Rubens Barrichello, surprisingly, only shaded that with 1m 14.278s thanks to a couple of small mistakes. When Schumacher came out the true potential of the Ferrari was demonstrated with his 1m 13.306s.
At the time it seemed likely, based on morning performance, that at least one of the Michelin runners would challenge that, but contrary to the qualifying norm it seemed that the French tyres lost their edge by the third sector of the lap.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa only managed 1m 15.394s and 1m 15.616s respectively for 14th and 16th places on the grid, but both were very happy with their cars and clearly will run with two-stops strategies tomorrow.
It was when Kimi Raikkonen came out for McLaren that the Michelin trait became evident, the Finn lapping quickly but fading towards the end of his 1m 13.690s which put him temporarily second but ultimately left him fourth. Then came Jarno Trullis 1m 14.134s for Renault (seventh overall) and Olivier Paniss promising 1m 13.641s which left the new Toyota 10th overall.
The real interested thus focused now on David Coulthard, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Antonio Pizzonia and Juan Pablo Montoya. The track temperature was, at 40 degrees Celsius, still 10 degrees lower than it had been yesterday, but surely one of these Michelin runners could challenge Schumacher? Events proved otherwise. Coulthard was quicker than Raikkonen (as he had been in pre-qualifying) all the way to sector three, when his lap went away to 1m 13.821s which left him fifth overall. Alonso did 1m 13.874s for sixth, and then Button rose to the occasion with a strong 1m 13.674s, and his last sector time was strong. But he, of course, had the 10 grid-place penalty after his Friday engine failure, so he lines up only 13th.
Now the spotlight was firmly focused on Pizzonia, but unlike Friday he did not make the impression he sought on his way to 1m 14.556s, which left him 11th overall. Since he had lapped only a tenth off Montoya in pre-qualifying this might be due to his fuel load, however, as his lap did not seem unduly troubled.
Finally, out came Montoya, the 2003 polesitter. But 1m 13.667s, while sufficient to demote Button a place, could not dislodge Schumacher. Nevertheless, it was vindication after Williams torrid last couple of months, so there is some prospect of a race tomorrow, especially as the temperatures are expected to be close to Friday levels again which should help Michelin.