Hamilton snatches German GP pole as Ferrari suffer catastrophic double breakdown
Ferrari looked to have a car capable of not only taking pole position but also locking out the front row of the grid for the German Grand Prix – but in dramatic circumstances first home hero Sebastian Vettel and then Charles Leclerc suffered reliability problems, opening the door for Lewis Hamilton to take an unlikely pole position on Mercedes' anniversary weekend.
The Silver Arrows lacked the pace to compete with Ferrari in Friday practice, and even when the temperatures dropped by 10 degrees Celsius for Saturday, they were no match for the Prancing Horse. But home fans’ hearts were broken when Vettel failed to set a laptime in Q1, the German facing a back of the grid start after the team detected a problem with the airflow to the turbo while the four-time champion was on his out-lap.
His team mate Leclerc looked like he would at least give his team something to smile about, easing through Q1 and setting the second fastest time in Q2. But then the gremlins struck on his side of the garage with a fuel system problem forcing him to clamber out of his cockpit without a time in Q3.
Like the champion he is, Hamilton pounced on the surprise opportunity that presented itself to take his fourth pole position of the season and eighth for Mercedes in 11 races. Red Bull's Max Verstappen slotted into second, around three tenths of a second off the pace, with Valtteri Bottas taking third in the other Silver Arrow.
Pierre Gasly bounced back from a crash in Friday practice with the fourth quickest time, the Frenchman having his final lap deleted for exceeding track limits, with Kimi Raikkonen a brilliant fifth for Alfa Romeo and Romain Grosjean sixth in the Melbourne-spec Haas. Racing Point’s heavily updated car impressed with Sergio Perez putting it eighth on the grid, a tenth behind McLaren's Carlos Sainz and a tenth clear of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, who is the leading German on the grid.
Leclerc was classified as 10th but it remains unclear as to whether he, or indeed team mate Vettel, will require engine component changes after their respective failures.
FORMULA 1 MERCEDES-BENZ GROSSER PREIS VON DEUTSCHLAND 2019
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:11.767|
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:12.113|
|3 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes||1:12.129|
|4 Pierre Gasly GAS Red Bull Racing||1:12.522|
|5 Kimi Räikkönen RAI Alfa Romeo Racing||1:12.538|
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Vettel makes shock early exit
There was a strong turnout for home favourites Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg at Hockenheim and they were rewarded with conditions that were around 10 degrees Celsius cooler than on a sizzling Friday.
But qualifying was only a few moments old when it became clear there were problems for Vettel, who reported a loss of power on exiting the pit lane for the first time. He returned to the pits, and while they removed the engine cover in a bid to try and get him out again, they ultimately realised they wouldn’t have enough time to rectify what they diagnosed as a problem with the airflow to the turbo.
There was better news for team mate Leclerc, who has looked impressive throughout Friday practice. He comfortably topped the times, requiring just one run, with Verstappen second four tenths adrift. Mercedes continued to struggle on home soil, with Lewis Hamilton’s best effort six tenths slower.
Behind them, there was a tense tussle to escape Q1 with fourth down to 16th separated by just three tenths of a second as the session reached its climax. There was joy for Racing Point's Lance Stroll, who hauled himself into Q2 for the first time since Japan 2018, ending a miserable run of 14 consecutive Q1 exits.
McLaren, meanwhile, struggled for the first time in several races, with Carlos Sainz 13th and Lando Norris exiting in 16th, having appeared to baulk Alexander Albon as they completed their final flying laps. Albon and the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica joined Norris and Vettel in an early bath.
Knocked out: Norris, Albon, Russell, Kubica, Vettel
Q2 – Ricciardo knocked out as Hamilton leads the way
Both Mercedes plus Leclerc and Verstappen opted to head out on the mediums while the rest of the field stuck with soft tyres as the second part of qualifying got under way.
It was pretty straightforward for Hamilton and Bottas, the duo completing laps that would comfortably see them through but Leclerc ran wide at Turn 1, and as a result his time was deleted.
That forced him to go again, and put another lap on the tyres he will be starting the race on, but he comfortably slotted into second to ensure his progress. Verstappen reported a loss of power and retreated to the pits.
Fortunately, they got him back out – but the team opted to swap to the soft tyre as he headed out for the final four minutes of the session. Despite missing the apex at the hairpin, the rest of the lap was super committed and he comfortably went fourth to ensure his place in the pole position shoot-out.
It was a mega final lap for Kimi Raikkonen, the Alfa Romeo driver setting the fastest middle sector of all, to go sixth, a tenth ahead of Sainz who found some pace after a sluggish opening session.
The battle for the final few places in the top 10 was agonisingly close. Nico Hulkenberg got through in eighth, but Renault team mate Daniel Ricciardo – who was 0.033s slower – ended up 13th. Alfa's Antonio Giovinazzi was unlucky to miss out in 11th - pipped at the death by Sergio Perez - and was eliminated along with Kevin Magnussen – in the new spec Haas – Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll.
Knocked out: Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Stroll.
Q3 - Mercedes deliver home pole as Leclerc suffers disaster
This looked like Leclerc’s pole to lose, but we never got the chance to see if he had what he took, as the Monegasque climbed out of his Ferrari without even setting a lap time after the team detected a fuel system issue.
There were no such worries for Mercedes, with Hamilton setting the pace in the opening runs, four tenths quicker than Verstappen, with Bottas a tenth further back . The trio retreated to the pits for a second stab, but not one of them could improve.
That gave Hamilton pole - his first at Hockenheim since 2008 - from Verstappen, with Bottas – who has struggled to match the pace of team mate Hamilton all weekend – third. Gasly did improve his lap time, moving within a tenth of Verstappen – but his time was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Nonetheless, he retained fourth, ahead of Raikkonen, giving Alfa Romeo their best start since the 1985 Monaco Grand Prix. Grosjean, who was running in Q3 for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix six race ago, was sixth as Sainz gave McLaren their fifth consecutive top-eight start with seventh.
Racing Point made their first Q3 appearance since Baku with Perez seventh while Hulkenberg maintained his 100% record of reaching Q3 every time he has competed at Hockenheim with ninth for Renault.
Leclerc, with no time, was 10th. History is not on their side if their hoping for a stunning comeback. The Prancing Horse have won just one race from 10th or lower in the last 19 years. That was when Fernando Alonso finished 11th at Valencia in 2012.
However, Rubens Barrichello did win from 18th in a wet and wild race for Ferrari at Hockenheim in 2000, and the rain that stayed away in qualifying may yet arrive on Sunday. And let's not forget last year, when Hamilton won from P14. In short, it's not over yet...
THE KEY QUOTE
"I don't know how we did it today – I'm not quite sure what happened to the Ferraris. They have been really fast all weekend. We brought some upgrades this weekend as well. The car's been feeling good but the Ferraris just really were slightly on another level. But I think the time at the end was good enough to be able to compete at least with Leclerc if he had done a lap at the end. It would have been definitely close between us.” - Lewis Hamilton
Lights go out at 1510 local time tomorrow at Hockenheim, which is 1410 UTC, with the 2019 German Grand Prix set to be fought out over 67 laps. Can Ferrari recover from a dreadful qualifying to mount a sensational comeback?