Bottas beats Hamilton to Eifel GP pole as Hulkenberg makes surprise qualifying return
Mercedes continued their 100% pole position record for 2020 at the Eifel Grand Prix. But unlike the last five Grands Prix, it was Russian GP winner Valtteri Bottas rather than Lewis Hamilton who took P1 this time, ending up 0.256s ahead of his team mate – while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen secured his near-traditional P3 slot on the grid, but just 0.037s off Hamilton.
One of the biggest stories coming into qualifying was the news that a sick Lance Stroll would be replaced for the rest of the weekend by Nico Hulkenberg at Racing Point, the German having been in town to do some broadcast work before getting the call up to drive ahead of the session. There’d be no fairy-tale result for Hulkenberg, alas, as he ended up 20th and last, albeit a respectable 1.7s off the pace in Q1.
At the sharp end, meanwhile, the three qualifying sectors saw three different leaders, Verstappen in Q1 and Hamilton in Q2, before a storming final effort from Bottas in Q3 gave him his third pole of the season – and the 14th of his career – the Finn setting three purple sectors to nail P1.
FORMULA 1 ARAMCO GROSSER PREIS DER EIFEL 2020
|1 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes
|2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|4 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari
|5 Alexander Albon ALB Red Bull Racing
Ferrari brought performance-related upgrades to the floor and bargeboards of their SF1000 this weekend. And it was Charles Leclerc who used them to best effect, taking an excellent P4 on the grid as team mate Sebastian Vettel could only manage P11.
Leclerc was ahead of the second Red Bull of Alex Albon in P5, while Daniel Ricciardo took sixth for Renault, having looked in good form all through Saturday – the first day to see any running at the Nurburgring, after Friday’s slew of session cancellations.
Rounding out the top 10 came the second Renault of Esteban Ocon in P7, with the McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz eighth and 10th, sandwiching Sergio Perez in the second Racing Point – the Mexican taking P9 on his first qualifying session in the updated RP20.
Q1 – Verstappen goes quickest as Hulkenberg drops out early
Unsurprisingly, Nico Hulkenberg made a dash for the track when the pit exit light showed green at the start of Q1, Racing Point’s super sub keen to get back up to speed with the RP20 vacated by an ill Lance Stroll – Hulkenberg having been confirmed to drive in the hour leading up to qualifying.
With Friday having witnessed no running, Hulkenberg had effectively only missed one hour of FP3 action. But some understandably scruffy laps from the German as he got up to speed meant that he qualified last of all, 1.702s off Max Verstappen’s leading time in the segment.
Also out went Romain Grosjean in P16 – the Frenchman having had a lap deleted for track limit infringements – followed by the Williams pairing of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.
Verstappen headed the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas by 0.254s, the Finn a further half a tenth up from Lewis Hamilton, as McLaren’s Lando Norris and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top five.
Antonio Giovinazzi secured his first Q2 appearance of the year for Alfa Romeo, while both Ferraris continued their promising FP3 form, as Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel finished in the top 10, in P6 and P9. But how high could both drivers climb in the remaining two segments?
Knocked out: Grosjean, Russell, Latifi, Raikkonen, Latifi
Q2 – Vettel drops out in front of his home crowd as Hamilton tops the session
Both Mercedes, both Ferraris and Renault’s Ricciardo opted to head out for their first Q2 laps on mediums – perhaps more to get some understanding of the yellow-walled rubber than with serious thoughts of making it through the segment on the medium tyre in the frigid conditions, with track temperatures at just 17 degrees C.
The experiment was called off in the final Q2 runs, everyone switching to softs for their fastest laps. Hamilton stopped the clocks quickest of all with a 1m 25.390s, but Verstappen was just 0.077s further back – the fight between those two looking tasty ahead of Q3 – while Bottas was half a second off Hamilton in third, having failed to put a clean lap together.
Despite Ferrari’s promising Q1, only Leclerc could book himself a berth in Q3 (and in P5 no less), Vettel ending up half a second off his team mate in 11th, ahead of the AlphaTauri pair of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, Giovinazzi and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in P15.
Ricciardo’s confidence in going out in the mediums, meanwhile, was backed up by an impressive lap on softs, as he wound up fourth, 0.706s off Hamilton and ahead of Leclerc and the second Red Bull of Alex Albon in sixth. For Vettel, though, it was the seventh straight failure to make Q3 – and would have hurt all the more with German fans watching on in the grandstands this weekend.
Knocked out: Vettel, Gasly, Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Magnussen
Q3 – Bottas takes third pole of the season as Leclerc stars in P4
The first flying laps of Q3 made for tasty viewing indeed, Verstappen lapping fastest, 0.068s and 0.081s ahead of Bottas and Hamilton respectively – although his 1m 25.744s was slower than he’d managed in Q2.
Could he really do it – could Verstappen use all the chaos and uncertainty seen so far this Nurburgring weekend to knock Mercedes off their pole position perch? He could not. Although the Dutchman’s final effort saw him improve by a useful two-tenths, by now the Mercedes were into their groove.
Hamilton was the first of the frontrunners across the line for his final effort, claiming provisional pole with a 1m 25.525s. Behind though, the timing screens next to Bottas’ name were a sea of purple, the Finn finally looking hooked up in qualifying.
He duly crossed the line with a 1m 25.269s to take pole by a comfortable 0.256s from Hamilton – unsurprisingly establishing a new track record at the Nurburgring – while Verstappen then slotted into P3 with his improved effort.
If Bottas had starred in qualifying, though, so too had Leclerc, as he used Ferrari’s upgrades for the weekend to take a fine P4 ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull, the pair closely matched at around 0.77s off the pace.
Daniel Ricciardo may have been slightly disappointed not to be amongst those two, as he wound up narrowly ahead of team mate Esteban Ocon, the two Renaults P6 and P7 – while having struggled with his MCL35 throughout qualifying, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz could only take P10, 1.440s off the pace, and behind team mate Lando Norris in eighth and Sergio Perez in ninth.
So, it looks like we’re set for another tight fight between the Mercedes, who’ve got a racy looking Max Verstappen for company to boot, and maybe even a Ferrari that can challenge. The action at the Nurburgring’s wide, wide Turn 1 is bound to be well worth a watch on Sunday.
The key quote
“It’s just such a nice feeling when you get it done with the last lap. The last lap in qualifying three was spot on, just what I needed and it was nice to get it together. It’s been pretty tricky with short practice and these conditions, getting the tyres in the sweet spot during the out lap, that was one of the biggest things today…
"Of course I believe [I can win]. That’s going to be the only goal for tomorrow and hopefully we can have a good start” – Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
The Eifel Grand Prix will get underway at 1410 local time – that’s 1210 UTC – at the Nurburgring. Will the Silver Arrows have it all their own way – or will Verstappen and the rest of the chasing pack be able to spoil Mercedes’ homecoming? And what can Nico Hulkenberg manage at his unexpected third Grand Prix appearance of the 2020 season? Tune in to find out.