There was talk of thunderstorms during qualifying for the German Grand Prix. But the main cloud on Lewis Hamilton’s horizon was a hydraulic issue which saw him grind to a halt in Q1, with the British driver forced to watch on as his main title rival Sebastian Vettel took a commanding pole in front of a delighted home crowd.
It was an immense lap from the German, putting him 0.2s ahead of second-placed man Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes. Vettel’s Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen was third, having out-paced Vettel in both the Q1 and Q2 segments. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth ahead of the leading midfield Haas pairing of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
The Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz were also paired up in P7 and P8, ahead of the Sauber of Charles Leclerc, with the Monegasque again impressing to make it into Q3. The Force India of Sergio Perez completed the top 10, the Mexican having taken advantage of some notable absences at the head of the field, chiefly Daniel Ricciardo – whose raft of penalties will see him start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid – and the stricken Hamilton.
Weather was the main topic of conversation ahead the qualifying hour, following the washed-out FP3 session that saw Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson head the timesheets for Sauber. However, the field started Q1 on dry tyres and stayed on them throughout, with track temperatures of around 38 Celsius and rising seeing the tarmac drying quickly – disappointing for a few drivers who had hoped to use the rain to their advantage.
So who were the big winners and losers from qualifying? Here’s how the three segments unfolded.
Q1 – HAMILTON SIDE-LINED AS RAIKKONEN GOES FASTEST
As running got underway, all the drivers hit the track shod with purple-walled ultrasoft Pirellis. Hamilton’s exit was undoubtedly the big talking point of Q1. After posting the fifth fastest time, the British driver crawled to a halt on the circuit with a loss of hydraulic pressure. It was heartbreak for Hamilton, who was seen trying to push his Mercedes back to safety, before kneeling disconsolately next to it. Replays had shown him bouncing over the kerbs at Turn 1, although Hamilton believed the issue was present before that off-track excursion.
He was forced to watch on as his Ferrari rivals topped the session, with Raikkonen fastest ahead of Vettel and his Mercedes team mate Bottas. The drivers to drop out of Q1 were the Force India of Esteban Ocon, the Toro Rosso pairing of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, the Williams of Lance Stroll and finally the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, who has now finished last in every dry session of the weekend so far. It’s worth noting, however, that some of the above were hurt by the yellow flags flying late on for Hamilton’s wounded Mercedes.
The big heroes of Q1 were Grosjean, who wound up P4 in his Haas, Leclerc who was sixth for Sauber and Sirotkin, who gave Williams something to smile about by sneaking through to Q2 in P15.
Q2 – BOTTAS TOPS INTERRUPTED SESSION
A red flag was the dominant feature of Q2, which was flown after Marcus Ericsson backed his Sauber into - and then out of - the gravel trap at the Turn 13 Sachskurve. With both Hamilton and Ricciardo not contesting the session, several drivers had the opportunity to reach the rarefied air of Q3 when the track went green.
Bottas ended the segment in P1 ahead of Verstappen and the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel. Haas once again confirmed their midfield-dominating one-lap pace, with Magnussen and Grosjean P5 and P6 ahead of the Renault of Hulkenberg. Lerclerc impressed to go P8 and once again into Q3, Sainz was P9 in the sister Renault while Perez would have been pleased to go P10 for Force India.
The three drivers who joined Ricciardo and Hamilton in the Q2 relegation zone were the McLaren of Fernando Alonso, the Williams of Sirotkin and finally the red-flag initiator Ericsson.