QUALIFYING: Vettel on pole, heartbreak for Hamilton in Germany
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.
Q3 – VETTEL PULLS IT OUT OF THE BAG WITH GOB-STOPPING LAP
As the lights went green for Q3, the shoot-out seemed set to be between the two Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel and the Mercedes of Bottas, with FP2 leader Verstappen in with an outside chance in his tight Sector 3-loving Red Bull.
Raikkonen was the first man to pull the trigger, but Bottas immediately shot back an answer with a final sector that left his Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff open-mouthed - while leaving the Finn, briefly, on provisional pole. Behind Bottas, however, Vettel was turning the timing sectors purple, and as he crossed the line, the German crowd rose to their feet to herald a truly imperious lap of 1m 11.212s, the circuit’s outright lap record. It was Vettel’s first pole in Hockenheim since 2010, and the 55th of his F1 career.
Although the plaudits went to Vettel, it was once again a staggering performance from Leclerc to put his Sauber right in amongst the midfield battle, lining up behind Verstappen and the paired up Haas - it was Magnussen's best-ever qualifying - and Renault drivers, but in front of Perez’s Force India.
Looking ahead, it will be fascinating to watch Hamilton - who will start 13th assuming no penalties for power unit or gearbox changes - and Ricciardo - who will start from the back - battling through the field in tomorrow’s race. But Vettel knows that, with that scorcher of a lap, he’s well and truly got the psychological higher ground heading into Sunday.
The key quote
“Thanks to the fans. It was amazing to see so many red flags, Ferrari flags, so much support, German flags all around the track. I felt in Q1 that the car can do it. Sometimes you just know but you still have to do it. And then it just kept getting better, and I knew that for the last lap, I had a little bit in me and was able to squeeze everything out. I’m still a bit full of adrenalin but very happy.” – Sebastian Vettel
The key stats
Vettel claimed Ferrari’s 499th front-row start in Formula 1 with that performance, as well as the Scuderia’s 218th pole position.
Valtteri Bottas has now been on the front row five times in the last seven races, although he only has one pole so far this year, at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton managed to finish third after starting P20 in the 2014 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim – so maybe he’s not too worried…
In fact, in the last seven Grands Prix at Hockenheim, there have been three podium finishers who’ve started 17th or lower on the grid – including Hamilton in 2014.
Kimi Raikkonen’s third place is his best starting position at Hockenheim since all the way back in 2006, when he was on pole position as a McLaren driver.
Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen’s performance in qualifying put both Haas cars in the top six on the grid for the second time this year, the last one having been in Australia.
Charles Leclerc marked his third appearance in Q3 in the last four races.
Sergey Sirotkin will start 12th, his joint best of the season so far – although Williams remain the only team on the grid not to have made it to Q3 this year.
It was the first time Esteban Ocon has been eliminated in Q1 since Monaco 2017.
Marcus Ericsson may not have made it to Q3, but P13 is nine places higher than he’s ever qualified at Hockenheim before.
Sunday’s race will kick off at 1510 local time (that’s 1310 UTC). And while the umbrellas may have stayed stashed for qualifying, there remains a chance that they'll be needed in the race, with thunderstorms and rain showers still loitering in the Baden-Wurttemberg area. It should be hot, though, with highs of 28 degrees Celsius predicted.