And just to compound the local hero’s agony, pole finally went to his Mercedes team mate, Nico Rosberg…
Q1 started on a track that was dry in places, and after a slew of exploratory laps on intermediate tyres everyone ducked in for medium slicks after the first 10 minutes or so. Timing was key, however, as the rain would return, so getting an early banker on the slick rubber was crucial. Williams and Ferrari both sent their drivers out too late and all four of their respective cars were sensationally knocked out of the session as they struggled for grip.
Red Bull only just made it out of Q1. As Rosberg went fastest on 1m 40.380s, Daniel Ricciardo’s best was 1m 44.710s, Vettel’s 1m 45.086s, both from their intermediate runs, leaving them 15th and 16th.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the first to be ruled out of contention after getting into a big slide at Brooklands. The Spaniard recorded 1m 45.935s on inters for 19th, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen on 1m 46.684s in 20th.
Just ahead of the red cars were the white Williams, with Valtteri Bottas lapping in 1m 45.318s on inters for 17th and Felipe Massa going round in 1m 45.695s for 18th on the same tyre. They were joined in the drop zone by the two Caterhams. Marcus Ericsson’s chances of improving on 1m 49.421s ended with an offroad moment, but he headed Caterham partner Kamui Kobayashi on 1m 49.625s.
Q2 began with a track that was slippery enough for inters, before the switch back to slicks began. Hamilton set the ante with 1m 35.000s after going off at Turn 1 on his first run, but thereafter improved to 1m 34.870s. He deliberately slowed in the final sector after going purple in the first two, as yellows were being shown in the last one where Esteban Gutierrez had backed his Sauber into the wall.
Further back, Ricciardo just made it through to Q3, leaving Romain Grosjean 11th for Lotus on 1m 38.496s ahead of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton in their Marussias after an excellent performance by the Banbury-based team. The Frenchman lapped in 1m 38.709s, the Englishman in 1m 39.800s, though he’ll drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change.
Gutierrez - who entered the event with a 10-place grid drop from Austria for an unsafe release - wound up 14th on 1m 40.912s, as Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado was next on 1m 44.018s. The Venezuluean is, however, under investigation for allegedly impeding Sergio Perez’s Force India. Adrian Sutil’s Sauber could not be retrieved in time after it went off at Brooklands in the latter stages of Q1, so he was 16th without a time.
Everyone began Q3 on slicks, and after the first runs Hamilton’s 1m 39.232s left him fastest ahead of Rosberg on 1m 39.426s and Perez’s 1m 40.457s. Then it began to spot with rain again, and as Hamilton dawdled round for what looked like being an abortive second run, Rosberg exhorted his team to tell him to speed up.
Like everyone else, Hamilton could feel how slippery it was and was told by his team either to get going or back off and let Rosberg by. He chose the latter after they had both just beaten the chequered flag, and elected to head for the pits. By the time he got there, Nico Hulkenberg had sprung to the top of the timesheets with 1m 38.329s for Force India before instantly being bundled off by Sebastian Vettel’s revived Red Bull on 1m 37.386s. Then he dropped another place as Jenson Button snatched third with 1m 38.200s before suddenly Rosberg was right there with a dramatic 1m 35.766s. Conditions had suddenly improved so much in Sector 3 that quicker times were, after all, possible.
By the time McLaren's Kevin Magnussen had done 1m 38.417s for fifth, a deeply disgruntled Hamilton was down to sixth and seething with himself.
Behind the top six, Perez didn’t make it across the line in time for a final run, but his 1m 40.457s was good enough for seventh. Behind the Mexican were Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on 1m 40.457s and the Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne on 1m 40.707s and 1m 40.855s. All three drivers elected not to complete a second run in Q3.
Thus, with Gutierrez’s and Chilton’s penalties taken into account, the provisional grid reads: Rosberg, Vettel; Button, Hulkenberg; Mangussen, Hamilton; Perez, Ricciardo; Kvyat, Vergne; Grosjean, Bianchi; Maldonado, Sutil; Bottas, Massa; Alonso, Chilton; Raikkonen, Ericsson; Kobayashi, Gutierrez.
The stage is set for another dramatic race, as once again Hamilton has to fight back on to his team mate’s tail, and the Ferraris and Williams have to force their way up through the field.