Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel delivered a supreme final lap in a final blast in qualifying to claim pole position for his home German Grand Prix and with it triggering a huge cheer from the partisan crowd on hand to witness an intriguing duel in which title rivals Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton tripped up.
The car came to Vettel during the session when he found the sweet spot to deliver a stunning 1:11.212 in his final attempt to claim his 55th top spot start, the stands erupting with delight for the local hero.
It was a mighty effort three tenths quicker than his previous best and an outright record for the current layout of the legendary race track, and a whopping three seconds faster than pole set by Nico Rosberg in 2016 when F1 last visited.
Vettel said afterwards, “Thanks to the fans it was amazing to see so many Ferrari and German flags. It just kept getting better and I knew for the last lap I had a little bit more in more, I’m full of adrenaline but so happy.”
“Today is one of the best days in my career, with the fans waving German and Ferrari flags…” added Vettel who will be looking to win the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim for a second time on Sunday.
Next up was Valtteri Bottas who briefly topped the timing screens with his final run, but Vettel’s hot lap was two tenths better than the Mercedes driver. Credit to the Finn for digging deep, but at this point Ferrari seem to have the legs on their silver rivals.
Bottas reflected, “It was a good lap. I gave it all and unfortunately, they were a bit too quick today. The start is going to be crucial tomorrow, race pace wise I think we are going to be close.”
It was an early shower for teammate Lewis Hamilton who parked his car with a hydraulic problem shortly before the end of Q1, he was fifth fastest at that point but ended the day 14th and may drop down the order should grid penalties apply in the aftermath of the problem.
Kimi Raikkonen will start behind Vettel from third place, the veteran three tenths shy of his teammate’s pole-winning time.
The veteran Finn said, “I had a small moment in the first run at 12, and went sideways, in the second run I had a bit of caution because of that. There was more but it didn’t come. We will try to race ourselves, we are going to race for the team and third place is a pretty good place to start.”
Red Bull showed strong pace in race simulation runs during free practice, their drivers quickest throughout Friday, but with everything dialled up Renault’s feeble part mode is no match for Ferrari and Mercedes.
Max Verstappen was fourth fastest, albeit six tenths adrift of the top time. Teammate Daniel used qualifying as a warm-up because he is destined to start from the back of the grid due to engine penalties.
Best of the Rest were the Haas duo with Kevin Magnussen fifth fastest, his best ever qualifying which was three tenths up on teammate Romain Grosjean in sixth to make it an all Haas third row.
Row four will be yellow and black with Nico Hulkenberg seventh and Carlos Sainz eighth, a tenth separating the pair.
Charles Leclerc again impressed with a mighty performance to claim ninth on the grid for Sauber, the rookie half a second faster than teammate Marcus Ericsson in Q1 and then seven tenths slower in Q2.
Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten in the Force India, ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in 11th place. The Spaniard’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne has struggled to catch a break this weekend, slowest on all free practice sessions he was also dead last on the timing screens at the end of the day.
Williams for a change were not slowest of all, in fact, Sergey Sirotkin was impressed with his effort to end which earned him 12th, while Lance Stroll did not make it beyond Q1, he was 19th – half a second slower than his rookie teammate.
FIA Blow-By-Blow Report
Vettel put in a superb performance in Q3 to set a new track record at Hockenheim with a time of 1:11.212.
The German’s lap was more than three seconds faster than Nico Rosberg’s pole time of F1’s last visit to this track in 2016. Valtteri Bottas will line up on the front row beside Vettel tomorrow, with Räikkönen third in the second Ferrari.
After the early pace in Q1 had been set by Leclerc, with a time of 1:13.562, the Ferraris and Mercedes drivers took to the track. Vettel was soon on top with a time of 1:12.765.
As the circuit improved, Räikkönen took over at the top of the order with a lap of 1:12.505 that left him ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Grosjean and the second Mercedes of Hamilton.
Hamilton’s session would end soon afterwards, though. As Q1 entered its final minutes, the Briton ran wide at Turn 1 and bounced hard over the kerbs as he rejoined the track.
The impact clearly caused damage and within moments his team told him to stop his car due to a “PU risk”. Hamilton stopped at Turn 10 and pushed his car off track with aid of marshals. His session was over.
Qualifying ended, too, for Ocon. The Frenchman was an unlikely candidate to be eliminated in P16 but his best effort of 1:13.20 wasn’t good enough to beat Sirotkin. Also eliminated at the end of Q1 were Gasly in P17 followed by teammate Hartley, Stroll and Vandoorne.
At the start of Q2, Bottas was quickly into P1 with a time of 1:12.152 ahead of Räikkönen and Vettel. However, eight minutes into the session the red flags were shown when Marcus Ericsson went off track at Turn 13. In re-joining, the Sauber driver dragged a load of gravel onto the circuit and the session was halted for nine minutes while a road sweeper cleared the mess.
Verstappen, who had set his opening time on soft tyres to sit in P9, erred on the side of caution as the action resumed and the Dutchman took the track on ultrasoft tyres.
With the purple tyres on board his final push lap of 1:12.188 vaulted him to P2 behind Q2’s fastest man Bottas and ahead of Räikkönen, Vettel and Magnussen. Grosjean took sixth, with Hulkenberg seventh ahead of Leclerc, the second Renault of Sainz and 10th placed Perez, who set a time of 1:13.072.
Eliminated in P11, with a time of 1:13.657 was Alonso. The Spaniard finished in front of Sirotkin, Ericsson, Hamilton and Ricciardo, who faced with a barrage of PU-related penalties and a back-of-the-grid start elected to stay in the garage in Q2.
It was Vettel to the fore early in Q3. Ferrari team-mate Räikkönen set the opening time of the final session with a lap of 1:11.880.
However, powered past that to take provisional pole with a time of 1:11.539, bringing a huge roar from the German’s home crowd. Bottas then slotted into P2, 0.170s behind Vettel, leaving Räikkönen third ahead of Verstappen and Grosjean.
In the final runs, Bottas was the first to show what kind of improvement he could make and the Finn found a sizeable chunk of time to move into P1 with a time of 1:11.416.
That left Vettel needing to find 0.123 over his opening time if he was to secure his 55th pole position. The German, boosted by his home crowd, was more than up to the task and he found over three-tenths of a second on his final run to claim pole position with a lap of 1:11.212.
Behind P2 man Bottas, Räikkönen took third ahead of Verstappen, with Magnussen fifth and Haas team-mate Grosjean sixth. Hulkenberg took seventh place in qualifying for the fifth time this year ahead of team-mate Sainz, Leclerc and Perez.