Appearing to be on the back foot throughout most of practice, Lewis Hamilton once again delivered as he powered to pole position for the German Grand Prix, his 81st top spot start in Formula 1 on an afternoon when Ferrari again imploded big-time.
After dominating free practice on Friday and this morning, Ferrari and their fans would have fancied their chances at Hockenheim. But it all went wrong almost from the moment the session began.
Vettel emerged on track in Q1 and was immediately over the radio reporting a loss in power, forcing him to box to sort the issue but a ‘turbo related problem’ kept him in the garage for the remainder of the hour.
He told reporters: “I don’t know what happened. Something broke with the turbo. Obviously I’m very bitter, as the car is great, and we’ve lost out on a big chance, but hopefully we’ll have another one coming tomorrow.
“I’m looking forward to the race, but it would’ve been nicer to start at the front than the very back but we’ll see what happens,” added the German.
Later in Q3, with Leclerc looking good for pole it went from bad to worse for the reds as it became clear the Monaco Kid was going nowhere as he too was struck with a similar (?) problem to that of his teammate.
What might have been a front-row lockout for the Reds turned to bitter disappointment for the team who appear capable of doing nothing right at the moment.
“I have no idea if it was the same issue as Sebastian, but mine was a fuel system problem. It is a shame but we will be trying to understand what happened and not to reproduce it. The car felt great today and all weekend so it’s a shame it ended like this,” summed up Leclerc who will start from 10th on the grid with his teammate set to line-up in last place.
Typically, Hamilton rose to the occasion of qualifying by delivering enough with his strong first effort in Q3, setting the best lap of 1:11.767 to claim the top spot start, again three tenths better than his teammate Valterri Bottas who will start behind his team leader from third.
The World Champion was somewhat bewildered when he said afterwards, “I don’t really know how we did it, I’m not sure what happened to the Ferraris. It’s a second home race and with our 125th anniversary, incredible to celebrate in this way.
“The Ferraris have been really fast all weekend, our cars have been feeling good, but the Ferraris were on another level. But the times were good at the end. Every time we come here it’s just getting faster and it’s a real challenge. My first lap was spot on,” explained Hamilton.
Bottas added, “A bit disappointed with qualifying and I just struggled. We need to check everything is alright but we race tomorrow. Ferrari have been extremely quick and we knew it would be difficult to beat them but I don’t know what their issue was.”
Again delivering when it mattered was Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver popping up second on the timing screens, three-tenths of a second adrift of pole-man but enough to start from the front row and with it set up an intriguing tussle between two drivers at the very top of their game.
Pierre Gasly was fourth, seven-tenths down on the top time as he recovers from a vicious crash on Friday which piled the pressure on him. From fourth, he could redeem himself.
Picking up the pieces and making the most of an improved package, veteran Kimi Raikkonen was fifth fastest in the Alfa Romeo, Best of the Rest and ironically the highest placed Ferrari-powered driver. Notably, he was only seven-tenths shy of the pole-winning time.
A further three tenths down on the veteran Finn was his former teammate Romain Grosjean, the Haas driver apparently driving the Melbourne spec car to good effect in Germany. He was seventh.
Carlos Sainz, in seventh, was best of the Renault powered quartet ahead of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in eighth and Nico Hulkenberg in ninth. Leclerc did not register a time in Q3 rounded out the top ten.
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FIA Blow-By-Blow Report
There was disaster for Ferrari, with Vettel exiting the session in Q1 with a turbo issue and Leclerc failing to set a time in Q3 after being sidelined by a fuel problem.
Q1 saw Red Bull make the early running and with his first lap Verstappen jumped to the top of the order with a time of 1:12.593. That was soon eclipsed, however, by Leclerc who squeezed past the Dutchman with a time of 1:12.229 on his first run.
Vettel though didn’t make it to the end of that first run. The home favourite backed out of the attempt at the end of his warm-up lap and returned to the pits. Ferrari mechanics swarmed around the car and the engine covers came off, but it soon became apparent that there would be no easy solution. Vettel climbed out of the car and exited the session, a turbo problem at the root of the German’s failure to set a time.
At the end of the session Leclerc went through in P1 thanks to his time of 1:12.229. He was followed by Max and his single-run time of 1:12.593. Hamilton progressed in third place ahead of the second Gasly and Räikkönen.
With Vettel exiting the session with a mechanical problem, there were four spaces left in the drop zone and when the final lap times came through Norris was the first to lose out. With Giovinazzi improving to P10, the McLaren driver slid to 16thout out of the session. Also eliminated were Albon in P17 and the Williams cars of Russell and Kubica.
In the second session, there was more technical drama, though on this occasion it was Verstappen who hit trouble. The Dutchman went out for his opening run on medium tyres, but like Vettel he abandoned the run at the end of his warm-up lap, complaining that he was suffering with power delivery problems.
Unlike Vettel, however, the Dutch driver’s return to the pits was not permanent. After a brief stay in the garage he was soon back on track, though with his chance to qualify on medium tyres gone, he emerged on soft tyres. His single run yielded a time of 1:12.428, which was good enough for fourth place, which became fifth when Bottas improved on his final run.
Also making progress behind Max were Räikkönen, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Pérez. Out went Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Kvyat, and Stroll. At the top of the order Hamilton went through in P1 ahead of Leclerc and Gasly.
Ferrari’s woes doubled in Q3. As Hamilton took provisional pole with a time of 1:11.767 and as Verstappen slotted into P2 with a first-run time of 1:12.113, Leclerc was stuck in the Ferrari garage, a fuel problem eventually causing his retirement from the session.
There were no improvements from the top drivers on their final runs and thus, Hamilton claimed his 87thcareer pole position ahead of Verstappen. Bottas will line up at the front of row two, ahead of Gasly.
Behind them, Kimi Räikkönen finished fifth ahead of Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz. Sergio Perez will start ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and the unfortunate Charles Leclerc will start from P10.