Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘on track correspondent’: James Parker
Hamilton takes a magnificent Pole once again
A very warm 43°C track temperature greeted drivers at the Nurburgring for qualifying this afternoon. A session dominated with drivers struggling for a consistent rear balance (it was some 5-6c hotter than FP3) was triumphed with yet another blitzing pole position by Lewis Hamilton.
The Britain’s 1.29.3 was almost two tenths faster than the RedBull of Sebastian Vettel, with the German’s team-mate, Mark Webber, rounding off the top three. Ferrari looked to be hoping for a strong first stint for tomorrows Grand Prix as they start 7th and 8th but crucially on the medium compound tyres.
Q1 was very a slow starter with no-one in any hurry to hit the track. The front runners all waited until the 10 minute mark to really stretch their legs and therefore it was left to Daniel Ricciardo in his Torro Rosso to head the field with a 1.31 flat on the soft compounds, ahead of both Williams cars.
Both Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil, who were hoping for big things after some front wing upgrades on the Force India car this weekend, were struggling tremendously with balance in the hotter conditions – Sutil complaining over the radio in particular in regards to oversteer.
Ferrari and Lotus thought it was best to head straight on to the softer compound for their first runs of the day, and with 5 minutes to go Raikkonen headed Alonso on a 1.30.6. RedBull and Mercedes were more confident only setting runs on the medium tyres. Nestled in the top 10 they felt it unnecessary to go back out.
One man who was under pressure however was Perez who was 18th with one minute to go. On his final run he managed to string together a brilliant second and third sector, after a mediocre first, to go 14th and out of the bottom six. This however pushed out the troubled Williams duo who seemed very subdued. The only light point was for Bottas who out-qualified his more experienced teammate Maldonado.
On their 600th race weekend the team have little to celebrate and were joined in the bottom 6 by the two Caterhams and Marussia’s – Charles Pic taking the bragging rights going two tenths clear of Jules Bianchi – the upgrades for Caterham working well this weekend.
For Q2, a lot of the drivers were much more eager to get an early lap in. The whole grid was now on the softer compound tyres, and it was the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen who topped the time sheets early on with a 1.30.5.
A lot of the front runners were finding it hard to get to grips with the softer compound tyre and Rosberg made a mistake on his first run going into turn 1. His teammate however was really starting to show his hand, Hamilton toppling Raikkonen with a 1.30.1 to lay down the first proper marker to chase.
This was with 8 minutes left and RedBull who were expected to be Mercedes biggest challenger for pole had not appeared yet – one run looked to be planned and showed the confidence both drivers had in the speed of the car.
Vettel who had yet to start on the front row at the Nurburgring then displaced Hamilton at the top of the time sheets with a 1.29.9 – the first man to break the 1.30 barrier in the session. The final minutes were chaotic as everyone it seemed were eager to improve, and Massa, Raikkkonen and Alonso immediately jumped into the top 3 on their final runs.
One man who didn’t go out was Rosberg however. The Mercedes man sat 6th and felt it was satisfactory to get him into Q3. But the track was evolving quickly and as the checkered flag dropped, the German dropped like a stone to 11th and more crucially out of qualifying – a key strategic mistake by the Mercedes team and not the first of that kind they have made in the past 2-3 years.
Joining Rosberg in the qualifying drop was the struggling Di Resta in 12th, Perez 13th, Guttierez 14th, Sutil 15th and Vergne in 16th. But the star of the session had to be Nico Hulkenberg who managed to drag his Sauber into Q3 on merit.
With Rosberg out of the equation, the shootout between pole position looked very much like a battle between Hamilton and the two RedBull drivers.
Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were first out, however on their first runs all 3 cars pulled into the pits after their initial warm up lap – on scrubbed soft compound tyres.
Hamilton took the early initiative with a fantastic 1.29.5, one tenth ahead of Vettel with Raikkonen 3rd. With half of the 10 minute session left, both Ferrari’s then remerged on the medium compound tyres. Prepared it seemed to concede qualifying in the hope of a stronger race pace in the first stint for tomorrow’s grand prix.
For pole position it came down to a frantic shootout in the final seconds. Vettel was the first to blink and went half a tenth clear on a 1.29.5 flat. Webber was next to blink and could only manage 3rd 1 tenth off – but held station ahead of the lotus of Raikkonen.
All focus therefore shifted straight onto Hamilton. Blitzing an incredible final lap he went 3 tenths clear of Vettel to claim a magnificent pole position – the 29th of his career.
4th and 5th were the Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean. Ricciardo rounded off yet another strong qualifying with a solid 6th place after a difficult start to the weekend. 7th and 8th were Massa and Alonso, the Brazilian managing to outqualify his team-mate with both drivers on the medium compound tyres.
9th and 10th were Button and Hulkenberg who did not set competitive lap times and therefore have free choice on tyres for tomorrows grand prix – I fully expect them both to start on the medium compound tyres tomorrow and run a longer first stint.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “There was a difference of over a second between the medium and soft compounds, which obviously had an effect on the chosen strategy for qualifying, as it will do during the race tomorrow. The soft tyre was definitely the tyre to qualify on but those who start the race on the medium tyre might be able to gain track position when the soft tyre runners come in for their first stop earlier than them.
We’re expecting most people to stop twice, with the emphasis on the medium tyre during the race: and that will be at the heart of the race strategy that the teams plan tonight. Track temperatures were high today during qualifying, with comparatively little grip, which gave the drivers a delicate job to get the most out of the tyres and ensured that the timing of each qualifying lap was extremely important.
Tomorrow the drivers have plenty of opportunity to make up places through a good strategy, even if they are not as far up the grid. Wear, degradation and performance are in line with our expectations and with dry weather expected again tomorrow, plus a wide variety of strategies at work, we should see a good race.”
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
The quickest strategy for tomorrow’s 60-lap race is set to be a two-stopper. Start on the soft tyre, change to the medium on lap five or six, and then to the medium again on lap 32 or 33.
Alternatively, for those starting on the medium, it could go as follows: Start on the medium and then change to the medium again on lap 27. Change for a mandatory final stop for the soft tyres on lap 54.
It is set to be a fascinating race tomorrow.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m29.398s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m29.501s +0.103s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m29.608s +0.210s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m29.892s +0.494s
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m29.959s +0.561s
6. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m30.528s +1.130s
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.126s +1.728s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.209s +1.811s
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes No time set
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari No time set
Q2 cut-off time: 1m30.269s
11. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m30.326s +0.501s
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m30.697s +0.872s
13. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m30.933s +1.108s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.010s +1.185s
15. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.010s +1.185s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m31.104s +1.279s
Q1 cut-off time: 1m31.681s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m31.693s +1.146s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m31.707s +1.160s
19. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m32.937s +2.390s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m33.063s +2.516s
21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m33.734s +3.187s
22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m34.098s +3.551s
107% time: 1m36.885s