The 2018 Formula 1 World Championship took another dramatic twist in qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel claimed a superb pole position on home soil, while his arch-rival Lewis Hamilton was sidelined by a hydraulics leak.
Saturday’s track action opened under darkened skies and while the heavy rain that lashed the circuit in final practice did not stay for qualifying, it proved a portent for what was to come for the defending World Champion.
Hamilton did not appear to be his usual cheery self on Saturday morning, prompting a predictable media frenzy that he was unwell and – of all extremes – would be withdrawn from the event. It was not to be, and after turning a couple of cursory laps in FP3 he was back in the car at the start of qualifying.
His opening session was untidy, and perhaps reflecting the pressure of being eight points behind Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship standings he slid off-track at Turn 8 on his second run.
His next flying lap would end in disaster. His hydraulic fluid began to leak and with a loss of power steering, he ran wide through Turn 1, violently bouncing over the kerbs as he desperately tried to rejoin the circuit.
His car was jammed in fourth gear and his engineers implored him to stop the car immediately to prevent any potential damage to his Mercedes power unit. Desperate to try and take part in Q2, he attempted to limp back to the pits before grinding to a halt at the exit of Turn 10.
With adrenalin and anger coursing through his veins, he tried – shades of Nigel Mansell in Dallas in 1984 – to push his car back to the pits. It was a hopeless cause and after the marshals pulled his car to safety behind the barriers, he slumped next to his hobbled machine, realising the potential calamity of a certain further points’ hit to his championship defense.
Given how tight the championship battle has been to date, it will be decided by the finest of margins like this.
“When I got out the car it was painful,” he said. “The first thought in my mind was to get the car back to the garage at all costs, so get out and push if you have to.”
Having kept their powder dry during practice, Ferrari unleashed extra pace on Saturday afternoon. The red cars appeared untouchable and – regardless of Hamilton’s dramas – looked on course to secure an important pole position.
Vettel was imperious, soaring to pole position with an incredible final lap in Q3 – shattering the Hockenheimring’s qualifying lap record – to snatch top spot from Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. After outpacing the German in Q1 and Q2, Kimi Räikkönen was able to hustle the sister Ferrari to third-fastest ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Maz Verstappen.
With Hamilton out of contention and the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo opting not to take part in Q2 given he will start from the back of the grid due to engine penalties, this allowed Ferrari customer outfit Haas to lock out the third row of the grid with their best qualifying performance.
Kevin Magnussen led teammate Romain Grosjean to fifth and sixth respectively, pushed hard by Renault duo Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Charles Leclerc overcame braking issues in his Sauber Ferrari to secure another Q3 outing and qualify ninth-fastest ahead of Force India’s Sergio Pérez.
Trying to get the Ultrasoft tyres up to temperature and securing a traffic-free lap around the 4.5-kilometre Hockenheim circuit proved tricky in the earlier knockout phases of qualifying, which saw a number of more fancied contenders falling by the wayside.
The late yellow flag triggered by Hamilton’s stoppage ruined a number of drivers’ final laps, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon one of the major victims. The Frenchman failed to get beyond Q1 for the first time since last year’s Monaco Grand Prix and was joined on the sidelines by the Toro Rosso pairing of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, and the Williams of Lance Stroll.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne earned the unwanted record of being slowest in every session this weekend, with the Belgian clearly all at sea in his Renault-powered car.
A red flag proved a dominant feature of Q2 when Marcus Ericsson looped his Sauber at the Sachkurve and slid into the gravel. The Swede managed to extricate his car from the kitty litter, liberally depositing stones across the width of the left-hand hairpin as he rejoined the circuit.
He was one of three drivers – the others being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin – not to make it to the rarefied heights of Q3, with the aforementioned Ricciardo and Hamilton not taking any further part.
Sunday’s 67-lap German Grand Prix takes place at 15:10 local time (GMT +2).
Sunday’s 52-lap British Formula 1 Grand Prix starts at 14:10 local time (GMT +1).
|FORMULA 1 EMIRATES GROSSER PREIS VON DEUTSCHLAND 2018 – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:11.212||+ 0.044|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:11.416||+ 0.204|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:11.547||+ 0.335|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:11.822||+ 0.610|
|5.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:12.200||+ 0.988|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:12.544||+ 1.332|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:12.560||+ 1.348|
|8.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:12.692||+ 1.480|
|9.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:12.717||+ 1.505|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:12.774||+ 1.562|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:13.657||+ 1.505|
|12.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:13.702||+ 1.550|
|13.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:13.736||+ 1.584|
|14.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||no time|
|15.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||no time|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:13.720||+ 1.215|
|17.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:13.749||+ 1.244|
|18.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:14.045||+ 1.540|
|19.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:14.206||+ 1.701|
|20.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:14.201||+ 1.696|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:12.505 posted by Kimi Räikkönen
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:12.152 posted by Valtteri Bottas
- Daniel Ricciardo will start from the back of the grid after changing a number of power unit elements above his allocation for the season.
Image via Scuderia Ferrari and Sutton Images / LAT