Alonso takes sensational pole for British GP at wet Silverstone
By Berthold Bouman
Although forecasted, there was no rain at Silverstone this morning during the third and last free practice session, but during qualifying for the British Grand Prix this afternoon the rain once more fell down at Silverstone — the track said to be the birthplace of Formula One.
Drivers didn’t waste much time and were quick out at the start of the first session to put a time on the clock as they feared it could rain even harder later on, but many drivers had a hard time finding a clean lap with 24 cars on track, all on the intermediates.
Lap times went down fast as the circuit became dryer, and with 12 minutes still remaining Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber was the fastest man on track with a time of 1m47.840s. But with the track quickly drying, Q1 became a lottery.
Both Saubers were quick as with seven minutes still to go Sergio Perez was leading with 1m46.494s, and Kobayashi on second place, just a few hundredths of a second slower. Five minutes to go and Sebastian Vettel was leading for Red Bull, followed by Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams.
In the danger zone was the McLaren of Jenson Button, who was in 18th place and the 2009 World Champion was visibly struggling to keep his car on track. He went into the pits for a brand-new set of intermediates and with just 30 seconds on the stopwatch started a last fast lap. But the Briton couldn’t go faster and also the spin of Timo Glock in the Marussia at the old start-finish line straight didn’t help him either, as yellow flags were waved at that spot, and the Briton had to bow out of qualifying, starting from 18th place on the grid tomorrow.
“I can usually drive a racing car in the wet, but obviously not today,” said a disappointed Button. “I’d had a lot of front-shuddering and couldn’t get the tyres working, but on the second set that problem was much better. It was particularly wet in the final sector and there was also a yellow flag along the start line. That’s the way it is sometimes. It’s the story of my year, really, I guess.”
Caterham had hoped to get one of their drivers into Q2, but it wasn’t to be, apart from Button, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Glock, Pedro de la Rosa, Narain Karthikeyan and Charles Pic also didn’t make it into Q2.
It was raining even harder when Q2 started, and many drivers tried their luck on the full wets, while others tried their luck on the intermediates. It soon became apparent the full wet tyres were the way to go, by then there were small streams and puddles on the Silverstone track, which made life very difficult for the drivers.
First victim was Michael Schumacher who lost control at Becketts, missed the barrier, but was able to put his Mercedes in reverse and thus rejoined the battle for the fastest lap time. Next was Fernando Alonso who went off at Hangar Straight due to aquaplaning, at the same time Schumacher went off for the second and not much later for the third time.
Hamilton almost ran into the back of one of the Saubers due to the poor visibility. It soon became very precarious for Ferrari as Alonso was in 16th, and Felipe Massa in 15th place. Just like his team colleague, Massa went off at high speed and that was the signal for FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting to stop the session and red flags were waved.
With the red flag out and 6m19s still to go in Q2, Maldonado, Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean, Schumacher, Massa, Alonso and Bruno Senna, who hadn’t even recorded a timed lap, were in the knock-out zone.
After 40 minutes, it was reported the rain would stay for another hour at least, but even after that conditions were still very treacherous due to a lot of standing water on the track. Dozens of track workers did their best and were seen sweeping the water from the track and finally at 15:07hrs local time qualifying resumed.
All remaining 17 drivers stormed onto the track, this time most of them were on the intermediates, to quickly set a timed lap. Vettel, Alonso, Maldonado and Hamilton went out on the full wet tyres, the big question of course being who had made the right choice.
Jean-Eric Vergne, and his Toro Rosso team colleague Daniel Ricciardo stayed in the garage, while Hamilton reported to his crew the wet tyres were definitely the right choice. Grosjean was the first to set a timed lap of 1m57.634s, Alonso and Vettel soon followed him and took second and third place.
Rosberg went off while Webber took first place, but again it became a lottery as the track became relatively drier, but nevertheless Grosjean went off after recording fifth fastest time. When the flag was waved to end the session, di Resta, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Senna, Vergne and Perez had dropped out and would not take further part in the proceedings.
Unfortunately for Grosjean, he had to sit out Q3. The rain had stopped but it was still a very wet Silverstone circuit, and drivers were trying how fast they were on intermediates and full wets.
Five minutes to go and Schumacher was fastest on the full wets, but Alonso soon took over the German’s first place on the intermediates. Not much later the others who were still on the full wet tyres came in to change to the intermediates, and with just three minutes remaining Alonso was still the fastest driver, and was followed by Massa and Webber.
It became very exiting during the last minutes, but it was Alonso who took his first pole of the season with a time of 1m51.746s, and was followed by Webber who missed pole by 0.047s and Schumacher took third place for Mercedes.
Pole winner Alonso said, “First of all I want to dedicate this pole to Maria de Villota, who is going through a particularly difficult time. We are all feeling sad these days and our thoughts are with her and her family.”
About pole his commented, ”This afternoon, one had to be in the right place at the right time on the right tyres and, to succeed in that, you also needed a bit of luck. For once it came our way, as with the spin at the start of Q2 and when I managed to get through into Q3 by a hair’s breadth. Today’s pole is important, even if we know it came to us in unusual conditions. I’m hoping for a boring race tomorrow, given that for once I’m starting in front of everyone.”
Second place man Webber commented, “It was a tight session today with very mixed conditions. The cars are difficult to handle when it’s like that. In every session we went out the times were changing by up to five or six seconds per lap; there was a lot of standing water and aqua planning.” And he added, “Alonso put a lap together that was just that sniff better than mine, but I’m not standing here with any regrets about my lap. I’m happy with what I put on the table and front row was what we deserved.”
Schumacher was happy with third place, ”Naturally I’m pleased with today’s result — after all, we’re in the top three again. We were competitive on both the intermediate and wet tyres, so I would welcome more rain tomorrow. Third position is a good starting point for the race — I’m looking forward to it!
Vettel will start from fourth position on the grid tomorrow, Massa claimed fifth spot, Raikkonen sixth, Maldonado seventh, Hamilton eighth and Hulkenberg ninth, while Grosjean took tenth and last place in Q3.