Alonso takes pole for Ferrari after wet qualifying session for German GP
By Berthold Bouman
A dry Hockenheim track this afternoon, at least at the start of the first qualifying session, and drivers were quick on track to record a timed lap as rain was expected to hit the German track at any moment. Local hero Nico Hulkenberg put the first time on the board with a lap of 1m18.475s in the Force India, but his time was soon improved and with 15 minutes to go Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was fastest with a lap of 1m16.705s on the medium compound Pirelli tyres.
With ten minutes left during the first session the order was: Lewis Hamilton, Kamui Kobayashi, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Alonso, and Felipe Massa was sixth. Dark clouds were still gathering over the Hockenheimring and most drivers returned to the garage for a few quick set-up changes.
Hulkenberg was the first to go out on the soft tyres, as he was 18th and in the drop-out zone. Not surprisingly he climbed to second position, and Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta did the same and took seventh and fourth position respectively. Romain Grosjean was also in the danger zone but did not want to waste an extra set of softs and clocked the 12th time on the medium tyres.
Schumacher was then the one who was 18th and the German went out on the mediums and bumped Jean-Eric Vergne out of the top 17, but only just as the German was only 0.055s faster than the Toro Rosso. Thus Vergne, Heikki Kovalainen, Vitaly Petrov, Charles Pic, Timo Glock, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan did not make it into Q2.
The weather forecast was spot on, once the lights turned to green to start the second session, the rain started to fall and once again all remaining 17 drivers raced out of the pit lane to set a timed lap before the rain intensified. Conditions soon worsened and the track became treacherous and here and there drivers had to take the escape road or crossed through the gravel trap as they misjudged their braking point.
Button was the first one to go out on the intermediates, the others soon followed, but it was Vettel who set the fastest time with a lap of 1m38.505s. A hairy moment for Alonso as he almost crashed into Massa who made a mistake, the Spaniard had to brake hard to avoid hitting his team colleague.
With eight minutes to go Hamilton was leading with a time of 1m37.365, followed by Schumacher, Vettel, Alonso, Button, and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams was sixth.
Rosberg was the first to try the full wet tyres, he was 17th and last and was hoping to make a big jump forwards on the wets. He tried hard, but there was just too much water on the track and he was not able to improve his time, even worse, he was four seconds slower than his 17th place time he had set on the intermediates.
Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Kobayashi, Massa, Grosjean, Bruno Senna and Rosberg did not make it into the third and final qualifying session.
Conditions had improved a little bit when cars came out for Q3, all still on the full wets. Hulkenberg was the first victim of aquaplaning, he went off at Turn 5 at high speed, crossed through the grass and the gravel trap, but was able to continue without any damage. Alonso and Schumacher reported over the radio Q3 had to be stopped, as they thought the aquaplaning was too dangerous, but the FIA Stewards led by Charlie Whiting were not impressed and qualifying continued. Despite their complaints, both Alonso and Schumacher were actually able to improve their times, so Whiting’s decision to continue was correct.
Meanwhile, Vettel, Alonso and Hulkenberg were leading with five minutes still to go. Things got exciting again as the track now became a little dryer, and lap after lap times improved. All ten cars were still on track, all hoping they could score pole. But it was championship leader Alonso who was the smartest of the ten and he was the last to cross the finish line and took pole position for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix, with a time of 1m40.621s.
Alonso, who had complained about the track conditions said, “There was a lot of aquaplaning and we are doing 180mph there.” But what made the difference is that Alonso came in for a fresh set of full wet tyres, while the others did not. “We made a good strategy call doing a pit stop in Q3 and having very fresh tyres for the last few minutes and that helped us a lot improve the lap time.”
Both Red Bull drivers followed the Spaniard, Vettel was second, and Webber third.
Vettel commented, “The track was best at the end of the session, which is when we got our best times. In these conditions it’s extremely difficult, as you can lose the car through the rivers on the track.” And he added, “I think we had the pace today to put the car on pole — so we need to look at what Fernando did with his strategy. But it can be a lottery when the weather’s like that and fortunately we didn’t lose the car, which is good and I’m starting on the front line tomorrow.”
Three drivers have a five-place grid penalty for changing their gearbox, Grosjean, Rosberg and Mark Webber. Webber therefore starts from eighth place tomorrow, and the Australian said, “I’m looking forward to the race and to moving up the grid. We can do a lot from eighth. We’ve shown the car is strong in all conditions and we will be looking to come through the field.”
Schumacher was fourth, his compatriot Hulkenberg took an impressive fifth spot on tomorrow’s start grid, and was followed by Maldonado, Button, Hamilton, di Resta and Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus was tenth and last.
Fastest German Schumacher was satisfied with his qualifying result, as he also moves up one place on the grid, “That’s certainly a nice way to start the German Grand Prix — we had been expecting a position between fifth and seventh on the grid, so fourth in qualifying, which will become third place on the grid, is even better.”