• Mark Webber in pole position for the German Grand Prix
• Jenson Button could only manage seventh
There was to be no home-race pole position for a German driver at the Nürburgring, despite the home nation providing six of the 24 contenders on the grid. Instead, Mark Webber maintained Red Bull’s season-long lock-out of the top spot. But the real celebrations were with McLaren, after Lewis Hamilton put in a brilliant final lap to make the front row and push Sebastian Vettel into third.
Heavily behind Vettel in the points, under fire since a poor showing at Silverstone and seeming to lack pace in practice here, the McLaren team and their drivers had been looking for a tonic.
To McLaren’s, and his own, immense satisfaction, Hamilton delivered. Fernando Alonso had pushed early in the final qualifying session, which remained dry throughout, but was quickly beaten by Hamilton, Vettel and then Webber – the Red Bulls proving much quicker than they had in practice.
There followed a few moments of F1 détente as the teams waited to see if anyone would blink and use another set of the option (soft) tyres for a final run. With better than a 60% chance of rain for the race on Sunday, which would neutralise choices made in qualifying, it was soon clear they thought it worth another shot.
Alonso was again first of the leaders out, but he could make no impression and was thwarted decisively when Webber put in an even quicker finish of 1min 30.079sec – the pole-winning time.
But behind Webber was Hamilton. Earlier, disappointed at the McLaren’s apparent lack of pace, he had predicted “we definitely can’t challenge for pole.” Yet challenge he did. Afterwards he said: “I can’t remember coming across the line in a qualifying session feeling so ecstatic, feeling so energised. I didn’t realise it meant that much to me. Our pace and what we were able to do today just again reminds me of how strong a team I have and how they never give up and how we can do it.”
Putting in a blistering lap and picking up time “pretty much everywhere”, he crossed the line only six-hundredths of a second behind Webber. Only Vettel was still on a hot lap but he could match neither driver and had to settle for third, a further tenth down.
“That was a wicked lap,” an exultant Hamilton exclaimed from his cockpit. “That’s as good as it gets.” He had every reason to celebrate – it was a massive boost for his team and the first time in 15 races that Vettel had been excluded from the front row. A psychological victory had been achieved in putting the championship leader behind him.
“Coming into today we didn’t think we had the pace,” Hamilton said afterwards, and nor did he think it was a one-off. “I think we can continue like this. We’ve just got to continue pushing. Even when you feel it’s not possible to push any further, you exceed your own expectations and that’s what we’ve done this weekend. Which is a massive positive for the team.”
Webber, backing up his pole at Silverstone, was also enjoying his resurgence: “I thought on my in-lap: ‘If someone gets me, they deserve it,’ as I don’t think I could have got more out of it – it was my limit,” he said.
Hamilton’s team-mate, Jenson Button, managed only seventh behind Alonso, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg and ahead of Adrian Sutil, Vitaly Petrov and Michael Schumacher. Button had had no problems, admitting the balance of the car was fine but struggling a little for grip. Afterwards the FIA stewards disqualified the Toro Rosso driver Sébastien Buemi after discovering fuel irregularities. He will start at the back of the grid for the race.
A dry race on Sunday is likely to see most teams two-stopping, to use two sets of the soft tyres before taking the slower primes for as short a run as possible at the end of the race; alternative strategy calls, given the relative speed differential between the two tyres, are unlikely.
Unless it rains, of course, which it probably will. In which case all bets are off. Except for a newly buoyant Hamilton. “I love it when it rains. I grew up in England where it rains all the time. I’m not fussed either way, whether it rains or snows. I’ll be ready whatever,” he said.