Jack Evans, F1 Correspondent
Fernando Alonso took pole for the FIA Formula One British Grand Prix at a constantly changing Silverstone track, besting Red Bull’s Mark Webber by just .47 seconds.
This comes after a heroic win by the Spaniard in Valencia last month and a dominating performance at last year’s British race; Ferrari may have all the pace now at Silverstone.
Michael Schumacher put his Mercedes into third even after noticeably struggling in the early qualifying sessions, but is optimistic for the race:
“Everything went well in Q3. We were competitive on both the intermediate and wet tyres, so I would welcome more rain tomorrow.”
Sebastian Vettel followed in his Red Bull, then the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa. Fan favorite Lewis Hamilton seemed to have trouble with the optimal intermediate tyre compound, and only made it eighth.
“I don’t really know what happened in Q3,” Hamilton said. “The Full Wets had been working really well, but, as the track gradually became less wet, I sought better grip and switched to the Intermediates – but we struggled to get enough temperature into them and just couldn’t switch them on.”
These fastest laps came after an hour-plus rain delay that interrupted Q2. Returning to the track with six minutes remaining in the second round, each and every driver battled to the last seconds to secure a place in Q3.
Paul DiResta, Kamui Kobayashi, and Nico Rosberg were some of those who lost out in the cyclical position-bumping typical of a drying track, and Sergio Perez, who relied on his provisional pole time set before the delay, tumbled to 17th sitting in the pits.
Q3, in turn, was another rushed battle for grid spots, but Alonso set the benchmark again and again until time ran out for all others.
The big story of Q1, though, was Jenson Button’s failure to go through, blaming cold front tyres, changing conditions, and a spun Marussia at start/finish. He will start 18th.
“I can usually drive a racing car in the wet, but obviously not today,” Button explained simply. “That’s the way it is sometimes. It’s the story of my year, really, I guess.”
Kimi Raikkonen was sixth fastest, but it was his teammate, Romain Grosjean that showed the most promise throughout the weekend. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, a spin on his Q2 cool-down lap put him in the gravel, and FIA rules stipulate that any car stopped on track is immediately done with qualifying. He’ll line up ninth tomorrow, and must be watched for a likely climb up the grid.
Nico Hulkenberg originally occupied that ninth spot, but receives a five-place gearbox change penalty, promoting teammate Di Resta up to tenth as well.
Pastor Maldonado was seventh fastest.
It wasn’t a great day, then, for locals McLaren. Button’s disastrous performance means his best hope to move up lies in good strategy calls and tomorrow’s predicted partial-rainstorm. Hamilton can always charge, but not if he’s struggling on the Intermediates—so far the pivotal compound of the weekend.
Meanwhile, down the pitlane, Ferrari seem to have offered themselves up as the answer to this turbulent season’s question of “who is actually fastest?” The F2012 chassis has even wrung some performance out of Alonso’s leaden teammate Massa.
Red Bull clings on to the notion that they have the best car and drivers after commanding the 2011 season—and indeed they would have won in Valencia if they had had the best engine—but now face the legitimate challenge of three other teams.
Not least of those others are Lotus-Renault. If anyone deserves a victory it’s their Romain Grosjean, and if anyone wants one it’s their Kimi Raikkonen. If only Raikkonen could get the “normal” weekend he so desires for the team, they’d be looking at major championship points.
Sunday will again be rainy, and all things are looking good for the Scuderia, but until the cars get down to that first fast right-hander it’s only a guess as to what Round Nine of the 2012 Formula One season has in store.