By: Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
For the second Formula One 2011 race weekend in a row, Mark Webber has pipped Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel and his closest Championship rivals to secure pole position for the German Grand Prix.
Webber explained how qualifying went on his way to picking up pole.
“The session went pretty well, with the exception of my run in Q2, which wasn’t very smooth. The other sessions were good and the boys did a great job on the car; they’ve had some late nights in the lead up to the event, so they’ve recovered very well… It was very satisfying to see no one got me there at the end; it’s quite an anxious wait for those thirty seconds. I will be in there pushing very hard tomorrow”, commented Webber.
The Australian had close competition from second placeman, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who narrowly missed out on the top spot by five hundredths of a second. The Englishman will still be under pressure when the lights go out for the race tomorrow, as he will start in a Red Bull sandwich, with Vettel in his mirrors just behind him in third place.
Vettel remains optimistic about his chances in his home race, despite losing out on pole to his team mate and Hamilton jumping ahead in second place as well.
“It was a tough session. I think we had a good recovery, as yesterday I didn’t really find my way, but the car felt much better this morning. I think we could have been a bit quicker in qualifying here and there, but Mark did a good lap and I think we still have a good chance from third on the grid. It will be a long race and you never know what can happen with the weather here,” explained Vettel.
From the outset as the first session of qualifying got underway, it looked like Webber and Hamilton were going to be the men to beat. Due to the formation of the drivers as they went out for their first run, Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari took the lead initially. The Spaniard set the fastest lap and recorded a time of 1:34.187secs, before the front-runners had got their tyres warmed up. However, it did not take long for the Championship contenders to come to the forefront. Webber was the one to snatch first place to start with, as Hamilton seemed to be delayed by Virgin Racing’s, Timo Glock on the last corner of his first flying lap.
Meanwhile the likes of Vettel and the Ferrari pair of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, were trailing in the places behind the top two at the time. As the clock began to tick down though during Q1, the trio eventually caught up with the action, where Webber and Hamilton were at the helm setting the pace. Alonso was the first to blink, as he responded to their speedy lap times with a 1:32.916. With less than seven minutes of the first part of qualifying left, the running order had Alonso leading, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel and Webber.
Jenson Button was another of the usual front-runners who struggled to match the competitive pace along with the three adrift from Webber and his team mate, Hamilton. The 2009 World Champion appeared to have difficulty finding grip on the track with his tyres for most of Q1. This resulted in him being around fourth and fifth place in that part of the session.
With the sport being famous for its changeable conditions, from the weather, possibility of accidents/incidents occurring, car reliability and track positions altering, the latter proved to be the case in the final stages of Q1. In addition to this there was also the factor of tyre changes, which made way for the lead at the top switching between the Championship rivals. Fortunately, Massa was the lucky one to benefit on this occasion. The Brazilian driver had used one out of the three sets of soft tyres available to him. As a result, this decision paid off as he edged out the rest of the field, who were left trailing by the end of Q1.
Elsewhere in the pack where the midfield are concerned, the Williams duo of Rubens Barrichello and his Venezuelan team mate, Pastor Maldonado did not get off to the best start in Q1. To begin with both drivers were quite far down the field in 16th and 14th place respectively. After opting for a tyre change to the soft compound though, their track position and pace seemed to improve. Barrichello got himself into 12th place, and rookie to the sport this season, Maldonado, impressed by getting into sixth position temporarily. It was a close shave in the final stages of the first session though, as Barrichello scraped through to Q2 by a whisker. The former Ferrari driver fought to get a place in Q2 with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. Sadly, the feisty Japanese driver who is well known for his fearless manoeuvres during a Grand Prix, had his second consecutive setback over a race weekend. After failing to finish the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, he also made a swift exit from the first part of qualifying. This means that he will now start the race from 18th place.
Along with Kobayashi the other casualties that did not make the grade and failed to get through to Q2, included Team Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen. The Finnish driver will start in 19th position ahead of his closest rivals in the other newest Formula One teams, and also ahead of the new recruit to the Norfolk, UK based team. Instead of Jarno Trulli making up the usual pairing at the team, for this weekend’s race their reserve driver, Karun Chandhok will take his racing seat. The Indian driver previously raced with the Hispania Racing team last season, before taking on his current role with Team Lotus. Chandhok managed to achieve what he set out to do in qualifying and impressed the team. He was able to get within a second of the pace of his team mate today, but had to settle for 21st place on the grid for tomorrow.
The Virgin Racing duo will line up either side of Chandhok, with Timo Glock in front and he will start the race from 20th position. Whereas his rookie team mate, Belgium’s Jerome D’Ambrosio. will begin from 22nd place.
The final two lining up at the back of the field are the Hispania Racing boys. Initially, the more experienced Formula One racer of the two, Vitantonio Liuzzi would have been in front. However, due to a gearbox change, the places have been reversed. As a result of this, Liuzzi will now start behind his team mate and Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who will be taking part in the second race in the sport of his career.
With seven of the drivers out of the picture, all eyes were on the next few to bow out of Q2 and not make it through to the final stage. Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams proved to be of interest, as they were all running on the soft tyres and battling to get through to Q3.
As the second session got going, it seemed that the midfield runners were keeping everyone in suspense, as they did not all take to the track until later, as there was less and less time to get a lap in. Among those were Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, Maldonado, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi and Alguersuari. Of the four drivers Heidfeld was the first to take to the track, and set the pace for the others to follow. The German managed to get a solid slot in eighth place temporarily. On the other hand, Alguersuari was not quite so lucky. The best time he could set was only enough for 15th position, which put him in the danger zone to drop out of Q2. Likewise, with Heidfeld, Maldonado also seemed to have luck on his side, as he got into ninth place with less than four minutes to go.
As with Buemi, Barrichello was also attempting to keep his place and get through to Q3. In addition to those drivers in a vulnerable position, Kobayashi’s team mate Sergio Perez was also in the mix hoping to get a good grid position. The rookie racer scrapped for position with Barrichello, and the pair swapped places a couple of times. The Mexican driver sadly lost out to Barrichello in the end, and will start from 15th place. Barrichello is just ahead though in 14th position, and his team mate Maldonado did well to get ahead of him for 13th place.
Meanwhile, Alguersuari and Buemi’s decision to leave their run until late, failed to pay off for the pair. Alguersuari was the one to lose out against his Swiss team mate, and had to settle for 17th place, which gave Buemi the upper hand to get ahead in 16th position.
Towards the top ten territory there were a few drivers who made good progress, but in the end could not be rewarded with their efforts. It had been touch and go for Mercedes driver, Michael Schumacher in Q1. The seven times World Champion had a slight wobble during that part, as he ran wide into the final chicane of the Nurburgring, but recovered himself to still hover around tenth place. It was a similar situation as Q2 was ticking down to the end, and the German managed to get into eighth place temporarily. This good progress was short lived when Renault’s Vitaly Petrov came out of the woodwork. The Russian snatched eighth place, albeit just to take it and get through the final part of qualifying. With Schumacher being the one to lose a place, his team mate and fellow countryman, Nico Rosberg was the one to do the same as Petrov did to him, but it was Heidfeld who got pushed aside this time. As a result of this, he was not able to make it through to the top ten shootout, and missed it by a small margin to now start from 11th place.
Like Heidfeld and Petrov experienced mixed fortune between team mates, it was the same fate for the Force India team. Although rookie Paul di Resta was familiar with the circuit from his German Touring Car Masters (DTM) racing days, he was on some new territory that is used just in Formula One racing. Despite having to get used to new surroundings, the Scotsman got off to a solid start in qualifying early on. He also holds a good record against his more experienced team mate Adrian Sutil. Unfortunately on this occasion the German was the more successful one on his home soil. While Sutil went through to battle for final grid positions in the top 10, di Resta finished just outside in 12th position.
With a lot of attention on the midfield runners, where they were swapping positions and at times in the danger zone, the front of the field mostly kept up the high standard of pace setting. However, Massa did get off to a shaky start as he took to the track first of all. He appeared to struggle for grip with his soft tyres, but further on into the lap and by the end this did not hamper his chances. Massa managed to take the top spot for the time being in Q2.
Next came Alonso who gave Massa a run for his money, and kept him on his toes as he went six tenths faster. The Spaniard initially set a lap time of 1:31.350secs. Webber failed to match this and set a time of 1:31.563secs. With under ten minutes to go until the second session was over, Hamilton also made himself known and to be a close threat. He took first place with an impressive lap time of 1:30.998secs. Vettel was also on the scene, but failed to match his rivals’ pace. As Q2 came to a close the line up at the front barely changed. Hamilton was leading from Vettel, Alonso in third, and Webber in fourth place.
Beyond the top four to make it through the final hurdle included Rosberg who pipped Button to fifth place at the time. Massa ended Q2 in seventh place, and got ahead of Sutil. Petrov and Schumacher were the other two lucky ones, to get into Q3 for the top 10 shootout.
As the drivers commenced their battle for the best slots on the grid, Hamilton was the one to shine first. He edged Webber in the first sector, but Alonso temporarily took the lead with a lap time of 1:30.866secs. Hamilton soon finished his quick lap though and came through to take first place for a short period. The 2008 World Champion was on good form as he pushed Alonso down a place, and was more than a tenth of a second faster than him. Unfortunately for Hamilton though, his reign on the pole position slot was short lived, as Webber was flying round the track. He soon crossed the line with an impressive lap time of 1:30.251secs. Vettel attempted to go all out to take the lead on his home soil, but failed to turn his dream into reality.
The drivers had one last opportunity to go head to head for pole and a spot on the front row of the grid. Alonso tried to get a better grid slot, but instead remained in third place, even though he was faster than the lap before. The moment then came for Webber, as he set a blistering lap time of 1:30.079secs. The other top contenders could not match the incredible pace set by Webber. Hamilton had to settle for second place, leaving reigning World Champion Vettel in third position. For the first time this season the result means, that Vettel has not been on the front row of the starting grid.
With Vettel taking the position from him, Alonso slipped down to fourth place. Massa will line up on the third row of the grid, alongside Rosberg who fought well to get sixth position. Button is next in seventh place, and accompanied by Sutil on the fourth row to start the race. Petrov and Schumacher make up the top 10 positions.
Following the qualifying session the FIA have since reported that Buemi’s position will change. After assessing the cars to ensure they conform to the regulations, the FIA discovered that there were fuel irregularities concerning the levels on his car. As a result of this, Buemi will now face either starting from the back of the field or the pit lane. The punishment issued will now alter the line up from 16th position. It will be as follows: Alguersuari, Kobayashi, Kovalainen, Glock, Chandhok, D’Ambrosio, Ricciardo, Liuzzi and finally, Buemi.
For Webber the start of the German Grand Prix will be an exciting prospect, as he is the pole sitter for the second consecutive race this season. It will also bring him comfort that he has a good track record for success at this circuit. Webber scored his maiden victory here just two years ago. Nevertheless, he has the uncertainty of the weather to possibly contend with, and any incidents as a result of this. There is also his track record of pole positions converted into race wins, which may play on his mind, as he has not won from pole in the four that he has had so far. It is certain that with four Germans in the top 10 out of the six in the field, including Vettel, they too will be hoping for a top result and especially on home soil.