"Have we got it? Have we got it?"
Who could blame Australian Mark Webber for wanting to be sure. He has tried this 129 times before without securing a pole position for a Formula One Grand Prix. Saturday at the Nurburgring, his attempts came good.
Webber survived both Eifel Mountains showers and final attempts by Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel and the Brawn GP pair of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello to hold top spot for the start of Sunday's German Grand Prix.
Barrichello, whose masterful tire choice, slicks, in the second of three field-cutting sessions put the paddock abuzz, will line up next to Webber. Englishman Button and Vettel, German, take the second row, as Brawn GP and Red Bull continue their seasonlong dominance. Vettel called qualifying "a lottery" and the car "good enough."
"But my last lap wasn't magnificent, which is why I'm not on the front row," he said.
In a stroke of progress, McLaren Mercedes runners Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen align on the third row, World Champion Hamilton's MP4-24 with a slew of changes, Kovalainen's without.
The McLarens supplanted Ferrari, which had begun to move into place behind Brawn and Red Bull despite a proclamation by Williams F1's Nico Rosberg, German, that his team is third-best to date. Hamilton, who led final practice ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso, reached the final qualifying round for the first time since Bahrain, five races ago. Bahrain was the Englishman's most recent scoring effort, as well.
In a de facto victory for Force India, the team's best-yet qualifying performance, German Adrian Sutil will line up seventh next to the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. His effort gives Mercedes engines five of the top seven grid places.
"I'm really happy, for sure, one of F1's happiest guys today," Sutil said "It's my home race and my best qualifying position so far in F1, so it was a great qualifying for us.
"It was very tricky with the weather, but our decisions were very good and on time, particularly in Q2 with the rain. We took a risk on the dry tires, and we did it a lap earlier than all the others and got the third-fastest time. Finally, even with the fuel on board, Q3 went really well and we got into seventh. I am very happy for everyone on the team. We've worked really hard in the last months. Now we just have to score some points."
Sutil, who earned his competition license at this track, had set his target at reaching the second qualifying session in a VJM002 without mechanical or aero upgrade. Instead, he gave his second-year squad its best qualifying performance to date. Can points be far behind? Starting seventh must ameliorate for owner Vijay Mallya the embarrassment of a dispute over the team motorhome that resulted in uniformed officers appearing in the paddock Friday.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Renault's Nelson Piquet complete the first ten. Piquet finished second to Hamilton and ahead of Massa in last year's rain-played German Grand Prix, held at Hockenheim.
"It's very special day for me to get pole," Webber said. "I've been close a few times in the past and also been on pole fuel-corrected, but that doesn't count, a few times. Today we're here. The team have done a great job. We've been quick all weekend and we got really tested, all the teams and drivers, in that session. It was very, very chaotic, but to still deliver the lap time when it actually counted was very important to me. So to do the best time was fantastic."
The popular driver whose first race appearance ended in points at his home Grand Prix in 2002 bagged his first pole with a 1 minute, 32.230 second lap of the 3.198-mile course. He survived wildly changing track conditions as rain and wind -- and, above all, timing -- played havoc with tire choices. Drivers switched slicks for intermediates only to change back again as conditions changed, rain washing across one part of the course while another part bore a dry line.
"The track condition looked reasonably dry, but the slick just wouldn't take it at all," Webber said. "We learnt a little bit in Q2 with Rubens on that little window he had, he did a very good lap, and I was out on the inters at that stage and it was just very, very chaotic to try to read what we needed for the last 10 minutes. the key was three clean sectors in the end."
The usual idea is to get there then stage the pole scrap in the third . and shortest of the three qualifying sessions. Saturday, the real chase. was in the second session Barrichello showed the way .
"It's nice when you have the right tires at the right moment," the Brazilian said. "We all went on slicks and we all came back because we saw Massa going out on Turn 12 and I think everybody came back into the pits for the intermediate. I came in and I had no reply on the radio. It was a big confusion."
Barrichello, 37, oldest driver in the series, is an acknowledged wet-weather ace whose timing kept him in the running when others, including two-time driving champion Alonso were left behind. Alonso spun without sufficient time for another flying lap as the course suddenly dried and quickened. The occasion marks the first in two seasons the Spaniard has been outqualified by his teammate.
Championship leader Button pegged it a meteorological dice roll.
"That session was madness, Q2" Button said. "It was good fun. We're struggling with tire warm-up anyway, but when you chuck a bit of water in there as well, it's quite difficult."
Leading the second half of the field are BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, German, next to Alonso on Row 6. Williams F1's Kazuki Nakajima will line up next to Toyota's Jarno Trulli on the seventh row. Nakajima's teammate Rosberg is next to BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. Rosberg lost his 100 percent record of reaching final qualifying to the rain-tire business.
Scuderia Toro Rosso's leading light, rookie Sebastien Buemi, who blamed traffic for not reaching the second round, is next to veteran Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India. On the final row by time are Toyota's Timo Glock, German, and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, the only Frenchman in the field. Unhappy with balance, Bourdais scrapped practice set-up for one favored by Buemi. They swapped positions after Glock was determined to have impeded Alonso and placed last.
Strong rumor persists that this is the final starting spot in a Toro Rosso for Bourdais, who bristled Friday at the suggestion. Bourdais is in a second season after pairing with Vettel last year. Young Catalan Jaime Alguersuari is tipped to take the seat. But World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb has expressed interest. Be hard to turn down a guy called Sebastien.
Sunday's race is scheduled for 60 laps. Rain is forecast.