Saturday 23 July 2011

Nurburgring Qually: Webber pips a resurgent Lewis

It seems astonishing that a few races ago many of talked of the death of F1 qualifying. Mark Webber claimed pole position for tomorrow's German Grand Prix in a tight, competitive and exciting qualifying shoot out in the classic style.

Lewis Hamilton performed amazingly in qualifying second
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
All that was required to get the entertainment value of qualifying off its life support was for the protagonists at the business end to get closer to each other. That ensures that doing one run only in final qualifying and sitting out the final minutes of the session, as seen in some earlier rounds, will not be a goer. The Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso's Ferrari were right in the mix today, as expected in advance. But what was not expected was Lewis Hamilton at the sharp end, and he very much was. He came alive during qualifying, and his performance in the final session was stunning, particularly in the first part of the lap. He eventually was awarded with second on the grid, but half a tenth shy of Webber's best. That Jenson Button was upwards of a second slower than his team mate should leave you in no doubt as to Lewis's exact personal contribution to the outcome.

Mark Webber continued recent good form to claim pole
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
His only rival for star of the show was pole man Webber. He's looked confident and quick all weekend, and indeed across the past couple of races has been increasingly assured and rapid (possibly because the Pirelli compounds are 'moving in his direction' as it were). And he always goes well here at the Nurburgring.

This all means that Sebastian Vettel starts a race from somewhere other than the front row for the first time this season (indeed, for the first time since Monza last year). He nevertheless will line up in third place, and can't be written off tomorrow (especially if it rains), even if this is by a distance his least competitive weekend of the season so far by the very high standards he's set.

Fernando Alonso may be disappointed with fourth on the grid
Credit: / CC
Then there's Alonso. The extent that he could maintain his Silverstone pace was for many the question for this weekend. Across much of this weekend it's appeared that he is indeed still in there, though in the final qualifying reckoning he may be marginally disappointed with starting in fourth place, four tenths off Webber's best time. Nevertheless, the Prancing Horse tends to have a bit more of a gallop on race day, as we saw at Silverstone, so he'll still be one to watch tomorrow.

Indeed, tomorrow's race is hard to call for various reasons. It is a fantastic opportunity for Webber, and he's looked very much like a winner here since wheels first started to turn on Friday. Still, he's not so much as converted either of his poles this year into leads off the start, let alone a win (and he's not even led a lap this year), so nothing can be taken for granted.

McLaren, like Ferrari, are often closer to the Bulls on race day, though their ability to keep their rear tyres in shape tomorrow, as they didn't in Valencia, will be key. This is especially as long runs on the tyres are excepted tomorrow, almost a 'one and a half' stop strategy featuring a short run on the primes at the end. And if Lewis performed a miracle getting the car onto the front row, maintaining the pace over a race distance may be asking too much even of him. But we'll have fun finding out either way. And there's rain forecast (though it was supposed to rain in qualifying as well....).

Qualifying results


  1. Hey Graham

    Sneaky feeling Lewis might snatch this one. No under-fueling this race me thinks, and certainly he'll be pushing Webber (not the best pole starter in F1 history) hard into the 1st corner.

    Shaping up to be a cracker tomorrow!

    Matt B

  2. Hi Matt. Good to hear from you.

    I,like most people, was astonished by Lewis's qualifying pace. Didn't see it coming at all! And for most of the year the McLarens have been stronger in the race than in qualifying, though in Valencia they faded away on race day. Still think Lewis is well placed to go for the win and he'll attack whether it's wet or dry!