21 Jul 2012

German Grand Prix - Hockenheim - Qualifying report

After three practice sessions of mixed conditions where Jenson Button fell from fastest to slowest over the three sessions and Pastor Maldonado managed to top the wet second session the cars were started up and drivers strapped in for the qualifying session for the German Grand Prix.

We have heard Mark Webber's opinion of the new track.  It is now little more than a castrated version of the Hockenheimring of old but it should produce some overtaking moves come Saturday, especially at the Tilke designed hairpin where old track meets new.

Grey clouds hung menacingly over the circuit so as soon as the pit lane was open all 24 cars streamed out.  Pretty soon after Roman Grosjean was told by his team that his times wouldn't count if he kept over-running at turn 1 in order to decrease the radius of the corner and therefore go through it faster.  Vettel was also guilty of this.  Charlie Whiting had warned the teams their times would be forfeit if they used this trick.

After ten minutes Hamilton set the fastest time in the heavily revised McLaren with Button in third.  Kobayashi was second and Rosberg fourth.  The Ferraris were next and the Red Bulls much further back.

Most of the kerbs at Hockenheim are old-school saw-tooth type rather than just coloured paint to denote where a kerb should be and Grosjean was seen oversteering mightily over the kerbs.

With eight minutes to go Hamilton was told to stay in the pits as his time was deemed fast enough to make it through to Q2.

Hulkenberg then surprised with a 1.16.271 to pop in to second and shortly after Raikkonen showed the Lotus' pace with the first time under 1.16.  Hamilton's mechanics thought maybe he should go out again and strapped him in for another run.  The soft tyres were producing much quicker times.

With only four minutes left Webber was in trouble in fourteenth.

Gorsjean went off track - again - this time after a lock up.  He was eighteenth with 3 minutes left in contrast to his team mate who was still fastest.

Meanwhile, in the pits, Hamilton's mechanics unstrapped him.  He was fifth and safe.

The final minute saw a flurry of action with Schumacher, Webber, Senna, Vettel and Grosjean all dangerously close to P18 and relegation.  Ultimately Vergne in the recalcitrant Torro Rosso was knocked out but Schumacher was only a tenth of a second faster.

Hamilton, on the hard tyres, was sixth.  A good result given the McLaren's poor form of late.

So to Q2.  Thunder rumbled over the circuit and lightning flashed nearby.  As the session started it started to rain and Button and Maldonado were straight out on intermediate tyres.  Previous periods of rain at Hockenheim have seen monsoon conditions so it was sensible to try and get a lap in before the intensity of the rain increased.  The rest of he grid saw that this was the obvious thing to do so they all shot out on intermediates with the view that they could get a lap or two in.

Only Button and Maldonado had clear air.  The rest of the grid, having come out nose to tail, were bunched up.

Jenson did a 1.39 and Pastor a 1.38.9.  Kimi was next up and set the third fastest time.

Massa went off in front of Alonso and slowed them both down but Alonso still set the second fastest time.

Then Schumacher, the regenmeister of old, did a 1.38.01 - half a second faster than Vettel in second.

Hamilton, finding grip in his tyres, pipped Michael by a tenth

David Croft then uttered the immortal words, "It's like trying to ride a rodeo bull in the manner of a ballerina performing swan lake in these conditions."

In the last few minutes Rosberg was slowest, almost a second slower than Senna who was the next slowest.  Massa was fourteenth and Grosjean fifteenth whilst Ricciardo, Perez and Kobayashi were also in the knock-out zone.

Rob Smedley told Massa he needed to find an extra half a second which he miserably failed to do.

At the end of the session the rain increased and no-one set a faster time, although a few went off track trying.  Ricciardo, Perez, Kobayashi, Massa, Grosjean, Senna and Rosberg failed to make it into Q3.

We were then treated to Kimi complaining about Perez on his radio.  "He keeps blocking me.  It is unbelievable." And Alonso had a good whinge about the rain telling his engineer it was too wet to carry on.

Despite Alonso's plea Q3 started on time.  All ten drivers went out on full wets.  Hulkenberg immediately went off in the braking zone into turn 6.  The rain had now stopped but nevertheless Schumacher was on his radio complaining about the conditions.

Hamilton and Button set the first times.  Hamilton on 1.46.61 and Button one third of a second behind.  Then Maldonado came through two seconds slower than Button.  Vettel, Alonso and Hulkenberg all set times in the 1.44s.

Raikkonen went off track and was tenth - six seconds slower than Vettel.

With the cars clearing the rain off the track the times came down.  Everyone was improving their times in the last three minutes.

With the times tumbling it would be a race to be last over the line and Formula 1 delivered a thrilling climax to the session.

Webber, then Alonso were fastest.  Vettel was third.  Schumacher was pushed down to fourth, his Mercedes squirming on track as he sought all the grip he could find.

Alonso went even faster to set a pole lap one second faster than second man Vettel.  The other eight were Webber, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Button, Hamilton, Diresta and finally Raikkonen who, despite being Finnish, has never gone well in the wet.

Thus we have the grid set for a thrilling race on Sunday.  Grosjean, Webber, Rosberg and Massa are out of position and the McLaren's suffered a poor session in the wet.  Their dry practice showed they are faster than most of the cars in front of them - plus Maldonado is in the mix at the top of the grid.

Four drivers suffered penalties.  Perez for impeding Raikkonen and Rosberg, Grosjean and Webber for gearbox changes.  The grid looks like this:

1 - Alonso
2 - Vettel
3 - Schumacher
4 - Hulkenberg
5 - Maldonado
6 - Button
7 - Hamilton
8 - Webber
9 - diResta
10 - Raikkonen
11 - Ricciardo
12 - Kobayashi
13 - Massa
14 - Senna
15 - Vergne
16 - Kovalainen
17 - Perez
18 - Petrov
19 - Pic
20 - Grosjean
21 - Glock
22 - Rosberg
23 - de la Rosa
24 - Karthikeyan