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2018 F1

Qualifying Analysis: 2018 F1 German Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel smashed the track record, to claim his maiden pole at the Hockenheim circuit, which is a half an hour’s drive from his birth place, Heppenheim. The pole comes at a time when his prime contender and reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton could not complete the whole session, due to a technical failure. The German was followed by Valtteri Bottas who sealed second spot on the grid, and by his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who qualified third.

Clinching the 55th pole position of his career, Ferrari’s four-time World Champion’s fastest time of 1 minute 11.212 seconds broke his team-mate Raikkonen’s track record with McLaren in 2004, which was a time of 1 minute 780 seconds. In what was predicted to be a close qualifying, seemed to be a cake walk for Ferrari in the final session.

Hamilton on the other hand made several attempts in Q1 to crack it into the top three fastest times but was unable to do so. On two attempts, he made a mistake, once running wide, and the second time running over a kerb at Turn 1. However, the Briton had to stop his car on the final attempt, as he lost hydraulic pressure, causing the stoppage. Mercedes said the ‘bumpy’ moment he had at Turn 1, was a consequence of a failed power steering that was triggered by the hydraulic failure in the car.

Although he tried wheeling the car back into the pits in a desperate attempt to make it into the Q2 session, his attempts were thwarted when the distance was too far. It is also against the regulations, to do so during an ongoing session. For now, the Briton will start 15th on the grid, unless the team change a few parts, that incur more penalties and put him at the back of the pack. It might be gutting with a title battle at stake, however he does have the engine to fight up the grid in race conditions.

For Mercedes it comes as blow, with only one car left to challenge the Ferraris, where Valtteri Bottas was two tenths of a second down on Vettel’s time, despite his best effort. The Silver Arrows will have a long night to aid both their drivers to challenge the win for tomorrow’s race. For the reigning champion, it is going to be a tough fight, with one retirement already on the record. However, the problem they had with Bottas’ car was in Austria was also a similar one, and it seems these are hydraulic issues are becoming their Achilles heel align with tyre management, and other problems.

The alarming comments post the session though was the Hamilton’s subtle accusation or rather the team’s curiosity in how Ferrari have been able to extract performance and be ‘five tenths’ quicker than them on the straights. This accusation is not the first one this weekend, on Thursday Hamilton also pointed out that Ferrari’s starts were exceptionally good. The suggestion that Ferrari could be cheating is not direct, but the Silver Arrows are definitely viewing their boost in performance to be suspicious. It is ironical that the accusations keep coming in at a time when they have a bad weekend, but in the reverse scenario when they are at the peak of their performance in the past or current times, their rivals never bothered to point a finger.

Max Verstappen qualified fourth, while his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo opted out of the qualifying session after completing the Q1. The Australian has already taken penalties for changed parts on his car, and he will start 20th on the grid. Although Red Bull gambled with a soft tyre strategy in the second session for Verstappen, red flags brought out due to Marcus Ericsson spinning into the gravel, caused them to change the strategy. For the race, the team have looked strong in the simulations in free practice yesterday, therefore both their drivers will look competitive tomorrow.

Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified fifth and sixth, edging out Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault to seventh. Although seventh is the German’s best or favourite spot, with Ricciardo and Hamilton out, the fifth place was the highest best for the mid-field pack. Renault driver Carlos Sainz clocked the eighth fastest time of the session, and lines up alongside his team-mate in fourth row on the grid.

Sauber’s Charles Leclerc qualified ninth, making it into the top 10 for the fifth time this season. The Ferrari protege edged out his team-mate Marcus Ericsson by eight tenths of a second in the same car, while the Swede hasn’t made into the Q3 session since 2015. Force India’s Sergio Perez grabbed the final spot in the top 10 of the grid, while his team-mate Esteban Ocon got eliminated in the first session itself.

Although the scarlet team looked strong in Q1 with the top two fastest times, they opted for only one attempt in the red flagged session, where they classified third and fourth fastest. This strategy helps them save the tyres for the race, since the Q2 tyres are the ones they start the race with. By Q3, the air temperature was 24 degrees, but the track temperature was 40 degrees which is favourable for the Ferraris on the ultrasoft tyre coupled with a dry track.

The fastest sectors in all three sessions were as follows:

Session Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Q1 15.643 (Vettel) 34.545 (Raikkonen) 22.066 (Vettel)
Q2 15.431 (Verstappen) 34.412 (Vettel) 21.845 (Verstappen)
Q3 15.279 (Vettel) 34.159 (Vettel) 21.525 (Bottas)

The dramatic outcome of the qualifying was a delight to the fans, with their home driver claiming pole position, but it was also a treat after a rain drenched Free Practice session earlier in the day, where there was minimal track action. The German GP is also a home race to the Mercedes team, where Hamilton planned to seek redemption for Silverstone, by beating Vettel on his home-ground. However, the Briton will have a long race tomorrow, and hope there are no further technical issues truncating more drama.

Vettel has never taken pole or won at Hockenheim, and his last German Grand Prix win was at Nürburgring in 2013 with Red Bull Racing. A win for the Ferrari driver at this track will be special in terms of records, but it is also critical with his immediate rival at the back of the grid. The current lead Vettel has over Hamilton is seven points, and win tomorrow could help the German further that lead.

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