Fernando rules soggy Silverstone
Photo: Foto Ercole Colombo
Fernando Alonso has taken Ferrari’s first pole position since Singapore 2010 in a waterlogged qualifying session at Silverstone.
The 2011 British Grand Prix winner set a late time of 1minute 51.746seconds to snatch pole from a spritely looking Mark Webber.
‘No secret. I think it’s tricky conditions for everyone,’ said Alonso, stating the obvious.
‘It was not easy. In Q3, a difficult choice between extreme and intermediate tyres. To complete a lap with no mistakes is not easy in this conditions.
‘Tomorrow is the race. With these weather conditions, this qualifying is probably one of the least improtant qualifying sessions of the year.’
Webber will join Alonso on the front row, his time only five one-hundredths of a second away from the Spaniard ahead of him.
‘It was a very tight session, ultimately you don’t really know how you’re going,’ commented the 2010 British GP winner.
‘As Fernando said, it’s very, very tricky at certain sections of the lap.
‘Guys did a great job. It was nip and tuck with Fernando for the pole.’
Michael Schumacher, traditionally a demon in the wet, wrestled his Mercedes into P3 on tomorrow’s grid.
‘I think we look reasonably competitive in wet conditions,’ started Schumacher. ‘So therefore rain is welcome tomorrow.
‘But an exciting session today. We recovered well in the [red flag] delay, and got back in our rhythm.
‘Very happy to be third. Good for the team, good for our boys. Looking forward to the race.’
Q3 started after a significant rain delay in the middle of Q2, during which time rain lashed Silverstone, making condition undriveable.
However, once Q2 resumed and cars had their chance to dry the track, the crossover point to choose between wet and intermediate tyres presented itself as the top ten cars prepared to qualify for position.
Only Raikkonen and Schumacher chose to Q3 on the full wet tyre, with every other driver assessing the track to be ready for intermediates The intermediate tyre would prove to be fastest, and the two odd drivers out returned quickly to their garages to make the switch.
With the rain holdin goff until the dying seconds of the session, the track conditions improved throughout the ten minute shootout. As the laptimes fell, provisional pole rotated from driver to driver – with Webber holding P1 with one hand in the final few minutes – but ultimately came to rest with Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel looked good for at least a top three start before a messy final sector saw him drop time. He salvaged P4 as his Red Bull felt increasingly comfortable on the track as a dry line became more evident.
Felipe Massa qualified a lively fifth after being in the mix for pole early on in Q3, while Kimi Raikkonen will line up alongside him in P6.
Pastor Maldonado will be happy with P7, though starting on his row will be a disappointed Lewis Hamilton, who could only manage eighth fastest of the afternoon.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified well in P9 for Force India, while Romain Grosjean couldn’t set a lap in Q3 after beaching his car in a gravel trap at the end of Q2 – leaving him to start from P10.
The rain began to fall in the minutes leading up to Q1, with most models predicting it to continue for around thirty minutes.
Almost every car left the pits – fitted with intermediate tyres – to set a time before the rain intensified, in search of a lap that would get them through to Q2.
Drivers struggled to avoid each other for the first half of the session, so unusual is it to see so many cars on track on Saturday. Traffic proved to be a major issue, which made timing a fast lap with the track conditions incredibly difficult.
Sauber made a brave call early to switch its drivers to the soft tyre, hoping the track was dry enough for slick rubber. It didn’t pay off, but both drivers’ pace on the intermediate tyres were good enough for the gamble to ultimately do no damage.
Much of the grid would right itself for Q2, with the usual suspects failing to capitalise on the chaotic conditions to slip into the next session. However, Jenson Button – whose downturn in form is becoming terminal for the 2012 season – was caught out on his final flying lap by inconsistent track conditions, and yellow flags in the final sector.
Button, despite being renowned for his skill in the wet, will have his work cut out for him in tomorrow’s race from P18.
Behind the Briton will start Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalinen, Timo Glock, Pedro de la Rosa, Narain Karthikeyan, and Charles Pic. However, Marussia will have to apply for permission to enter Pic into the Grand Prix after his fastest time fell outside of the 107 per cent rule by around four-tenths.
Ferrari started Q2 on intermediates, but it very quickly became obvious that conditions had deteriorated well into full-wet territory. Fernando and Felipe were recalled to switch tyres, with drivers struggling even on the specialised compound.
Schumacher push his Mercedes hard, but it cost him in the form of multiple off-road excursions. Alonso had a particularly hairy moment on the back straight, his car coming within metres of the wall.
Drivers began to tell their engineers – and, by extensions, race director Charlie Whiting – that conditions were becoming undriveable. Whiting soon obliged, and suspended Q2 with a little over six minutes remaining on the clock.
The session resumed some ninety minutes later, with rain easing over the circuit, and cars took to the circuit once again to make best use of the time remaining.
Raikkonen, Perez, and Kobayashi opted to restart with intermediate tyres, but only parts of the track were dry enough to be compatible, while others were submerged in standing water.
With all cars on wet tyres, and all on the track, times tumbled as the circuit conditions improved. Hamilton, topping the times for the session, was almost five seconds faster than Perez, who led before the red flag.
Romain Grosjean lost his car in a gravel trap in what was the only post red flag incident of Q2, but made the cut for Q3 – which will ultimately have him starting from P10.
Paul di Resta was the first of the drivers to miss the Q3 cutoff, leading Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Sergio Perez.
The 2012 British Grand Prix starts – rain or shine – at 10PM AEST tomorrow evening.