Lewis Hamilton won a shoot-out with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa for pole at the German Grand Prix, while their title rival Kimi Raikkonen trailed home in an underwhelming sixth place.
The Brazilian seemed to have put his Silverstone nightmare firmly behind him as he set the pace through the third session of qualifying, and in the end it came down to whether Hamilton could find a final lap to challenge him – which he could, taking the top spot by nearly a fifth of a second.
By contrast, Raikkonen was off the pace and never entirely comfortable with his car, and Heikki Kovalainen could not make the most of his speed by staying error-free for an entire lap.
Now Hamilton has set his sights on a McLaren 1-2 finish: “It has been a good day – I feel pretty chilled and happy with what we’ve done, but today is not where you win points, tomorrow is. And Heikki and I will do everything we can to get a 1-2.”
“My final lap I was quite happy with – it went very smoothly. I could have gone a bit quicker if we needed to, so it was pretty cool.
“The first Q3 lap I had was looking to be a good lap but they put the flags out at Turn 12. I think Heikki ran a bit wide. I had to be careful not to get a penalty, so I gave a big lift.”
Kovalainen did manage third on the grid, more than a quarter of a second adrift, commenting ruefully afterwards: “Third place I am very happy with – if you take into account those rallycross moments today.”
Massa said: “I think it is very competitive between Ferrari and McLaren, and the race as well will be a big competition between all four cars, maybe. Of course that is very exciting, but we need to do everything right tomorrow in the race.”
Raikkonen’s failure to get as much from his car as his team-mate allowed Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso to pounce. Trulli will line up beside Kovalainen in fourth while Alonso is one place back.
The rest of the top ten consists of Robert Kubica, who never looked close to competing at the cutting edge, and the present and future Red Bull Racing trio of Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and David Coulthard.
The team had hoped for better – Coulthard suffering from set-up problems once he had race fuel on board in the third qualifying session: “I didn’t manage to hook it up properly – I had oversteer on the prime tyres going through turn one and then understeer on the option, so I ran off the circuit.
“It was a pretty messy lap and we should have been a little bit higher. However, as the fuel burns off tomorrow, we should pick up the pace.”
Jenson Button managed to haul his Honda into the second qualifying session but could make little impression, qualifying 14th.
He said: “Realistically we got the best out of the car today, although it is frustrating that we were not quite able to put a complete lap together.
“On my first run in Q2, the tyres were graining during the last sector, so we tried to look after them on my second run. Unfortunately that meant that they did not work fully in the first sector, putting me two-tenths down on my best lap time halfway round the lap. Once the tyres started working well in the middle sector I was able to gain all of the time back and improve my lap time. So it’s a little bit disappointing.
“However we improved all the way through qualifying today and have generally been working well over the weekend. It’s a nice feeling as I haven’t felt totally confident with the car for the last couple of races.”
Notable casualties included BMW’s Nick Heidfeld, who missed the cut for the final session and took 12th, and Renault’s Nelson Piquet who once again found himself stranded with the backmarkers in 17th.
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota
- Fernando Alonso, Renault
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber
- Mark Webber, Red Bull
- Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso
- David Coulthard, Red Bull
- Timo Glock, Toyota
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
- Nico Rosberg, Williams
- Jenson Button, Honda
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
- Nelson A. Piquet, Renault
- Rubens Barrichello, Honda
- Adrian Sutil, Force India
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India