Nico Rosberg regained the initiative in his duel for the Formula One world title with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, when he grabbed pole position for the German Grand Prix with a dramatic late qualifying lap.
The 31-year-old German driver, inspired by racing on home soil and in front of his team’s home crowd, looked to be set for second place on the grid after electrical problems forced him to abort his first flying lap in the third qualifying session.
But he responded with a bold and dramatic lap in the final minutes of a tense session to secure the prime starting slot and a chance to regain the leadership of the drivers’ championship.
Rosberg clocked a startling best lap of one minute and 14.323 seconds to outpace the defending three-time champion by 0.123 seconds.
When Hamilton went for his final lap, he was unable to improve and regain the initiative and Rosberg could celebrate, while a disappointed Hamilton struggled to hide his feelings.
“Well done, Nico, a fantastic lap and well done under the circumstances,” said Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe, who revealed that Rosberg’s car was heavily fuelled.
It was Rosberg’s third pole at Hockenheim, 30 years after his father Keke had claimed his final pole at the famous old circuit in 1986, his fifth of the season and the 27th of his career.
Behind the two Mercedes Australian Daniel Ricciardo, in his 100th Grand Prix, was third fastest for Red Bull ahead of his team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, the pair slightly more than three-tenths behind.
The two Ferraris of German Sebastian Vettel and Finn Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Sergio Perez in the second Force India and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
“Yes it was a great feeling,” said Rosberg. “It was a great lap, but I also had extra fuel just in case I needed to go again and do a third lap.”
– Hamilton mistakes prove costly –
Hamilton lost time on his final lap when he locked up at the hairpin and again when he over-drove in the stadium section, while Rosberg revelled in the technical demands of the track and obeyed the adage of ‘making the car do the work’.
The Englishman was in laconic mood when he spoke afterwards.
“It has been a good weekend,” he said. “I had no problems. I had the pace today but just couldn’t finish it off on that last lap, so I didn’t really have much of a lock-up, it was subtle and I didn’t really lose any time.
“It should be a good day for Mercedes tomorrow.”
Ricciardo was happy to grab third ahead of Verstappen.
“I think we got pretty close to the Mercedes,” he said.
“My first lap in Q3 was really good and I knew there was probably not much more – maybe a tenth of a second in it if I could do a perfect lap.
“We may have different tyres available for the race so that hopefully will make it interesting.”
Lowe added that Mercedes had been worried when Rosberg’s engine cut out as he aborted his first run in.
“It lost synch on all the gears and it corresponded with a warning about the throttle pedal, which was actually not to do with it, but I think that gave him a scare – nobody likes to lose control of their throttle pedal,” said Lowe.
“He aborted the lap, which is a disturbance to your pattern in Q3. We were just particularly impressed that he went out there and got the pole time with that sort of stress, and with two laps of fuel on board. We gave him two chances, so a great lap, good job.
“We found a way of shutting it down into a safe mode, and then sent him again.”
For Hamilton, Hockenheim continued to be one of his most unrewarding venues in qualifying, where he has not beaten a team-mate since 2008. – Agence France-Presse