It was a super Saturday at the uncharacteristically sunny Silverstone, as Qualifying saw Lewis Hamilton claim his second Pole Position at the circuit, while Nico Rosberg made it another Mercedes front row lockout. Hamilton rightly stole the headlines with a spectacular lap of 1:29.607; He was the only man to set a time below the 1:30’s so far this weekend. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel will be pleased to see his championship rivals faltering, as Fernando Alonso could only manage P10, while Kimi Raikkonen is placed just two positions ahead. However, it was a SILVER day at SILVERstone!
With Silverstone baked in glorious sunshine, the team’s soon realized the importance of the final practice session, after the FP1 washout yesterday. Consequently, it was a busy morning with team’s opting to examine both long and short run pace on each compound. Mercedes once again established themselves as the favorites for Qualifying, as Rosberg topped the timesheet once again, with Lewis Hamilton marginally behind in P2.
However, McLaren’s FP3 session was filled with drama. Just under 15 minutes into the session, Sergio Perez suffered a mysterious delamination on the exit of Copse. The Mexican described the puncture as an “explosion” on the the left rear, which had destroyed not only the tread, but also the canvas of the tyre. With debris strewn across the circuit, a Red Flag brought a brief halt to proceedings while marshals collected the rubber. When Perez finally got his car back to the garage, the team observed severe damage to the floor, diffuser and exhaust outboard.
Around the halfway mark of the session, qualifying simulation runs began for most drivers. A battle between Red Bull and Mercedes was evident, as Lewis Hamilton hit the front before being demoted by Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel, who was running an entirely different programme, remained in P20. As fuel loads began to be reduced and drivers tested the limits, many made mistakes. The second part of Becketts was proving to be a particular challenge due to the significant tail wind. Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Di Resta and Maldonado all ran wide whilst wrestling their cars riddled with oversteer.
With 7 minutes remaining, it was the calm before the storm as drivers prepared for the final low fuel runs on the medium compound tyre. Surprisingly, Sergio Perez was among the first to emerge, (albeit on the hard tyre) after his mechanics had performed a minor miracle to replace the floor in just 30 minutes. However, the Mexican added his name to the list of Becketts victims when he lost control of the car and was sent helplessly into a four wheel drift across the runoff at Chapel. His dismal session was finally curtailed. The final moments saw the Mercedes extend their lead over their rivals, with Lewis Hamilton hitting the front, before he was pipped by Nico Rosberg, with a 1:32.487. Both Lotus and Ferrari appeared to require two laps before their tyres were at the optimum temperature range. It looks as though Red Bull are the only team who can prevent another Mercedes Saturday domination.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:31.487s 18 laps
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.633s +0.146s 20
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:32.037s +0.550s 20
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:32.078s +0.591s 17
5 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:32.391s +0.904s 18
6 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:32.440s +0.953s 19
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:32.454s +0.967s 18
8 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:32.459s +0.972s 22
9 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:32.536s +1.049s 17
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1:32.571s +1.084s 17
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:32.580s +1.093s 15
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:32.926s +1.439s 18
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:33.133s +1.646s 17
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:33.225s +1.738s 16
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:33.273s +1.786s 16
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.309s +1.822s 25
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:33.370s +1.883s 19
18 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:33.607s +2.120s 9
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:34.971s +3.484s 18
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:34.990s +3.503s 17
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:36.694s +5.207s 16
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:37.443s +5.956s 18
Hamilton will undoubtedly be pleased to record another Pole Position. While it will be a mammoth task to maintain the position in the race, he has given himself the best chance of success tomorrow. Mercedes are likely to struggle on tyres, meaning that Hamilton will have to race a disciplined race. While this may have been a significant challenge for the Lewis of old, we have seen his capabilities as recently as last weekend in Canada. A podium could well be a possibility, with Alonso and Raikkonen starting towards the midfield.
An exuberant Lewis stated; “The team has done a phenomenal job and it’s a great reward for the guys here at the track but also back at base, especially as our two factories are so close to the track. But we know that tomorrow is another day and our Sunday performance isn’t quite as strong right now. Our long run pace looked ok yesterday and we were able to manage the tyres quite well. It’s going to be tough to keep Seb behind but we will give it everything we’ve got.”
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel will be particularly excited for tomorrow’s possibilities. The German just squeezed ahead of teammate Mark Webber, to snatch P3 on the grid. Consequently, he is best placed to exploit the Mercedes tyre woes and is likely to dispatch both Hamilton and Rosberg quickly, judging by the long run performance which was displayed on Friday. In addition, Vettel’s main championship rivals have work to do, with Raikkonen qualifying in P8, while Alonso suffered a dismal Saturday in P10. Sebastian is in prime position to extend his already healthy championship advantage.
“We will see what happens tomorrow”, he stated. “It’s a long race, but I’m happy with today. Either Lewis found a short cut or he has something special round here, it was a phenomenal lap and he wasn’t in reach today. I was very happy with the lap I did at the end, it was very close with Mark also.” The German concluded, “We’ll see how we get on with the tyres tomorrow and with looking after them. I’m happy for the team today, our factory is very close to this track, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Fernando Alonso was a driver who struggled throughout the entire qualifying hour. The Spaniard narrowly avoided an embarrassing Q1 exit, eventually dropping to a dangerous P15. While Q2 appeared to be slightly more promising, Q3 was a true reflection of the deficit Ferrari are currently facing. They have struggled to maintain pace in the development race and now it is more noticeable than ever before. The situation has been amplified by Felipe Massa’s recent struggles, as the team have gathered a limited amount of data on the Brazilian’s side of the garage. A disgruntled Alonso stated, “This weekend has been complicated for us by problems that we haven’t managed to get on top of, concerning various aspects such as the balance of the car, its driveability and performance. We can consider this the worst Saturday of the season so far, having never finished so far down, but now we must react immediately to try and return to the form we showed at the start of the year.”
To add to the British excitement, Paul Di Resta qualified best of the rest behind the Mercedes and Red Bull’s in P5. However, his hopes of his first podium finish have been severely dashed as his car failed scrutineering tests due to being 1.5 kilos underweight. As a result, Di Resta was excluded from Qualifying and will start from the very back of the grid.
Inheriting P5 on the grid will be Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie out performed his machinery, building on the promising pace he has shown throughout the weekend. His return to form has come at the appropriate time, with the Red Bull seat becoming available for 2014. Daniel enthused, “I am looking forward to the race when I hope I can come away with a good handful of points. I’d like to think I could finish at least in the same place I am starting from. It would be nice to do even better and I will be pushing hard to achieve that. I believe it will be a few degrees warmer tomorrow, which could make the track conditions change quite a lot. This is a very demanding circuit with lots of high speed corners, so the tyres don’t get much of a rest, therefore tyre wear will be an important factor tomorrow.”
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.607s,
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:30.059s + 0.452s
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:30.211s + 0.604s
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:30.220s + 0.613s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m30.757s + 1.150s
6 Adrian Sutil Force India 1m30.908s + 1.301s
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:30.955s + 1.348s
8 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:30.962s + 1.355s
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m30.979s + 1.372s
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.649s + 0.659s
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:31.779s + 0.789s
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:31.785s + 0.795s
13 Sergio Perez McLaren 1m32.082s + 1.092s
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:32.211s + 1.221s
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:32.359s + 1.369s
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:32.664s + 1.669s
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:32.666s + 1.671s
18 Charles Pic Caterham 1:33.866s + 2.871s
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:34.108s + 3.113s
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:35.481s + 4.486s
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:35.858s + 4.863s
Paul di Resta Force India EXCLUDED