Briton Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position at the German Grand Prix on a mixed Saturday for Mercedes, whose misjudgement left last week’s Silverstone winner Nico Rosberg 11th on the grid for their home race.
Hamilton won the last race at the Nuerburgring in 2011 with McLaren and delighted his new bosses by putting his Silver Arrows on the front of the grid at one of the homes of German motorsport.
“It’s really overwhelming. P2 and P3 (the second and third practice sessions) were just disasters and it got worse this morning, we were miles off,” the 2008 world champion told a news conference.
“We made lots and lots of changes and just hoped that it would work. I’m grateful for the work the guys put in for me,” he said after a 29th career pole.
Red Bull’s triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, who leads this season’s standings, had to be content with second on the grid as he bids to win his home race and a July grand prix for the first time.
“It was quite close. I tried everything I had. It looks like we are much closer to them (Mercedes) here than we were at Silverstone. I think we did our homework,” said the German.
Team mate Mark Webber – the 2009 winner here – will start third in his final German Grand Prix before switching to endurance racing at the end of the season.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, a likely replacement for the Australian at Red Bull, was fourth fastest on a sunny afternoon in the wooded Eifel region.
Temperatures were much higher than Friday practice and Hamilton basked in the glory of pole after being one of the drivers hit by the tyre explosions in Britain last weekend that threw the sport into crisis.
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association announced on Thursday that they would withdraw from Sunday’s race if the blow-outs happen again.
However, all three practice sessions and qualifying in Germany have been free of incident.
After the intervention of the governing FIA, Pirelli has brought upgraded rear tyres to the Nuerburgring with an inner belt made of the synthetic fibre Kevlar rather than steel.
Practice appeared to prove that the cooler tyres would aid Red Bull and Mercedes, but Rosberg failed to make it into the final session after his team thought he had set a good enough time and kept him in the garage to save tyres.
Others then went faster, knocking him out of the top 10.
“It was quite a shock really,” Rosberg told reporters. “I didn’t see it coming. The team didn’t expect the track to ramp up that much. It really is a big disappointment. Unbelievable. I can’t believe I’m standing here. We just didn’t judge it correctly.”
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, also fighting to replace the retiring Mark Webber at parent team Red Bull for next season, did his hopes no harm by bagging a superb sixth on the grid.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, second in the standings and 21 points behind Vettel, finished only eighth in qualifying with team mate Felipe Massa outpacing him in seventh after Ferrari made a strategic decision to start on the medium tyres and not fight for pole.
“We took a decision thinking only to the race” said team principal Stefano Domenicali.
Spanish double champion Alonso has not managed the front row since Germany last year but has won twice this season.
Jenson Button showed a mild improvement for McLaren by taking ninth having been 10th on the grid at Silverstone but team mate Sergio Perez was down in 13th as the once mighty British outfit continues to struggle.
“It definitely got hotter today which changed the balance of the car, so it’s been a tough afternoon for me,” the Mexican said.
Nine-times champions Williams, without a point in their worst start to a season, also had another miserable day with Pastor Maldonado’s KERS giving off smoke in the garage early in the morning and prompting fire marshals to come to the rescue.
The Venezuelan took part in the third practice session after frantic work by the struggling British team but he and Finnish rookie team mate Valtteri Bottas will start 18th and 17th respectively on Sunday’s grid.
The race will be Williams’ 600th grand prix.