Artificial sparks, megaphone exhausts, standing restarts, who needs them? If you want to add spectacle to Formula One, simply add water, as Saturday’s manic wet/dry qualifying session at Silverstone showed. Once upon a time a wet race track was once the forte of Lewis Hamilton, but it appears his Mercedes team-mate has learnt a thing or two, as Nico Rosberg struck hard and fast to claim pole number four of 2014. Dan Paddock runs you through the talking points from qualifying for the British Grand Prix.
Hamilton flounders as Rosberg claims last grasp pole
It had all been shaping up nicely for another faultless Mercedes qualifying performance, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg seemingly set to lock out the front for Sunday’s British Grand Prix, the 2008 champion looking a firm bet to repeat his home pole of 12 months previously. Then, in the space of just a minute and a half, it all went a touch mad, with Rosberg suddenly on pole from Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull, and Hamilton mired down in sixth in the sister car.
As it proved, once again, when the chips were down it was Nico Rosberg that reacted best of the two Mercedes drivers, pumping in a blinder of a final lap on the slick tyres as the rapidly drying track released time to snatch his eighth career pole.
Hamilton though had already bailed, after a slow first sector. Crucially it was the final sector where Rosberg found the necessary time, and with Hamilton unable to respond, made it four poles for the season, drawing equal with his team-mate.
Qualifying had been Lewis’ chance to fire a salvo across the bows of Rosberg, stamp his authority on the weekend and carry that advantage into the race itself. Instead, just as it was in Austria, he has blown it, leaving himself with it all to do on Sunday.
After the cat fights in Monaco, and the mistakes in Canada and Austria, Hamilton once again made the wrong call when it mattered. A call that means he starts five places behind his team-mate and championship rival on the grid.
While in the dry it is difficult to realistically consider anything other than a predictable Mercedes 1-2 come the chequered flag on Sunday, just how the team go about fulfilling this result remains intriguing.
You can certainly expect a show as Hamilton plays catch-up early on. With the Brit with it all to do, we could well be in for a cracker of a race. If the rain does come, well, that is an entirely different story.
I’m Jenson Button, remember me?
While it might be a touch early to be announcing the rebirth of Jenson Button’s flailing Formula One career, the 34-year-old certainly deserves an immense amount of credit for his fight to third on the grid on Saturday.
In the changeable conditions that he has always adored, and often revelled in, the 2009 champion gave his old fans a reason to smile on Saturday afternoon, as he hustled the difficult MP4-29 up into the top three, in a commendable effort.
Hounded by rumours of his impeding retirement, Button has had plenty to deal with in recent weeks, from a hurry up from his McLaren boss Ron Dennis, to the first British Grand Prix of his F1 career that he will face without his beloved father, Jon.
Talk is that after two years of hard toil Jenson has finally fallen out of love with Formula One. Only the man himself can truly answer that. By the look of release on his face, third place on the grid, for what the rumour mongers would have you believe is his final home grands prix, was quite special to JB.
If this is to be his last Formula One appearance at Silverstone, let it be a pleasant one. While a podium looks like a long shot, a haul of points, akin to Damon Hill’s send off in 1999 would be apt.
The Toro Rosso boys shine in the wet, only to come unstuck at the last mark
It says a great deal about the level of expectation down at the junior Red Bull camp that ninth and tenth for Sunday’s British Grand Prix was something of a disappointment for Toro Rosso.
Having made light work of Q1 and Q2, the Italian squad had looked odds on for fifth and sixth on the grid in the dying minutes of the final session, a result which would have been by far the team’s best qualifying performance since the glory days of 2008, only to opt out of a final run.
Almost predictably, the times tumbled on the final lap of running, Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne forced to watch on helplessly from the garage as they tumbled down to ninth and tenth at the foot of the Q3 standings.
It was, as Kvyatt told me after the session, a missed opportunity for the team, which has shown a great deal of promise so far this year, only to encountered problems when in a position to prove it, as was the case during the final part of qualifying.
Despite that frustration, the guys and girls at Faenza must be pleased to see their two cars sail into the final part of qualifying on merit. It is now up to Kvyat and Vergne to deliver on the team’s evident promise. Can they get themselves a sizeable haul of points come Sunday? We will have to wait and see.
Jules Bianchi – Marussia’s talismanic hero
He’s only gone and done it again. After collecting the team’s first ever points in Monaco earlier this year, Jules Bianchi has further enshrined himself into the lore of the Marussia team with 12th during qualifying for the British Grand Prix, the Banbury-based outfit’s home event.
By all rights Bianchi should have had a Force India seat last year, only for Adrian Sutil and his Capri-Sun money to come and pull the rug out from under him, snatching what had appeared to be an almost assured drive.
The Frenchman’s F1 dreams seemed to have been dashed, only for Luis Razia to lose his own drive at Marussia after his sponsors failed to pay up, just weeks ahead of the season.
Not quite even a year and a half later, and Bianchi is the team’s golden boy, with eyes up and down the pit lane greedily coveting Marussia’s star prize.
While a dry race tomorrow almost certainly rules out any chance of him holding onto his well earned 12th,
Regardless of the result on Sunday, with his dashing good looks, easy charm and hefty talent, Bianchi is hot property in Formula One.
The question is can Marussia hold onto him?
Blushes for Ferrari and Williams as the two bow out amid Q1 blunders
Ferrari, what can you say, a blunder of epic proportions saw the team lose both of its cars in Q1, with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen just 19th and 20th, the pair caught out by the rain whilst on slicks late in the opening session.
The team can blame the changeable conditions all they like, but the fact of the matter is that these kind of result are simply not good enough for a team of the ilk and standing of Ferrari.
Without a win in over a year the team appears to lack direction, despite the recent change in management, and it seems only a matter of time before some more heads roll.
On to Williams, and what a contrast in fortunes for the team on Saturday, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa 17th and 18th just two week’s after celebrating locking out the front row of the grid in Austria. Like Ferrari, the team lost both its drivers in the opening part of qualifying, Bottas and Massa both victims of the late rain shower in Q1.
While Rob Smedley stood up and took the flack for the operational failures – according to Felipe Massa it took a minute and a half to get both cars back out on track on slick tyres whilst the track was at its peak – that plagued Williams’ session, the team can take some comfort in knowing that it is not in this position on the basis of its performance.
Expect to see all four cars make inroads into the field tomorrow. Despite the blunders on the part of both teams, the Ferrari and Williams drivers should be well into the points come the chequered flag on Sunday.
Finally, minor nods must go to Nico Hulkeneberg, Max Chilton and Kevin Magnussen, who all impressed on Saturday.
Hulkenberg continued his impeccable recent run of form with four on the grid, which once again simply presses the fact that it is unbelievable that the man is still yet to secure a big drive.
The German, who has struggled during qualifying over recent races, has handed himself the perfect platform to go in search of his maiden podium finish in Formula One on Sunday. You have to ask yourself, what more can the man do.
Max Chilton undoubtedly deserves applause after a cracking drive to 13th during Q2, just behind his Marussia team-mate, and resident miracle worker Jules Bianchi. Max, often a source of contempt amongst fans, proved once again why he deserves to be on this grid.
It’s a real shame that an unrelated gearbox change should spoil his moment. Still, he will start between the two Ferraris, which will be a moment to savour.
Last but not least, Kevin Magnussen, who seems to have carried his form from Austria to Silverstone this weekend.
He was fifth fastest, just two tenths shy of his much lauded team-mate and wet weather specialist Jenson Button, in difficult conditions, and all while keeping his car on the black stuff. For a rookie, you cannot ask for much more than that. After a few wobbles early on, the Dane appears to be growing into his role as a grand prix driver with every passing weekend.
A decent haul of points at McLaren’s home track would be a fine way of drilling home his recent progress to team boss Ron Dennis.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic