Qualy: Alonso defeats the Red Bulls
Spaniard heads off challenge of the rain and Vettel; McLaren struggle on wet tyres; early exits for Rosberg, Grosjean and Massa
Last Updated: 21/07/12 5:04pm
It rains and Fernando Alonso reigns. F1's new rainmaster has done it again, securing pole position for the German GP in treacherous conditions that, also once again, found the McLarens wanting and saw the two Red Bulls narrowly defeated by Ferrari's resident genius.
Roll out the superlatives. Pole-sitter in Saturday's relentless downpour at Silverstone, Alonso's wet-weather skills came to their formidable fore again as the Spaniard slithered his Ferrari around a soaked Hockenheim half-a-second faster than Sebastian Vettel.
In normal racing conditions, that sort of margin is a lifetime; in conditions like this, with the session only barely fit for racing given the amount of standing water on track, it was only Alonso's abnormal skill that had the paddock in his awe. Having described himself as being in the condition of his life on the eve of this weekend's event, his sustained excellence this year surely declares Alonso to also be the peak of his considerable driving powers.
Suffice to say that while Alonso was taking pole position, his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was already taking the F1 equivalent of an early bath after struggling to keep his F2012 on track after the rain began to fall during Q2. No such problems for Alonso, however, and not much of an answer from the rest of the field.
The much-changed McLarens have appeared far more competitive this weekend than they did at Silverstone but both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button found themelves bereft of grip when running on wet tyres and they ended the session eighth and seventh respectively.
"We've got to be a little disappointed with the final qualifying result; we were looking good in both Q1 and Q2, so I don't understand how the others went quicker as the track dried slightly towards the end of Q3," lamented Hamilton.
Mark Webber's five-place grid-slot demotion on account of a gearbox change will see the English duo move up a place but an inherited promotion will be of a meagre consolation to a team that is struggling to stay in touch with Red Bull and the brilliant Alonso. A better showing is expected from McLaren in Sunday's forecast dry conditions, but, once again, Hamilton and Button will start out playing catch-up.
At least the home crowd will have plenty to cheer about courtesy of Webber's demotion from third to eighth given that it means Alonso will start the race just in front of three German nationals - Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg. As if McLaren didn't have enough to worry about, the driver separating them from that home contingent is 2012's very own pantomime villain, Pastor Maldonado.
Paul di Resta was a creditable ninth, but Hulkenberg's season-best performance was the last thing he needed at a time of the year when Mercedes are known to be mulling over their options for 2013. If a vacancy does appear, Hulkenberg's three successive qualifying defeats of his Force India team-mate have perhaps thrust him to the head of the queue.
But that's a matter for another day, just as Saturday was a day which literally began with the calm before the storm. For a very brief while, as the usual suspects - including Toro Rosso's Jean Vergne, making his sixth exit from Q1 in ten races - dropped out at the first qualifying hurdle, it appeared as if that rarest of 2012 things - normality - was set to make an overdue appearance. But no sooner had Q1 finished than a clattering rumble of thunder rang out across the Hockenheim circuit, signalling the onset of rain and yet another dollop of manic mayhem.
They say that the rain tends to separate the men from the boys and the final Q2 pecking order certainly suggested as much with Hamilton and Schumacher - closely followed by Alonso despite his close to proximity to Massa when the Brazilian spun off - heading the timesheets even after being among the last cars to venture on to a circuit that became slower and slower throughout. Schumacher's performance was thrust into even more creditable perspective by the struggle of team-mate Nico Rosberg, as the second Mercedes slithered to 17th on - and occasionally off - the road.
Rosberg's frustrations were mirrored by Romain Grosjean, with the young Lotus driver, so impressive when the rain stayed away last Sunday at Silverstone, also unable to match the exploits of his more experienced team-mate - Kimi Raikkonen - and his unexpected Q2 elimination compounded by another five-place grid penalty. "It's strange," was the best the crestfallen Frenchman could venture as explanation, who like Rosberg will drop a further five places on the grid owing to gearbox changes.
It was, however, a description that could be adequately applied to a season that continues, in equal measure, to enthral, baffle and dazzle - particularly when Alonso is raining supreme.
His brilliance, however, is consistently the least strangest thing of all.
* Saturday evening update: Sergio Perez has become the latest driver to pick up a five-place grid penalty for Sunday's race after Hockenheim stewards adjudged he had blocked drivers during Qualifying Two. The Mexican will drop down the grid from 12th place.