Lewis Hamilton secured a gift-wrapped record-extending 87th pole position of his career on Saturday when he made the most of a double disaster for Ferrari in qualifying at the German Grand Prix.
The defending five-time world champion, who had struggled for pace and consistency in his Mercedes in practice, improved to clock a best lap in one minute and 11.767 and outpace Max Verstappen of Red Bull by 0.346 seconds.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third ahead of Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull while Charles Leclerc, who had been fastest for Ferrari in final practice, failed to run in the Q3 top-10 shootout due to a fuel systems problem with his car.
The Moneqasque will start 10th, 10 places ahead of his luckless Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel who was unable to take part in qualifying due to a turbo problem and will start at the back of the grid for his home race.
Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas, Carlos Sainz of McLaren, Sergio Perez of Racing Point and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
“Congratulations Lewis – you never stop amazing us,” said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff as the Briton drove his slow-down lap. “Thanks, Toto,” he replied. “A great job guys – I don’t know how we did that.”
Hamilton’s lap was the only one in the 1:11’s all weekend at the Hockenheimring, where he last took pole in 2008, and gave his team a perfect cause for celebration on the anniversary of 125 years of motorsport and their 200th Formula One race start.
”My first lap was spot-on and the second lap was better in places,” said Hamilton.
Verstappen said: “We could have been closer, but went a bit wide and bottomed out and I lost the rear end, but this is a good result.”
Bottas said: “I think the weather is going to play a big part tomorrow. I’m a bit disappointed, especially with the pace in Q3. Ferrari had been very quick here… so we’re in a good place.”
On an overcast and much cooler day after heavy overnight rain, the Williams team were first on track for Q1, in front of an enthusiastic crowd boosted by Verstappen’s ‘orange army’ and many local supporters for Vettel in Ferrari red.
Leclerc was soon on top for the ‘scarlet scuderia’ ahead of Verstappen, but it was bad news again for the luckless Vettel.
After sitting in his car, stranded under repair in the Ferrari garage, he climbed out, condemned to start from the back of the grid.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but we lost the turbo and the car would not run. I feel bitter, of course, as the car is great and it’s a big chance lost – but we have another chance tomorrow.
“I am looking forward to the race, of course, but I would prefer to be right up at the front than at the back.”
After struggling with their own problems, Hamilton and Bottas qualified third and sixth for Mercedes with Gasly and Raikkonen between them, while British rookies Lando Norris of McLaren and Alex Albon of Toro Rosso joined the Williams men George Russell and Robert Kubica with Vettel in taking an early exit.
Hamilton was first out in Q2 on mediums as the sun returned following a dull morning in Baden-Wurttemburg. His initial lap in 1:12.149 set the standard with Leclerc and Bottas slotting into second and third before Gasly, defying his critics, split them.
The Q3 session began with Mercedes out first again in their anniversary-liveried cars while Ferrari were besieged as Leclerc’s car was under examination in their garage.
As Hamilton set the pace ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, Leclerc climbed out of his Ferrari and out of contention.
“We brought upgrades here, but the Ferraris were on another level all weekend. I think my time at the end was good enough to compete with Charles, if he had done a lap!” said Hamilton.
“The track is incredible and it gets faster every year.”