Mark Webber silenced all of his doubters in style in qualifying for the 2009 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, comfortably dealing with the threats of Brawn GP pairing Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button and his own Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel to storm to pole position on the starting grid for the first time in his 132-race F1 career.
The New South Wales native mastered the habitually tricky conditions around the Eifel Mountains circuit to absolute perfection, and his final effort in Q3 was good enough to see off his Brawn rivals and home hero Vettel, who has thus far been unable to hold a candle to his team-mate in front of his adoring partisan supporters this weekend.
Reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton equalled his best starting spot of the 2009 campaign to-date in fifth – having at one stage even snatched pole – to round out a top five blanketed by just four tenths of a second, whilst a superb effort from McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen enabled the Finn to join the Stevenage-born ace on row three, despite the 27-year-old not benefitting from the same aerodynamic updates to his MP4-24, credited with propelling the sister car significantly up the order.
The top ten will be completed by the inspired Adrian Sutil in the Force India ahead of Ferrari pairing Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen and Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, the Brazilian succeeding in out-qualifying team-mate Fernando Alonso for the first time in his fledgling F1 career – a performance that could scarcely have come at a more timely juncture [see separate story – click here
With the traditionally unstable Eifel weather doing its worst, rain at the start of Q2 saw all drivers scurrying out on-track as soon as the pit-lane opened, but on slick tyres they were literally tip-toeing around, and Kazuki Nakajima in the Williams and Massa both went off-piste, as Hamilton very nearly joined them in audaciously putting two wheels virtually on the grass heading into the chicane.
All save for Webber pitted to change over to intermediate rubber at the end of their opening exploratory lap, but with the uncertainty in the conditions, the session swiftly turned into a lottery, with times tumbling by the second and the rain abating only to then intensify again. A late change back over to slicks would pay off handsomely for a handful of drivers, most notably Barrichello.
The Brazilian, indeed, would wind up comfortably quickest, ahead of impressive countryman Piquet, the under-fire Renault ace making it into Q3 for the first time all year. Sutil in the Force India was just as noteworthy in third, ensuring the Silverstone-based minnows would get a car inside the top ten on the starting grid for the first time in their hitherto brief history in the top flight. Fourth place went to Webber – the Australian at one point a staggering 3.7 seconds clear of any of his pursuers – with Brits Button and Hamilton hauling themselves to safety in fifth and sixth respectively right at the close. Only a handful of minutes beforehand, both Brawns had looked well away from making the cut.
The final Q3 protagonists were completed by Vettel, Kovalainen – who survived both a glance with the circuit wall and a tyre mix-up in the McLaren pit box – and scarlet duo Massa and Raikkonen, with the latter having joined his team-mate in rally-crossing over the grass at the chicane along the way.
That left early pace-setter Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber, former double F1 World Champion Alonso – visibly struggling to keep his Renault on-track, and spinning under braking for the chicane on the slippery surface – Kazuki Nakajima, Jarno Trulli and Nico Rosberg all out of the fray. Nakajima, indeed, endured a torrid time of things, getting in the way of Barrichello's quickest effort and colliding with Vettel in the pit-lane, thankfully without damage – but at least he had the satisfaction of out-qualifying Williams team-mate Rosberg to lighten his day.