He likes the Nürburgring, does Mark Webber, and two years on from storming to his breakthrough F1 victory there, the Australian has returned to claim a superb pole position for the 2011 German Grand Prix this weekend – his second in swift succession this season.
From the moment the crucial top ten shoot-out got underway, Webber was indisputably 'the man'. Although Lewis Hamilton pipped Fernando Alonso by just over a tenth of a second to briefly snatch the best time on his first run in Q3, the pair were then both blitzed by Webber, who produced a scintillating effort to go fastest to the tune of the best part of half-a-second – a target that even world championship-leading Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel was unable to match.
Both Alonso and Hamilton were much closer to the Red Bulls on the second run, but whilst the Ferrari star's improvement in lap time did not improve his position, the McLaren-Mercedes star did
move up the grid, splitting Webber and Vettel to snatch the outside starting spot on the front row with what he enthusiastically described as a 'wicked lap'.
Webber, though, was truly imperious, and a better lap time again sealed the deal, with Vettel unable to reclaim second from Hamilton on his own final 'flyer' – marking the first time all season, and indeed in the last 15 races, that the young German has failed to make the front row of the grid, and on home turf, to-boot.
Alonso ended up fourth, ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg in the lead Mercedes GP, Jenson Button – more than a second behind McLaren team-mate Hamilton – Adrian Sutil, Vitaly Petrov and five-time Nürburgring conqueror Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton and Alonso were similarly the early pace-setters slugging it out in in Q2, before defending world champion Vettel split the pair, whilst Petrov, Schumacher, Sutil, Sergio Pérez, Rubens Barrichello, Sébastien Buemi, Paul di Resta, Jaime Alguersuari and Pastor Maldonado were the ones needing to improve to guarantee themselves of a passage through to the top ten shoot-out.
Maldonado was the first to rescue himself by slotting into ninth, displacing Schumacher from the top ten, whilst Pérez and Barrichello both missed the cut as the top six of Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso – who had gone straight on after locking-up into Turn One – Webber, Button and Massa all remained in the pits. di Resta then popped up into ninth, pushing Petrov out of the top ten and leaving Maldonado on the bubble, before Schumacher and Sutil secured their Q3 shots, as Petrov knocked his own Lotus Renault GP team-mate Heidfeld out.
The latter – one of only two of the six Germans in the field not to make the Q3 cut – was joined in the Q2 casualty list by di Resta, Maldonado, Barrichello, Pérez, Buemi and Alguersuari, as Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Rosberg, Button, Massa, Sutil, Petrov and Schumacher all progressed safely on.
Schumacher gave the partisan fans packing the grandstands something to cheer about early on in Q1 by storming to the top of the timing screens, with countryman Heidfeld backing him up in second, but Hamilton soon blew them both out-of-the-water with a dazzling opening salvo, despite finding himself badly baulked and compromised by the Virgin of Timo Glock at the end of the lap.