Only yesterday, a downcast Lewis Hamilton had predicted that McLaren-Mercedes 'definitely' wouldn't be capable of challenging for pole position for this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Less than 24 hours later, he came within just six hundredths of a second of snatching the top spot on the starting grid.
Having languished down in seventh place at the end of Friday's two practice sessions – more than a second shy of the benchmark – and still proving unable to get to within half-a-second of the Red Bull Racing steamroller in FP3 on Saturday morning, few gave Hamilton much of a prayer going into qualifying, but out of nowhere, the British star produced a mesmerising lap on his second and final 'flyer' in Q3 to split Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel and snare second on the grid.
If Webber's lap was superb, then Hamilton's – in what is surely a slower car – was simply sublime, and in evidence of that, team-mate Jenson Button in the sister MP4-26 was more than a second in arrears. His first front row starting slot since the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang all the way back in April, it was, the 2008 F1 World Champion reflected, one of his 'best ever', and just as much credit, he stressed, must go to his team.
“First of all, I want to say a huge congratulations to the whole team, who did a great job today,” enthused the 26-year-old, who has on occasion this year been all-too-quick to criticise McLaren's performance. “Everyone back at the factory and here at the circuit has been working massively hard, and that's the reason why the car was so quick today. I think we all underestimated how good the car would be, in fact.
“To split the Red Bulls and be ahead of the Ferraris is a fantastic effort by the team. I reckon today's qualifying session was one of my best ever, definitely my best this season. The car felt great, we had really good balance and I think it's one of the best laps I've done in the car.
“You're already on-the-limit on your first lap of Q3, and usually if you improve on the second run it's by a tenth – but today it was by four tenths. I don't really know where I found the time, and to be honest, I'm going to get a recording of the on-board footage and watch it back because I'd love to see it! We've got a big job ahead of us tomorrow, of course, but today I'm on a high – that lap was a real boost!”
“Lewis drove an absolutely stunning lap at the Nürburgring today,” praised the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “Moreover, our long-run pace was strong in yesterday's practice sessions, so I'd say we're now in a good position from which to mount a challenge for victory on Sunday.
“We've worked extremely hard on the car in the two weeks since the British Grand Prix, and the new aero parts we brought here appear to have delivered what we'd hoped they'd deliver – so I want to say a big 'well done' to all concerned. As ever, also, Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines have done and are doing a fantastic job for us, and we'd dearly love to be able to reward their sterling efforts with victory in their home grand prix.”