Following two close-fought practice sessions on Friday and a washout of FP3 to start proceedings on Saturday, we entered Formula 1 qualifying for the German Grand Prix anticipating a close, three-team battle for pole at the head of the field.

In the end though, Sebastian Vettel's charge to pole position for his home race at Hockenheim - just the second he's scored at the track - seemed pretty routine. A rapid final lap saw him finish two-tenths of a second clear of the field, which combined with title rival Lewis Hamilton's demise in Q1, has offered a big momentum swing in their ongoing battle.

While teammate Valtteri Bottas said after qualifying he doubted it would have been possible to match Vettel's final lap of 1m11.212s in Q3, Hamilton said after the session he was confident the Mercedes W09 car had the potential for pole at Hockenheim. But his hopes would come undone in the closing stages of Q1.

5774263478001

CrashTV: 

Having set a time quick enough for a place in Q2, Hamilton began to push in a bid to improve his lap and continue to get to grips with the track, which had been soaked in rain through FP3 before drying out. Hamilton started up his hot lap, coming through Turn 1 before running wide and using some of the kerb, as is routine for all drivers at Hockenheim.

But Hamilton was quick to open his steering up again as he ran over the kerbs - a little too much, it seemed. He didn't pull his car back onto the track, instead continuing to run over the kerb before the car bobbled severely upon returning to the tarmac.

Starting to slow, Hamilton wiggled his steering, feeling something was up. His shifts then became heavy before the car was stuck in fourth gear. Mercedes confirmed over the radio it had been a hydraulic failure, causing him to lose power steering.

"Stop, stop," race engineer Pete Bonnington told Hamilton over the radio, only for his driver to reply: "The car is still trundling." He was trying to get it back to stay in the hunt for pole. "This is a PU risk," Bonnington stressed. "Stop stop, stop stop."

Hamilton hopped out of his car but didn't walk away. Instead, he went to the rear wing and began to push. "When I got out of the car, it was painful," he explained. "The first thought in my mind was to try and get the car back to the garage at all costs, so get out and push it if you have to - that's just me wanting to finish."

But his efforts were in vain. On a day that had started with seemingly unfounded speculation about Hamilton being ill ("I do like seeing the doctor whenever I can, but I'm all good"), it would end with him parking up in Q1, resigned to starting the race 14th at best. The silver lining for Hamilton was that stopping so swiftly had prevented any damage to either the power unit or the gearbox, meaning he isn't due to take any additional penalties.

There was some confusion after the session as to how Hamilton's car had failed - whether it occurred before he'd run hard over the kerbs, or whether that was the cause of the issue. Mercedes chief Toto Wolff wished to reserve judgement until the car had been recovered, but the team later confirmed the hydraulics failure had happened at Turn 1, meaning he was unable to get off the kerbs due to the loss of power steering.

"The assumption that people what I've seen have made is that the horrible bumps that I had later on were the cause of the failure, which is not the case," Hamilton explained after the session.

"Everyone uses the exit kerb at Turn 1, and when I got to the exit kerb, the power steering failed, and when that happened, the steering got extremely heavy and pulled to the left. I thought that I'd had a tyre failure or something like that, or a track-rod failure or something like that.

"But it wasn't the case, it was the hydraulics. It forced me to take that exit road, and I was carrying a lot of speed so I couldn't really slow down. Those bumps afterwards, it didn't do anything to the car. It would be easy to assume that would be the case, but it wasn't." In short: this wasn't Hamilton's fault.

But the more telling statement from Hamilton following qualifying were his comments posted to Instagram stories. Just as he did after the British Grand Prix and the fall-out of his "interesting tactics" comment about Ferrari, Hamilton sought to clear the air - while also taking aim at his critics.

"To those who take joy in seeing other people fail or suffer, I feel for you. Whatever is happening in your life to hold so much anger and hate, I pray that it passes and good things come to you," Hamilton wrote.

“Nelson Mandela once said, We were not born with hate in our hearts, it’s something learnt over time. But if we can learn to hate then we can be taught to love for love is far easier and more natural to the human heart. God bless you. 

“Now tomorrow, I can’t predict what’s going to come. Good or bad I will die before I give in. All I can do is try to be the best me I can be and drive like my life depends on it!"

5774263478001

CrashTV: 

Hamilton knows he is on the back foot right now. The gap to Vettel at the top of the standings may be just eight points, but that could swell tomorrow. Mercedes' long-running power unit advantage has also disappeared, with Ferrari appearing to be the hold the straight-line speed advantage. "To make three-tenths up just on the straights is impressive when you don't have a new engine," quipped Hamilton.

It's a far cry from the confidence-filled Hamilton we saw through much of 2017. Even when Ferrari was on the front foot, he seemed more comfortable. But now, there isn't the same kind of assurance that Mercedes will be able to strike back at a set number of circuits. If Ferrari can win at Silverstone, in reality, it should be able to win anywhere.

Could Lewis take heart from his charge from the back of the field to second place at Silverstone and perhaps offer a repeat tomorrow? His enthusiasm has been curbed, in that regard...

"I think it's not that easy. Once you have that massive long straight at the back, it's not that easy to overtake here," Hamilton said.

"It's one of the hardest circuits, particularly following in the final sector. We do have the new DRS zones, so maybe that will help, but it's not an easy circuit.

"It's not like Silverstone. Silverstone's a great circuit because it's quite open and wide and not as hard on the tyres as it is here.

"I have no idea what I can or can't do tomorrow. I definitely don't expect to be where I was in the last race. But it could go one way or the other. I've just got to try and have a balanced race, an aggressive balanced race."

Hockenheim was the stage for one of Hamilton's all-time great drives in 2014 when he fought from the back of the field to finish third. If he wants to stop the momentum swing to Vettel in its tracks, he'll need to dig deep and produce something similar on Sunday.

Comments

Loading Comments...