With conditions described as ‘changeable’, there was some hope that qualifying for the British GP might throw up some different headlines for this 50th Silverstone GP weekend.
Engine woes for Lewis Hamilton cast doubt on his weekend, with extra emphasis on his standing as the only local driver with a realistic chance of achieving a podium place. Local issues aside, long runs in mixed Free Practice conditions highlighted general difficulties for all teams in getting heat into the tyres. A quick peek into the McLaren garage pre-quali revealed substantial cooling components taped off to keep brake and engine temperatures up on Jenson Button’s car. With track limits again being rigorously enforced and with the threat of the disallowing of times hanging over the drivers, there was plenty to think about as the rain finally stopped in time for Q1. Intermediate tyres definitely the tyre choice for the first session. Sutil, having put his Sauber through to Q2, beached his car at the end of the final lap and was not able to take part in the second session.
A drying line quickly began to emerge as the early runners put some laps in, raising the possibilty of the crossover to slicks coming sooner than expected. Even on the treaded tyre, control in the wetter portions of the track proved difficult, with Raikkonen saving his twitchy Ferrari in Turns 8/9 by taking to the run-off.
With six minutes left on the Q1 clock, the switch to slicks began. Button was an early benificiary, topping the timesheet on his first hot lap although a brief excursion outside the track limits saw his time cancelled by the stewards. Spins, gravel traps and general twitchiness upset all the form books: both Ferraris failed to progress to Q2, as did the Wiliams. Both Caterhams will race at the stewards’ discretion, failing to set times within the 107% limit.
It was back to inters for Q2, with some patches of standing water still affecting tyre performance. Vettel’s timesheet-topping lap was deleted after an excursion – stewards not applying any leniency or exception to their track limit ruling. With a few minutes left on the clock, and intermediate tyre laps banked, it was a scramble for slicks with Bianchi’s Marussia clocking the fastest first sector for a while until the other runners set their slick tyre times. Gutierrez compounded Sauber’s woes by planting his car backwards into the barrier, ensuring a busy afternoon for both sides of the garage.
With Rosberg reporting drizzle on the circuit from the cockpit, there was a scramble to bank Q3 lap times on the slicks with the balance of the session looking to be more likely to require the intermediate tyre that would not deliver the times required. The session became a standoff between the weather and the strategists – the increasing rain making it unlikely that there would be any further slick running and consequent better times. However, with the clock running down, there was indeed final scramble for times, with Perez missing out by not crossing the line before the clock ran down to zero.
With Hamilton’s final lap compromised, it was Rosberg and Vettel on the front row. With double yellows waving at the end of Q2, there remain some stewards’ investigations into driver behaviour unresolved at the end of the qualifying session.