Nurburg, 6 July – Felipe Massa will start tomorrow’s German Grand Prix from the inside of the fourth row of the grid, not exactly a fantastic starting position, so how come the Brazilian reckons he could have a “fantastic result” tomorrow? It’s all down to the way this afternoon’s qualifying was run, proving yet again that Formula 1 can at times have more in common with a cerebral game of chess than an out and out sporting contest.
In the case of Scuderia Ferrari, the board-game began on Friday, as soon it was clear that tyre degradation on the softer Option tyre was high. Combined with the honest assessment that the F138 is currently not a contender for the top slots on the grid, the Prancing Horse engineers began to feed a few unusual “what ifs” into the equation. The answer that came out was that starting the race on the harder Prime tyre might see our two drivers running at a very fast pace with clear air ahead of them, as those who had started on the Soft tyre would have to pit as early as lap 8 and therefore run into traffic as they emerged from pit lane on their new Mediums. Just to make it clear, the rules state that drivers who take part in the final top-ten shoot-out part of qualifying, must start the race on the tyres with which they finished the Saturday afternoon session.
Therefore even though Felipe and team-mate Fernando Alonso, who qualified one place behind the Brazilian in eighth, were very competitive in the first two parts of the session, the Scuderia strategists stuck to their guns and sent the drivers out on the Medium and therefore slightly slower tyres, for their final attempt in Q3. However, as Fernando said, we won’t know if this unusual strategy will work until it happens.
Of those going for what we will call a “conventional” qualifying, Lewis Hamilton steered his Mercedes around the Nurburgring to record his second consecutive pole position after Silverstone. Alongside him tomorrow will be the Red Bull of series leader Sebastian Vettel, while the second row sees the German’s team-mate Mark Webber in third spot, flanked by Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus. On the inside of Row 3, is the Finn’s team-mate Romain Grosjean, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth for Toro Rosso. And then we have our own all-red Row 4…