With rain once again dominating qualifying, just as it did in Silverstone two weeks ago, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has taken his second consecutive pole position in wet conditions, this time using the Pirelli Cinturato Blue full wet tire.
The P Zero White medium tire has been nominated for the race along with the P Zero Yellow soft: a combination that was last used at the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia.
All the frontrunners started Q1 on medium tires, in overcast conditions with a high risk of rain and cool conditions of 17-degrees Celsius ambient and 25-degrees C of track temperature. The fastest time of the session was set by Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen using the medium tire: 1m15.693s, which turned out to be the quickest lap of the weekend so far.
During the short break between Q1 and Q2 rain started to fall, meaning that the 17drivers who went through were straight out to put in a lap before conditions worsened. All the drivers started on the Cinturato Green intermediates, with grip lessening notably as the rain fell harder and standing water began to form. With five minutes of the session to go, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was the first driver to switch to the Cinturato Blue full wets, but the fastest time was set by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton using the Green intermediate.
The rain fell harder still before the start of Q3, meaning that the top 10 all used the Cinturato Blue full wet -- again with the priority of setting a time immediately in case conditions deteriorated. However, with the rain stopping after five minutes, the track gradually dried -- meaning that pole position was decided in the closing seconds, with Alonso setting a time of 1m 40.621s. The Spaniard changed to a fresh set of wet tires before his final run to benefit from extra grip and find some traffic-free space.
Just as was the case at Silverstone, the final free practice session on Saturday morning in Hockenheim took on a crucial significance, with the drivers getting their first chance to run on the P Zero Yellow soft tire. The session remained dry until six minutes from the end, with Alonso going quickest when he tried the soft tire for the first time.
After two days of uncertain conditions, the forecast is for dry weather tomorrow, but the teams are still lacking a complete weekend of data on the slick tires at Hockenheim, which Pirelli is visiting for the first time as official Formula One tire supplier.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “The teams only got the chance to run on the soft tire for the first time this morning, so they went into qualifying with a distinct lack of data on this compound in particular. As it was, our wet and intermediate tires once again took center stage.
"With a dry race expected tomorrow, we still have plenty of information to analyze as well, but from the limited data we have, we could expect a difference between the soft and the medium tire of about 0.5 seconds per lap, although the medium compound should last a few laps longer. This opens up many possibilities in terms of strategy, and could lead some teams to conclude that the medium tire is the one to race on.
"After a wet qualifying, all the drivers have most of their slick tire allocation still available to them, which also expands their options. As we have only ever been to Hockenheim before as GP3 supplier two years ago, all the teams should start on a level playing field. So the teams that can understand the tire characteristics here most quickly, and build a race strategy around that, will be in the strongest position to do well on race day.”
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