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Vettel takes Hockenheim pole

NEWS STORY
21/07/2018

Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 21 degrees C, while the track temperature is 27 degrees. Though the rain has stopped, it remains damp. However, it is warm, which means that providing there is no further rain the session, though beginning in the wet, will eventually dry out.

Though Red Bull topped the timesheets in both of yesterday's session, this morning's non-event that was FP3 gave us further little insight. Furthermore, with rain expected tomorrow also, with only nine cars posting times earlier it's all pretty much in the air as in many ways we are heading into the unknown.

Certainly, this morning's session, which saw Charles Leclerc lead a Sauber 1-2 would make for a perfect grid, though as conditions continue to improve this becomes less and less likely.

Despite the limited running there were a few heart in mouth moments, both involving Renault drivers, with Sainz incurring some floor damage when he spun.

In yesterday's sessions, held in warm and sunny conditions, Daniel Ricciardo was quickest in the morning while teammate Max Verstappen topped the timesheets in the afternoon. Taking a grid penalty that puts him at the back for tomorrow's race, in many way Ricciardo doesn't care whether it rains or even snows this afternoon.

Someone who would like to see conditions worsen, today and tomorrow is Stoffel Vandoorne, who claims yesterday was his worst day in racing ever. The Belgian believes that McLaren's only hope of a result here is if the heavens continue to pour forth, a view no doubt shared by his teammate, Fernando Alonso.

Haas was best of the rest yesterday, but the midfield is ever evolving and the American team is likely to be under pressure from both Renault and Force India this weekend, while Ferrari's recent upgrade has given Sauber a boost also, not least Mr Leclerc.

Following the disaster that was Silverstone, Williams is placing a lot of faith in a new front wing here as it seeks to cure its balance issues, according to the team, so far so good.

Ahead of Q1 race control reveals there is a 40% chance of rain.

The lights go green and Sirotkin is first out of the trap, followed by teammate Stroll and then Leclerc.

Sirotkin gets the ball rolling with a 15.771, Stroll posting 25.154 after running wide in the final sector.

Leclerc posts 15.203 while Ericsson makes it a Sauber 1-2 again when he stops the clock at 15.677.

A 13.959 sees Grosjean go top, while Perez goes second ahead of Ocon.

"There's a problem with the shifts, there's a problem with the shifts," reports Vandoorne. "We're investigating," he is told as he slowly makes his way back to the pits.

Magnussen goes second with a 14.449 only to be demoted when Hulkenberg goes top with a 13.874. The German is using the new front wing while Sainz has the old version.

Leclerc improves with a 13.562 as Vettel, Raikkonen and the Mercedes pair head out.

All running thus far, by the way, has been on the ultrasoft slicks.

A 12.794 sees Raikkonen go quickest, but Vettel demotes him with a 12.765.

Hamilton goes third (13.012) and Bottas fourth (13.310), both over 0.2s off Vettel's pace.

The Bulls finally head out... a cloud of orange smoke fills the air as Verstappen begins his first flying lap.

Raikkonen improves to 12.723 but Vettel also improves, the German crossing the line at 12.538.

Verstappen splits the Mercedes pair with a 13.179, while Ricciardo posts a conservative 13.551.

Bottas improves to third with a 12.962, but remains 0.424s off Vettel's pace.

With 5:20 remaining, Sainz, Hartley, Stroll, Sirotkin and Vandoorne comprise the drop zone.

Another improvement for Raikkonen who posts a 12.505.

As the clock ticks down it's looking bad for Sainz and Hartley, as Sirotkin improves to 11th with a 13.708 which drops Alonso into the danger zone.

The Spaniard posts 13.614 to go 12th, while Vandoorne can only manage 18th (14.401).

Stroll improves but only to 17th, while Hartley drops to 20th.

Perez drops to 16th but is still on track, as is teammate Ocon who is currently 15th.

Grosjean goes fourth with a 12.986.

A PB in S1 for Hartley as he seeks to make the cut, however, Vandoorne and Sainz also posts PBs.

Hartley maintains his pace, as Hamilton runs wide his car seemingly stuck in fourth gear.

Sainz goes tenth which demote Gasly, while Hartley can only manage 18th.

Hamilton stops his car on track at T10 and gets out, the Briton attempting to push the Mercedes to safety. A potential disaster for the world champion.

"Gears won't change, gears won't change," he reports.

Quickest is Raikkonen, ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Grosjean, Hamilton, Leclerc, Magnussen, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Sainz.

We lose Ocon, Gasly, Hartley, Stroll and Vandoorne.

During FP3 earlier there was talk that Hamilton was unwell, with some even claiming that the Briton would skip the session. Mercedes played down the talk and in the final moments of the session the Briton did an exploratory lap.

However, in Q1, other than his obvious technical issue, it's far to say he looked ragged. As we know, he does have those kind of weekends from time to time.

Indeed, Nico Rosberg suggests that in going off at T1 at one point his former teammate could have damaged his gearbox.

Radio replay has his engineer telling Hamilton that he must stop or risk "PU risk".

Out of qualifying, his best hope for tomorrow is to start 15th - however, if there is gearbox damage...

The Haas duo get Q2 underway, with Bottas right behind.

Grosjean posts 12.722 and Magnussen 12.523 while Bottas slips in a 12.152.

Mercedes confirms a loss of hydraulic pressure for Hamilton.

As his teammate goes fourth (13.179), Ericsson goes off and into the gravel at T13. However, he is able to continue despite a long trip through the kitty litter.

Raikkonen goes second (12.336) and Vettel third (12.505), as Verstappen goes seventh with a 13.440.

There's a lot of gravel on the track following Ericsson's off and re-join.

Indeed, the session is red-flagged in order that the gravel can be cleared from the track.

Unfortunately, this happens just as Verstappen was on his second hot lap, as were a number of other drivers including Alonso and both Renault drivers. Bucking the trend, Verstappen and Alonso were both on softs.

With the clock stopped at 6:57, Sainz, Ericsson, Sirotkin and Ricciardo and Hamilton have yet to post a time.

Currently P4, Magnussen suggests: "I think you guys should look, and think, if we really need to run again".

The session resumes and appropriately the kitty litter king, Ericsson, is first out. Then again, he has yet to post a time.

Verstappen heads out, the Red Bull driver having ditched the softs for the ultras.

A 13.736 sees Ericsson go tenth, the Swede lucky not to visit the gravel at T12.

Verstappen goes quickest in S1, as Bottas, the Ferraris, Haas' and Hulkenberg opt not to run again.

A 12.188 sees Verstappen go second, much to the delight of his many fans in the stands.

Sirotkin, Sainz and Alonso begin their final hot laps, as do Perez, Leclerc and Ericsson.

The Spanish pair are both setting a strong pace, Sainz goes eighth (13.032) while Alonso can only manage 11th (13.657).

Leclerc goes eighth (12.995) while Perez hangs on to tenth by the skin of his teeth.

Quickest is Bottas, ahead of Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel, Magnussen, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Leclerc, Sainz and Perez.

We lose Alonso, Sirotkin, Ericsson, Hamilton and Ricciardo.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Hockenheim, here.

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