‘Catch me if you can’, was the gauntlet that Lewis Hamilton laid down to his rivals as he cantered to pole position in Hockenheim with a lap which was, by his own admission, “pretty easy going”.
Since his awe-inspiring charge to victory in the wet at Silverstone, Hamilton has looked untouchable. He dominated testing at the Hockenheimring, led the way in Friday practice, and was pretty much untroubled in qualifying, despite a resurgent Felipe Massa, and a team-mate who was giving it everything and then some.
Alarm bells started ringing in the Ferrari camp as early as Q1 when Hamilton managed to eclipse Felipe Massa from a provisional P1 despite over-cooking it into the hairpin and dropping at least half a second.
As the track funnelled out into the Stadium arena, Hamilton was every bit the on-stage performer as he danced his McLaren-Mercedes around the twisty in-field quicker than any other driver out there.
On his final flying lap in Q3 he eclipsed Ferrari’s Felipe Massa by just under two tenths of a second to claim his second pole position of the season and the ninth of his career.
“My final lap I was quite happy with it to be honest. It went very smoothly,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I think the first Q3 lap I had was looking to be a good lap but then they put the flags out in turn 12. I think Heikki ran a bit wide on the exit of turn 12, so I had to be careful as I didn’t want to get any penalties, so I made a big lift.”
“The time wasn’t great but I knew I had it in me. I knew that we had the pace. My lap was really smooth. It was pretty easy going. I was quite comfortable we could have gone a little bit quicker if we needed to. I felt quite cool.
With Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen languishing down in sixth place after struggling with the handling of his F2008, the question beckons, can anyone stop Lewis cantering to victory on Sunday?
If it is wet the answer is no plain and simple. Hamilton reigned-supreme at Silverstone as he did in Monaco and no one has shown they have an answer for the Englishman in the rain. Raikkonen was able to hunt Hamilton down in the wet at Silverstone before his fudged pit-stop, but the Finn faces an uphill struggle from sixth place, wet or dry.
The Ferrari ace is also having major problems hitting the sweet spot with his setup.
“All weekend long, we have been struggling a bit to find a good set-up for the car,” said the 28-year-old. “At the end of yesterday, it seemed we were on the right road and this morning we tried to improve still further down this path, but it was not the right one.”
The drivers best placed to take the fight to Hamilton on Sunday are the men that line up alongside him. Heikki Kovalainen could have potentially locked out the front row for McLaren had he not ran wide at the last corner on his flying lap. He remains a potent threat to Hamilton in the dry and there is no reason to assume he is carrying less fuel.
McLaren clearly have the edge in Hockenheim and the MP4-23’s superiority in the low speed stadium section does not appear to be offset by any disadvantage down the long straights.
No one in silver would dare admit it of course and all the talk in the press conference was that there was nothing to choose between the two teams. Felipe Massa, who deserves credit for putting his miserable showing in Silverstone behind him to line up alongside Hamilton, did his best to persuade reporters that this was the case.
“I think it is pretty competitive between Ferrari and McLaren and the race tomorrow will be a very, very big competition between all four cars,” said the Brazilian. “But for sure that is very exciting. We need to do everything right, so hopefully we will do everything right tomorrow in the race.”
However, Massa’s body language in the press conference suggested that he had set his hopes on snatching pole, potentially on a lighter fuel load.
Much of the talk from the big teams in the run up to this weekend’s German Grand Prix has been about error minimisation following scrappy races from both teams. Hamilton on paper should win, but the slightest of slip-ups and we have seen chinks in his armour this year could hand victory to his rivals.