Valtteri Bottas ended Lewis Hamilton’s run of five consecutive F1 pole positions after beating his Mercedes team-mate and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in a tense three-way qualifying fight at the Eifel GP.
After winning in Russia two weeks ago, Bottas maintained crucial momentum as he attempts to claw back more championship ground against Hamilton’s 44-point lead in Sunday’s race on F1’s return to the Nurburgring.
Verstappen, threatening to end Mercedes’ season-long dominance of qualifying, held the initial advantage in Q3 but Bottas’ track-record final attempt of 1:25.269 was two tenths faster than both the Dutchman and Hamilton could manage.
Verstappen came within half a tenth of knocking Hamilton off the front row but can take solace from taking Mercedes to the wire in qualifying knowing that Red Bull usually are a more competitive force over the race distance.
Charles Leclerc, meanwhile, qualified a superb fourth for Ferrari ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull. But Sebastian Vettel missed out on Q3 for the seventh race in a row in the other Ferrari.
Renault were sixth and seventh, with Esteban Ocon coming close to outqualifying Daniel Ricciardo for just the second time this season, with Lando Norris back as the lead McLaren in eighth after losing the Saturday battle to Carlos Sainz (10th) recently.
Ninth place went to Racing Point’s Sergio Perez but the big story at the team on Saturday centered on the latest late call-up for Nico Hulkenberg.
After Lance Stroll fell unwell on Saturday morning and sat out practice, the team again turned to Hulkenberg as their ‘super sub’ – two months after the German filled in for Perez at the Silverstone double-header when the Mexican contracted coronavirus.
Due at his home track in any case for TV commitments, Hulkenberg was instead thrust straight back into F1 action on his arrival.
But with no time to practice in the RP20 ahead of qualifying, or time to adapt to changes to the car since he last drove it, Hulkenberg was up against it and qualified 20th and last.
Eifel GP Qualifying result
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Alexander Albon, Red Bull
6. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
7. Esteban Ocon, Renault
8. Lando Norris, McLaren
9. Sergio Perez, Racing Point
10. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
Knocked out in Q2
11. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
12. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
13. Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri
14. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
15. Kevin Magnussen, Haas
Knocked out in Q1
16. Romain Grosjean, Haas
17. George Russell, Williams
18. Nicholas Latifi, Williams
19. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
20. Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point
“That’s exactly the message he needs to send Lewis’ way,” said Sky F1’s Nico Rosberg, Bottas’ predecessor at Mercedes.
“‘This is not over yet, I’m still in the championship fight’. If he can continue that tomorrow, that would be great.”
Bottas has never won consecutive races in F1 but picked his moment perfectly in qualifying to set up himself up for a shot at victory from the head of the grid on Sunday.
It had not seemed pole was on the cards after the Finn trailed a closely-matched Hamilton and Verstappen by 0.581s in Q2. But the deciding final stage proved a different story and close behind the latter after the penultimate laps in Q3, Bottas found an impressive half a second on his final attempt to put pole out of reach for his two rivals.
“The last lap in Q3 was spot on, just what I was needed,” said Bottas. “It’s been pretty tricky this weekend.
“The only goal for tomorrow [is to win]. Hopefully I can get a good start.”
Off pole position for the first time since F1’s Anniversary GP in mid-August, Hamilton said: “I’m sure when I look at the data there will be plenty of time [missed], he’s two-tenths ahead. Valtteri did a great job so congrats to him.
“There’s a lot to play for tomorrow so I need to get my head down.”
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