Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has called on Ferrari to “cure their illness” following the Scuderia’s Hockenheim horror show.
Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position for Sunday’s German Grand Prix after both Ferrari cars were hit by catastrophic mechanical problems.
The Italian team headed into qualifying with the faster machinery, but disaster struck in the opening moments as Sebastian Vettel pulled into the pits, suffering a problem with the air flow to the turbo.
His mechanics were unable to fix the issue. The four-time world champion would not set a lap.
As the crestfallen German watched on from the sidelines, the stage was seemingly set for Charles Leclerc to rescue Ferrari’s day.
But the sight of Leclerc’s mechanics scurrying around the back of his car, and the under-fire team principal Mattia Binotto pacing the garage, raised alarm bells.
Minutes later, Leclerc clambered out of his car, a fuel-system error preventing him from participating in the shoot-out for pole. He is set to start 10th.
I feel for the whole team. But the points are scored on a Sunday and I will give absolutely everything to make everyone smile again tomorrow. It is going to be a fun race 😬— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) July 27, 2019
📸: @KymIllman pic.twitter.com/20Pp7FpcFk
Hamilton, battling a cold this weekend, went unchallenged to secure the 87th pole of his career. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will join the world champion on the front row. Valtteri Bottas, 39 points behind Hamilton in the title standings, lines up in third.
Ferrari’s double mechanical problem is the latest in a succession of blows to both the team, without a single victory this year, and Vettel, winless since last August’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Ferrari, the sport’s most successful team, last clinched a drivers’ championship in 2007 and a constructors’ title in 2008. Binotto was charged as the man to bring back the team’s glory days, replacing Maurizio Arrivabene ahead of the new campaign.
But question marks linger over the former technical director’s credentials to lead the Scuderia following their underwhelming campaign. At the halfway stage, only a miracle will now allow Ferrari to beat Mercedes to either title.
Wolff is on course to oversee a record sixth consecutive drivers’ and team triumphs for Mercedes. The Austrian pulled few punches in his assessment of their rivals.
“Ferrari has an illness and they need to cure that,” he said. “It’s just a shame. We need them for a strong championship.”
Vettel, who will start his home event an eye-watering 100 points behind Hamilton, said: “Obviously I am very bitter as the car is great and we have lost out on a big chance.
“I am looking forward to the race, but it would have been nicer to start at the front than the very back.”
At the sharp end, Hamilton is poised to extend his lead following Ferrari’s implosion.
This, despite the Briton admitting a contingency plan was set up for reserve driver Esteban Ocon to take his place for qualifying.
“It doesn’t make any difference in the sense you are just trying to do the best job you can,” said Hamilton of Ferrari’s capitulation. “It is a horrible, so they will be feeling it.
“I wasn’t feeling good this morning. I have a sore throat, so we prepped in case I would not be able to do the session.
“We were prepared to put the reserve driver in the car in the worst-case scenario.”
Upon crossing the line, Wolff made a rare appearance on the team radio.
“Lewis, you never cease to amaze us,” he said, with the Briton on an unstoppable charge towards championship number six.
Charles Leclerc traded places with Sebastian Vettel as Ferrari continued their impressive form at the German Grand Prix.
After Vettel topped the time charts earlier at Hockenheim, Leclerc led the way in a Ferrari one-two on Friday afternoon.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton had to settle for third, with Ferrari heading into the weekend holding an advantage over their rivals.
Pierre Gasly crashed out of the second running when he ran off the road at the final corner and sustained heavy damage to the left-hand side of his car.
The young Frenchman walked away unharmed from the incident, but his Red Bull mechanics face a hefty repair job to get his car ready for final practice and qualifying on Saturday.
Gasly’s accident caused the session to be red-flagged with 15 minutes still to run, but Ferrari had already made their mark.
Vettel is back at Hockenheim for the first time since he crashed out from the lead in 2018.
The four-time world champion has struggled for form in the 12 months after his accident here. Indeed, it is approaching a full season since he last won a race.
But in the extreme heat on Friday, the mercury hitting 38 degrees, Ferrari’s speed will provide Vettel with reason to believe he could yet end his winless drought.
Hamilton has warned that the hot weather will scupper his chances of fighting for victory come Sunday.
Mercedes have failed to get their machinery working at full capacity in the warm weather. In similar temperatures at last month’s Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton could finish only fifth.
Here, the Briton who leads team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the standings by 39 points, will know he has work to do to reel in the Ferrari’s if the heatwave extends into the weekend. Thunderstorms, however, are forecast for Saturday.
Bottas finished a distant fourth, 0.662 sec off Leclerc’s pace, the Finn just ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
Lando Norris has enjoyed an impressive start to his grand prix career, but the British teenager finished only 16th, 1.8 sec slower than the leaders.
Norris was also half-a-second adrift of Carlos Sainz, who was 11th in the sister McLaren
Britain’s other novice George Russell held a one-tenth advantage over team-mate Robert Kubica. The pair finished 19th and 20th for the struggling Williams team.
Formula One is regarded as the pinnacle of racing, the summit of motorsport. You wouldn’t know it though on an isolated viewing of the French Grand Prix on Sunday.
In fact, the 2019 season as a whole has so far failed miserably to provide the kind of excitement and entertainment that F1 promises with the finest drivers and fastest cars operating in its domain.
Yet, Lewis Hamilton may as well have been all alone on Circuit Paul Ricard having led from start to finish, crossing the chequered flag over 18 seconds ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas in second – who was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the approaching scarlet red Ferrari of Charles Leclerc in his mirrors.
With Mercedes the undisputed dominant force in France over the weekend, the fact that the young Monegasque finished within a second of one of them took everyone by surprise, especially with the way he snuck up on Bottas.
An uneventful race at Le Castellet made for tough viewing and the battle in midfield sparked by technical issues for Lando Norris’ McLaren was a welcome change from the boring narrative at the front.
But while eyes were fixated on the young Englishman’s valiant effort to defend seventh place from a rabid Daniel Ricciardo, followed closely by Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg, Leclerc had gained huge ground.
With eight laps to go, the 21-year-old was eight and a half seconds adrift of Bottas but somehow ended up on his tail heading into the final couple of rounds.
It was like a magic trick. Bottas had been caught off guard and was so nearly hoodwinked.
A few laps after both drivers had pitted, the Finn was steadily pulling away and Leclerc’s engineer even came on the radio and asked if he could push more. His response was calm as he explained that he could but was worried about the damage it would do to his tyres which needed to last until the chequered flag.
He showed excellent composure to bide his time, nurse the tyres and put his head down near the end. It was a far cry from the over-eager driver who crashed out of Q2 in Baku while setting promising times, before trying to compensate for another qualifying debacle in Monaco with an ill-advised Kamikaze overtaking spree on race day that ended in a DNF.
Indeed, Leclerc had looked assured all weekend. Mercedes were untouchable throughout but even in practice and qualifying, he was consistently the best of the rest.
After a disastrous time in Monaco, a podium finish at the Canadian GP seems to have settled Leclerc who was more calculating this time around. A brief Virtual Safety Car period towards the tail end of the race surprised Bottas and the Ferrari new recruit pounced on the opportunity.
Such was the pressure he created that he brought the gap down to 0.4 seconds at one point during the last lap with Bottas even running wide on the final corner. Ultimately, Leclerc simply ran out of laps but Toto Wolff and the rest of the Mercedes team will know it should never have been that close.
Friday’s practice sessions revealed they had a massive 0.7s per lap race pace advantage over the Maranello team. Leclerc however cleverly bridged the gap, showing a new level of maturity in the process.
LECLERC: "I gave it everything. I felt ok with the car but the Mercedes were too quick early on. We did a great job with tyre management and I was catching Valtteri for P2, but ran out of laps"#F1 #FrenchGP 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/VYfKJgfzv6— Formula 1 (@F1) June 23, 2019
While the Monacan enjoyed a coming of age this weekend, accomplished team-mate Sebastian Vettel seemed hungover from his disappointment in Montreal.
A five-second penalty in Canada denied him a first race win since Belgium last year and effectively ended his bid to catch Hamilton in the championship. Vettel was then forced to address a failed Ferrari appeal ahead of the action in France.
Underwhelming displays in practice and a few tetchy radio exchanges in an error-strewn qualifying session suggested his head just wasn’t in it. His start to the race was modest as well, maintaining his P7 out of the first few turns but failing to improve on it, getting held up in traffic while the front-runners pulled away.
The German needs to refocus sooner rather than later. With a serious young talent blossoming in the same garage, he should feel threatened because he is.
Leclerc nearly pulled a fast one on Bottas and if Vettel continues to be distracted, it’s only a matter of time before the youngster pulls out of the four-time world champion’s slipstream and accelerates into the distance.