Valtteri Bottas took pole position for the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in Germany. With only one hour of practice before qualifying after poor weather had curtailed running, the Finn found fine form to put in a superlative lap. He beat his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton into second, with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in third. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc returned the Scuderia a superb fourth, with Alexander Albon fifth for Red Bull.
Verstappen had put in an impressive first hot run in Q3 setting a time of 1min 25.744sec, looking particularly strong through the first two sectors. The margins were very tight nonetheless, with Bottas six-hundredths and Hamilton eight-hundredths back. The track was still evolving as more rubber went down, however, and the final laps were crucial. Hamilton edged in front through the middle sector but Bottas in his wake was stringing together a finely honed run, across the entire lap. He finished with a 1:25.269, 0.256 clear of his teammate. It was a statement of intent and a superb piece of pressure execution by the Finn.
Related: ‘My name won’t put me to the top of the championship,’ says Mick Schumacher
Should Hamilton manage to convert his second place to victory he will match Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 grand prix wins. With the wet weather over which he exhibits an extraordinary mastery likely during the race, Hamilton will be confident he still has every chance of taking the win.
This is Bottas’s third pole of the season, having taken the top spot at the Austrian Grand Prix and the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, and his 14th career pole position. With Hamilton having taken the other eight poles Mercedes have maintained their unbeaten record, with 11 from 11 races. Bottas must now convert his advantage to victory. The Finn has won twice this season – from pole in Austria and at the last round in Russia – but his bullish determination to take the fight to Hamilton has thus far largely not materialised. A second win in succession would at least apply pressure to the world champion.
The focus this weekend may be on Hamilton matching Schumacher’s wins but he is also edging closer to matching the German’s record of seven titles. He leads Bottas by 44 points and is 77 ahead of Verstappen, whose challenge has been stymied by several DNFs.
With no running on Friday because of adverse weather conditions there was much to be done in the only practice session on Saturday morning and Mercedes made an instant impact, with Bottas and Hamilton topping the timesheets. Despite the FIA banning teams from changing engine modes during qualifying, Mercedes have clearly shrugged off a rule change that was hoped would close up the field. In Germany they once again demonstrated how fearsome their car is this season. A win here on Sunday would be only the second for the team at the Nürburgring after Juan Manuel Fangio took the flag for Mercedes in 1954.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were in sixth and seventh. Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in eighth and 10th for McLaren, and Sergio Pérez in ninth for Racing Point. Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel was knocked out in Q2 in 11th place.
Nico Hülkenberg was drafted in to replace Racing Point’s Lance Stroll at the last minute after the Canadian driver was unwell on Saturday morning. Hülkenberg has already stepped in for Racing Point at two races this season when Pérez contracted Covid-19. The team bring his race seat with them to meetings but were fortunate that Hülkenberg was nearby in Cologne working with broadcasters. It was a huge task for the German, coming to the car and track with no preparation, and Hülkenberg finished in 20th.
Related: What sets Lewis Hamilton apart from Schumacher is personal development
Weather conditions on Sunday are expected to be similar to the rain and mist that prevented running on Friday. Practice did not take place then because the medical helicopter could not take off to fly to the designated hospital in Koblenz within the 20 minutes mandated by the regulations. As a result, the FIA has adjusted its protocols to ensure racing can take place, with a contingency plan to drive any injured party down the mountains for 3km before then being airlifted to the hospital, ensuring the process remains within the 20-minute window.
Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat were in 12th and 13th for AlphaTauri. Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi in 14th and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in 15th.
Haas’s Romain Grosjean was in 16th, with the Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi in 17th and 18th. Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen was in 19th.