Lewis Hamilton went from poorly to pole at the German Grand Prix on Saturday, revealing afterwards that Mercedes had put French reserve Esteban Ocon on standby to replace him in case he felt too unwell to drive.
The Briton, on his way to a sixth Formula One title having won seven of the season’s 10 races, said he had been nursing a sore throat.
“I wasn’t feeling good this morning,” he told reporters immediately after qualifying.
“A bit of a sore throat; we just prepped in case I wasn’t going to be able to do the session.
“I did the practice and we were prepared to be able to put the second driver in, worst-case scenario. I got through it good.”
Mercedes have Ocon, who lost his seat at Force India/Racing Point at the end of last season, as their stand-in.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said he expects Ocon to be back in a Formula One race seat next year and are evaluating all options to help that to happen.
Had Ocon stepped in for Hamilton in qualifying, the championship leader would also have been forced to sit out Sunday’s race.
Hamilton leads teammate Valtteri Bottas by 39 points in the overall standings so would have been sure to stay top regardless.
In the end, Hamilton eased to his fourth pole of the season and 87th overall after his Ferrari rivals ran into trouble.
Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel had dominated practice but the former was sidelined by a fuel system problem in the top-10 shootout while Vettel failed to even set a time after an issue with his power unit’s turbocharger.
Hamilton’s pole put Mercedes at the front of the grid for the team’s 200th grand prix start as a constructor and makes him favourite to cap the team’s celebration of 125 years of motorsport with a home victory on Sunday.
The champion, who won from 14th in the rain last year, said forecast bad weather would be the biggest threat on Sunday and that he hoped for cool conditions.
“I think the real challenge is just making sure we do all our due diligence and make sure we operate at the level we’ve been operating at today,” he said.
Ferrari blow their chances in German GP qualifying
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Ferrari needed to sort out their problems for the sake of Formula One after the Italians suffered double disappointment in German Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.
Ferrari had dominated free practice and had looked favourites to take pole position at Hockenheim when both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were sidelined by power unit issues.
Vettel, on pole last year, failed to complete even a timed lap and needed the permission of stewards to start Sunday’s race in last place.
Leclerc made it through to the final phase before a fuel system problem kept him in the garage and left him lining up 10th on a dire afternoon for the Maranello-based team.
“Ferrari, they really have an illness in there that they need to cure,” Wolff told Sky Sports television before later clarifying to reporters that he had meant to say “problems.”
“It’s a shame because we need them for a strong championship,” added the Austrian, whose team have won nine of 10 races so far.
Saturday’s failure was all the more acute for Formula One’s most successful and glamorous team just as they had hoped to turn a corner and get the better of Mercedes.
Sunday had offered Vettel the chance of making up for the mistake that saw him crash out of the lead last year, handing victory to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton — who will be on pole this time.
“I don’t know what happened, something broke with the turbo and that was game over from there,” the home favourite told reporters.
“Obviously very bitter, I think the car was great and I lost out on a big chance but hopefully we’ll have a big one coming tomorrow,” added the German.
Leclerc had hoped for his third pole of the season and second in two races but he never got the chance to fight for it.
“I felt great in the car and the car felt great today and all weekend so it’s a shame it ends up like this,” said the Monegasque who had been quickest in the first phase of qualifying.
“It’s a difficult day for the team, I hope it will be a very positive day tomorrow,” added the 21-year-old.
Ferrari last won a drivers’ championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 while their last constructors’ title triumph came in 2008.
Raikkonen, now at Alfa Romeo, was, ironically, the quickest Ferrari-powered driver in qualifying with fifth place.
Saturday’s problems once again turned the spotlight on Ferrari’s failure to make the most of their opportunities and team boss Mattia Binotto said that hurt.
“We are angry with ourselves and I myself feel responsible for what has happened,” he said.
“But I am also aware that we must react calmly and do our best tomorrow.”
Binotto said Saturday had thrown up “two completely different problems, neither of which had ever occurred before.
“The first indications from Sebastian’s car lead us to believe it could be related to a component on the intercooler,” he added. “The component is to the same specification as those used previously and it was fitted new.”