Monday 11 December 2017

F1: Alonso rides storm to bring end to Ferrari pole drought

Tom Cary

Hopes that a rousing home victory in this afternoon's British Grand Prix might serve as an appetiser to Wimbledon's main course are looking remote after Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fell foul of the weather at Silverstone, qualifying in eighth and 18th respectively.

The McLaren duo's chances are now likely to rest on more torrential rain shaking things up after Fernando Alonso secured Ferrari's first pole in nearly two years, edging Red Bull's Mark Webber by just five hundredths of a second.

The Spaniard, on a run of 20 consecutive points finishes, will further tighten his grip on the drivers' championship if he can convert his advantage today.

Yesterday, another sodden day led to qualifying being interrupted for more than one and a half hours as the old WWII airfield was transformed into a something resembling a skidpan.

Alonso himself was hugely lucky to get through to the final top-ten shoot-out after spinning during Q2 before the red flags came out.

When the session did restart, the championship leader only just made it through with his final lap, set when there were yellow flags at the penultimate corner. The two-time world champion then showed his class, though, beating Webber by the smallest of margins to claim his first pole since Singapore 2010.

"You need to be lucky and we were today," said Alonso, who dedicated the pole to Marussia test driver Maria de Villota, who lost her right eye in an accident last week.

Lucky but also brilliant. Completing an error-free lap in these conditions was no small achievement. "I'm happy to be on pole after nearly two years," he shrugged. "In these conditions the qualifying is probably the least important of the year, but obviously for visibility it is always better to be on pole."

Hamilton reported that he had been unable to get heat into his tyres, not usually a problem for him. The odds on him repeating his famous wet weather win in 2008 are long but not overly so.

"I am not happy," he said. "Eighth is not the best position but that is life. I could not get temperature into the tyres. I had no grip and we were skidding all over the place. We will try and understand why and fix it for tomorrow."

At least he is within striking distance of the front-runners. Button's dismal run at the Silverstone track -- he has never so much as finished on the podium at his home race -- looks set to continue after he failed to make it out of Q1.

It is the fifth time Button has qualified 18th or lower at Silverstone since making his first outing here in 2000. The 32-year-old had looked uncomfortable throughout, but was on a quick final lap when yellow warning flags came out as a result of Timo Glock's Marussia spinning on the pit straight.

"It's a pity but it definitely wasn't meant to be," Button said. "It's the story of my year. The only good thing is that I'll have more tyres in the race. But I know I can drive a racing car in the wet and I am sure we will pick up places."

It would take something pretty miraculous to compete for space with Andy Murray on tomorrow's back pages. "I watched both semi-finals," Button said.

"It was an amazing match with [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga. Hopefully it will all go well. I know they have a roof, but I hope they get some sunshine."

Sunshine is the last thing Button needs at Silverstone.


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