Valtteri Bottas beat Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the 2020 FIA Formula 1 Eifel Grand Prix in a tightly contest qualifying session at the Nürburgring that saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen miss out of a front-row spot by just under four hundredths of a second and Nico Hulkenberg return to action for Racing Point in place of Lance Stroll who is unwell.
Stroll had missed out on the weekend’s only practice session on Saturday morning and in the hours between the start of that session and qualifying the Canadian was deemed too ill to take part in the rest of the weekend. Hulkenberg, who was working as a TV analyst at the Nürburgring, was quickly drafted in for this third grand prix weekend in pink of 2020 after two outings in Silverstone earlier this year when Sergio Pérez was ruled out with COVID-19.
At the top of the hour-long session, Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to set a time but his early Q1 benchmark of 1:26.703 didn’t last long as Verstappen quickly bypassed it with a lap of 1:26.319 that would remain the quickest of the opening segment. Bottas got closest to Verstappen’s pace with a lap of 1:26.573 that put him half a tenth ahead of Hamilton who improved marginally on a second run.
At the bottom of the Q1 order the task of trying to escape the drop with no practice laps under his belt was too much for Hulkenberg and 2020’s supersub was eliminated in 20th and last place. The exit door also beckoned for 16th-placed Romain Grosjean of Haas, Williams’ George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and 19th-placed Alfa Romeo man Kimi Räikkönen.
While Verstappen and Albon opted for soft tires for their opening runs in Q2, Mercedes, Ferrari and Racing Point chose mediums compound Pirellis.
With the benefit of softer rubber than his close rivals Verstappen took P1 with a time of 1:25.720. Hamilton took P2 and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull slotted into P3 with a lap of 1:26.286. Bottas made a mistake on his opening run, however, and in P8 ahead of the final runs, he was forced to make another run. Surprisingly, Hamilton joined his team-mate and both set their fastest laps on soft tires, with the championship leader taking P1 with a lap of 1:25.390.
Verstappen completed a second run on softs and his improved time of 1:25.467 was good enough to bump Bottas to third ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, and Leclerc who took P5 on soft tires after his medium run was deemed not safe enough to guarantee progress. Eliminated at the end of Q2 was 11th-placed Sebastian Vettel with the German bowing out ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.
After losing his Q1 top spot to Hamilton in Q2, Verstappen seized control once again in the first runs of the final session. With track conditions worsening as temperatures began to drop, the times were not as quick as those of Q2 but Verstappen’s 1:25.744 was still good enough to take provisional pole, 0.068s ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton, meanwhile, was a hundredth further back in third place.
But while all the top three drivers improved on their final runs of the top-10 shootout, it was Bottas who made the biggest gain. The Finn found more than half a second on his final flyer to take the 14th pole position of his career. Verstappen almost claimed his 14th front row start with a good lap of 1:25.562 but a lack of grip on the cold track allowed Hamilton to steal P2 by the narrow margin of just 0.037s.
Leclerc took an impressive fourth place in the session, edging Albon by just over one hundredth of a second, while sixth place went to Ricciardo. The Renault driver finished ahead of team-mate Ocon, while Norris took eighth ahead of Pérez and McLaren team-mate Sainz.
2020 FIA Formula 1 Eifel Grand Prix
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:25.269 6 217.345
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.525 0.256 6 216.694
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:25.562 0.293 6 216.600
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:26.035 0.766 6 215.410
5 Alexander Albon Red Bull/Honda 1:26.047 0.778 6 215.379
6 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:26.223 0.954 6 214.940
7 Esteban Ocon Renault 1:26.242 0.973 6 214.892
8 Lando Norris McLaren/Renault 1:26.458 1.189 6 214.356
9 Sergio Pérez Racing Point/Mercedes 1:26.704 1.435 3 213.747
10 Carlos Sainz McLaren/Renault 1:26.709 1.440 6 213.735
11 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:26.738 1.348 8 213.664
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:26.776 1.386 6 213.570
13 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri/Honda 1:26.848 1.458 6 213.393
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:26.936 1.546 6 213.177
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1:27.125 1.735 6 212.715
16 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1:27.552 1.233 10 211.677
17 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:27.564 1.245 9 211.648
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:27.812 1.493 9 211.050
19 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:27.817 1.498 8 211.038
20 Nico Hülkenberg Racing Point/Mercedes 1:28.021 1.702 10 210.549