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Silverstone qualifying review: Alonso makes his luck

The Ferrari driver made the most out of every chance he had in a confusing and interrupted qualifying session. Several things combined for the outcome, but the Spaniard's savvy driving rewarded him.
Sunday, July 8, 2012

Graham Keilloh is a massive F1 fan and has been for more years than he cares to remember. On his blogs at Talking about F1, and tweets at @talkingaboutf1.

July 7th, 2012 (F1plus / Graham Keilloh).- Napolean used to say 'bring me lucky generals'. When considering which marshals to promote to general he asked not for a measure of their skills, nor their intellect, nor home life. He asked only for that measure of their mysterious tendency for good fortune. And if the answer was in the affirmative he made them a general.

But perhaps Napoleon wasn't relying solely on such a indiscriminate quality. Perhaps he also recognised that, ultimately, you make your own luck. Had he watched Fernando Alonso's blend of fortune and skill on display in claiming pole position today in a lengthy, interrupted qualifying session at Silverstone he may well have raised a smile.

For the most part though pole looked a remote possibility for the Spaniard. He survived a wild spin somehow unscathed, was rescued by a red flag at a point when he looked fully destined to start in mid-grid, and got into the final qualifying session by a hair's breadth. But at the end of it all he emerged having claimed the right to start at the head of the grid for tomorrow's race.

In the second qualifying session it rained much harder than before, and Ferrari looked to have made the disastrous choice of sending out both cars on intermediate tyres when wets were what was required, and by the time they were changed the best of the conditions had gone as the rain intensified further. Indeed, while on this was going on Alonso undertook a high-speed spin, in which it looked for all of the world that he was going to wipe off the front of his car on a barrier. But, making his luck not for the last time this afternoon, he got the thing pointing the right way expertly. Then, with a massive stroke of fortune, the rain exacerbated to such an extent that the red flag was thrown, with six minutes of that session remaining - at the time Alonso was down in P16 and it seemed had no hope of improving.

The session was stopped for around an hour and a half. And by the time things resumed everyone started from zero in effect as the track was marginally quicker than at any point in the session before the stoppage. But even then it seemed Alonso would miss out as, in traffic and in the 'drop zone' as the clock hit zero, he then faced a yellow flag at the end of the lap as Romain Grosjean spun and beached his car in the gravel at Vale. Again making his luck, Alonso slowed just enough to remain above board while retaining the speed to scrape into the final session by less than a tenth of a second at the last.

And as is the way in a modern day F1 qualifying session, the first two sessions are simply a matter of making it through. Times in previous sessions are reset and everyone starts the final shoot out equal. Now the track was good for the intermediate tyres and the Ferraris, and especially in Alonso's hands, came to life. From the off he looked the quickest out there by a distance. Eventually Mark Webber got near to him, even pipped his time for a while, but on Alonso's last tour he sneaked under Webber's best by just 47 thousands of a second, and the grid was set.

It all continues a year in which Alonso is making a habit of surpassing himself. We thought two weeks ago that his race performance in Valencia was as good as it got, but today just might have been ever better. It makes you wonder where and when it'll all stop.

But still, with the rain not predicted to relent to any great extent tomorrow, and plenty of determined customers behind, there is ample time in the race for things to go wrong even for him.

As mentioned, Webber was at the top of his game today as he has been for most of the season, and if tomorrow is a matter of living on your wits then few will bow to him on that front. And in third place we have the old 'regenmeister' Michael Schumacher who also can never be counted out when guile is called for. Then comes Sebastian Vettel, one never to be discounted whatever the elements are doing.

There are also plenty of credible contenders in the pack: we've seen that the likes of the Sauber and Williams are strong on days that it rains, and I'd anticipate that pilots such as Pastor Maldonado starting seventh and Sergio Perez starting seventeenth will make progress in the race. The Lotus seems to be strong whatever the weather, and tenth on the grid (due to the Q2 spin mentioned) probably isn't representative of Grosjean's pace.

And what about McLaren? In a reversal of previous years its machine isn't at its sharpest, relatively speaking, when things get a bit damp meaning that the most even the prodigious Lewis Hamilton could do was to qualify eighth (and Jenson Button starts way back in 18th). Not for nothing Martin Whitmarsh commented post-qualifying that what McLaren needs is either a fully wet or a fully dry set of conditions come the race. Anywhere in between and the Woking cars struggle.

No one, not even Alonso, will be predicting with confidence how tomorrow's Silverstone race will pan out however. Once again luck, however you define or influence it, will likely be the most important variable.

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2 Lewis Hamilton 161
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4 Fernando Alonso 87
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