HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel put Ferrari on pole position for his home German Grand Prix on Saturday after title rival Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes broke down on track in dramatic fashion.
The pole, in a track record time of one minute 11.212 seconds, drew a huge roar from the crowd on a damp day at Hockenheim.
“It was amazing to see so many red flags, German flags, so much support around the track,” said the four-times world champion, who has yet to win a grand prix at the circuit nearest to where he grew up.
His only previous German victory was at the Nuerburgring in 2013 but he will be the clear favourite on Sunday to extend his overall lead in the championship.
“It just kept getting better and better, and I knew in the last lap I had more in me and I was able to squeeze everything out,” Vettel said of his lap.
Reigning champion Hamilton’s Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas will start alongside Vettel on the front row, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen third and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fourth on the grid.
Bottas had briefly held the provisional pole before Vettel’s final effort secured the German a 55th career top starting slot.
Hamilton, also a four-times champion and eight points behind Vettel, qualified 14th — assuming he does not need a new gearbox — after being sidelined by a hydraulics problem.
The Briton tried in vain to push the stricken car back to the pits, with the help of some marshals, before then crouching in some distress next to it after it had been wheeled off.
“I didn’t really understand exactly what had happened so in my mind I was thinking get the car back to the track, but they asked me to turn the car off,” said Hamilton, his dreams of a record-equalling fourth German GP win seemingly in tatters.
“I jumped out and wanted to push it back but it was so far to go.
“I saw there was leaking oil and I knew that I had to stop and let them put the car away somewhere. I have the will to not want to give up. I just want to keep pushing.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the car could have been damaged jumping over a kerb. Hamilton felt the problem was evident before then, however.
“You use the kerb the same every lap. Just before the kerb I think the steering broke so I think that’s the issue,” he told Sky Sports television.
“This is one of the worst tracks for overtaking, so I’ll do what I can from there.”
Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen made the most of Hamilton’s absence from the final phase by putting his Ferrari-powered Haas into fifth place with French team mate Romain Grosjean sixth.
Renault’s pairing of Nico Hulkenberg, the only German driver other than Vettel, and Spaniard Carlos Sainz were seventh and eighth.
Sauber’s Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc produced another fine performance with ninth on the grid for the Swiss team, ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez in 10th for Force India.
The session was red-flagged for nine minutes in the second phase after Leclerc’s Swedish team mate Marcus Ericsson went off, sending a shower of gravel across the track.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso qualified 11th but Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne was last.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge, Neville Dalton