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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

German Grand Prix qualifying analysis: Hamilton has podium hope as Red Bull and Verstappen suffer reality check

The world champion may be starting down in 14th, but his charging drive at Silverstone shows hope is not lost for the Briton

 Lewis Hamilton kneels by his stricken Mercedes-GP during qualifying in Germany. EPA
 Lewis Hamilton kneels by his stricken Mercedes-GP during qualifying in Germany. EPA

Ahead of Sunday's German Grand Prix, which begins at 5.10pm UAE time, here are some talking points following Saturday's qualifying.

Silverstone gives Hamilton hope

For the second time in two weeks Lewis Hamilton is on a quest for damage limitation going into a race.

The difference between Sunday in Germany and earlier this month in Britain was that world champion knows he is starting down the order in 14th place and he and his Mercedes-GP team can strategise on how exactly they bounce back in the 67-lap race at Hockenheim.

At Silverstone, Hamilton had started on pole and been spun around on the opening lap of the race by Kimi Raikkonen. He recovered from last to finish second.

So, as dejected as Hamilton clearly was as he knelt by his car after it stopped in the first part of qualifying due to a hydraulic problem that prevented him changing gears, the four-time title winner knows he can still score well.

The good news for him is that Hockenheim is one of the more easier tracks to pass on with two long straights, split by a tight right-hander that demands heavy braking.

Hamilton can take solace from the fact he started at the back in 2014 at the same track, after crashing in qualifying, but the Mercedes was a much more dominant car on the grid then it is now.

The key things for Hamilton are making up positions as quickly as he can on the opening lap when the field is still bunched together, but not being too greedy and ensuring he avoids any contacts.

It is likely Hamilton will go for a long first stint before pitting to try and get himself clear air to make up ground.

The car is the second fastest in the field, with Ferrari again having the edge, so he should be fast enough to at least finish fifth, behind the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.

If Hamilton can clear the midfield quickly he may have a shot at beating Verstappen on raw speed, but he will need a safety car period to help him tussle with title rival Vettel.

Fifth place, if championship leader Vettel wins the race from pole, loses him a further 15 points and would leave him 23 behind. Not great, but circumstances mean it is another day of looking to prevent an even bigger loss.

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Red Bull's reality check

Again Friday had looked good for Red Bull as Daniel Ricciardo was fastest in first practice then Verstappen was top in the afternoon session.

But, when it mattered on Saturday in qualifying the Austrian team were well beaten by the Ferrari and Mercedes cars.

Verstappen was 0.6 seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Vettel as the Dutch driver had to be content with fourth spot.

Ricciardo will start last on Sunday due to grid penalties for parts to his Renault engine having to be changed.

It is not hard to see why Red Bull are willing to risk taking Honda power units from 2019 onwards.

Since the engine regulations changed in 2014 Renault have always been a step behind Mercedes and Ferrari and that shows no sign of changing.

The car is clearly quick and when circumstances, or track layout, has given them the chance they have shone and their three wins this year are as many as Mercedes.

Pretty good going for the third best overall package on the grid.

Realistically, if Verstappen is to fight for a fourth podium in five races he will need to get a good start or hope for problems hitting his rivals.

Haas must capitalise on opportunity

The Haas team, with Hamilton and Ricciardo both out of position due to their respective problems, took full advantage of the opportunity awarded to them as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean claimed the third row as they took fifth and sixth.

The vital thing now is for the team to seize on that chance by scoring well in the race and boosting their hopes of taking fourth in the constructors' championship.

Despite consistently being the fourth fastest team at most races in 2018, Haas are only fifth, 19 points behind Renault.

Grosjean and Magnussen collided in Britain two weeks ago, and what should have been a decent haul of points ended up being just two.

Magnussen has been the man leading the charge for Haas, out-scoring the inconsistent Grosjean 39-12 so far, and he and his teammate will be well aware that if they can stay out of trouble they should move closer to Renault by the end of the race.

But saying it and doing it are two very different creatures and the action at Hockenheim should be a good test of the team's overall maturity.