Webber grabs pole for German Grand Prix

Australian Mark Webber grabbed the first pole position of his Formula One career Saturday when he outpaced all of his rivals in qualifying for Sunday's German Grand Prix.

Webber grabs pole for German Grand Prix
Photo: DPA

The 32-year-old Red Bull driver made the most of changeable weather conditions at the Nürburgring to emerge in front with a best lap of one minute and 32.230 seconds. This lifted him clear of Brazilian Rubens Barrichello of Brawn GP, who was second fastest, as dry weather followed a rain-hit session.

Championship leading Briton Jenson Button, in the second Brawn, was third fastest ahead of German Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull.

“Great, thank-you guys – awesome!” said Webber on his slowing down lap after being told that after 128 races he had topped the times to take the prime starting position for a Grand Prix.

Defending world champion Briton Lewis Hamilton was fifth for McLaren-Mercedes, proving that his team’s efforts to improve their car were working at last after a series of desperately-disappointing performances.

His team-mate Finn Heikki Kovalainen was sixth ahead of German Adrian Sutil of Force India, in their first top ten position, Brazilian Felipe Massa and his Ferrari team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen with Brazilian Nelson Piquet 10th for Renault.

After an early foray by Button, who was first out on track without clocking a time, the top ten cars delayed until the final three minutes before attacking the clock to deliver their best laps. Barrichello was first to take top spot, but was soon overtaken by Hamilton in the final dramas.

On another cool, overcast and sometimes wet day, Vettel was the first man out of the pit lane at the start of the session run in front of a big crowd of German fans congregated in the Eifel mountains. The young German’s appearance heralded a rush of lap times from everyone, the weather clearly persuading all the teams that it was necessary to clock a fast early time before any heavy rain fell.

The Red Bulls made the most of the brief respite from wet conditions when Vettel went top and he was soon followed by team-mate Webber before the skies opened and the session was, effectively, curtailed.

Webber ended Q1, the first mini-session, on top ahead of Alonso with Vettel third and Hamilton fourth in the resurgent McLaren, but it was ‘goodbye’ for the bottom five.

That meant the exit of Pole Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber, Swiss Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India, German Timo Glock of Toyota and Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais in the second Toro Rosso.

It was particularly bad news for the French driver who, according to the paddock rumour machine, was preparing for his last race with the team before being replaced. But it was disappointing also for the crowd to see Glock departing – one of five Germans in the 20-car field – and the BMW-powered car of Kubica failing to deliver a competitive performance.

When Q2 began, the steady drizzle and the wet track conditions caught several drivers out as they slithered around on their slick tyres. Japanese Kazuki Nakajima in his Williams slid off the track, Hamilton brushed a kerb and Massa ran wide and off the track across grass.

The conditions meant that everyone was struggling to clock times that would carry through to the top-ten shootout with lap times increasing by 11 seconds. The field dived into the pits for intermediate tyres.

With six minutes remaining, Barrichello chose to switch back to dry tyres and went out and clocked the fastest lap by almost four seconds – making the most of a brief dry window before rain returned.

These capricious conditions caught several drivers and teams out when the rain returned and in the panic in the pit-lane Vettel managed to collide with Nakajima, both cars emerging without serious damage.

Button, with a late lap, just squeezed through into the top ten with Hamilton as both Alonso and Raikkonen slipped off the slippery surface. In the end, the rain claimed the hopes of German Nick Heidfeld in his BMW, Alonso, fuming as he stepped out of his Renault, Nakajima, Italian Jarno Trulli of Toyota and German Nico rosberg of Williams.

Kovalainen, with some heart-stopping survival moves, squeezed into the top ten, his performance proving that McLaren’s improvement this weekend is genuine – while Sutil took a Force India into the top ten for the first time and Nelson Piquet out-qualified his team-mate Alonso for the first time.

No wonder the Spaniard was so frustrated. As he surveyed the scene, the rain departed as quickly as it came and the track began to dry out again for the final Q3 session.

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From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla’s giant Berlin car factory

In the green forest outside Berlin, a David and Goliath-style battle is playing out between electric carmaker Tesla and environmental campaigners who want to stop its planned "gigafactory".

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla's giant Berlin car factory
Tesla's gigafactory outside the doors of Berlin. dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Steffen Schorch, driving his trusty German-made car.

The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July.

“Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water,” said the environmental activist, a local representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group.

Announced in November 2019, Tesla’s gigafactory project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark – but was immediately met with opposition from local residents.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters – residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful
environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

Tesla was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber.

READ MORE: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

And now they have focused their attention on water consumption – which could reach up to 3.6 million cubic metres a year, or around 30 percent of the region’s available supply, according to the ZDF public broadcaster.

The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

Local residents and environmentalists are also concerned about the impact on the wetlands, an important source of biodiversity in the region.

Tesla Street

“The water situation is bad, and will get worse,” Heiko Baschin, a spokesman for the neighbourhood association IG Freienbrink, told AFP.

Brandenburg’s environment minister Axel Vogel sought to play down the issue, saying in March that “capacity has not been exceeded for now”.

But the authorities admit that “the impact of droughts is significant” and have set up a working group to examine the issue in the long term.

The gigafactory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares – equivalent to approximately 560 football fields – southwest of the German capital.

Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to “the largest battery factory in the world”,
according to group boss Elon Musk.

In a little over a year and a half, swathes of coniferous forest have already been cleared to make way for vast concrete rectangles on a red earth base, accessed via the already iconic Tesla Strasse (Tesla Street).

German bureaucracy

The new site still has only provisional construction permits, but Tesla has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk.

Final approval depends on an assessment of the project’s environmental impact – including the issue of water.

In theory, if approval is not granted, Tesla will have to dismantle the entire complex at its own expense.

But “pressure is being exerted (on the regulatory authorities), linked to Tesla’s significant investment”, Gruene Liga’s Michael Greschow told AFP.

In early April, Tesla said it was “irritated” by the slow pace of German bureaucracy, calling for exceptions to the rules for projects that help the environment.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier agreed in April that his government “had not done enough” to reduce bureaucracy, lauding the gigafactory as a “very important project”.

Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often held up by bureaucracy criticised as excessive by the business community.

Among the most embarrassing examples are Berlin’s new airport which opened last October after an eight-year delay and Stuttgart’s new train station, which has been under construction since 2010.

Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, raised the possibility in February that the Tesla factory could be delayed beyond its July planned opening for the same reason.

SEE ALSO: Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin