The Ferrari driver had headed in to shootout for grid positions with a good chance of fighting for pole position, on the back of a strong run of form that had seen his team top all the sessions so far this weekend.
But it all went wrong on his out lap in Q1 when he encountered an engine issue shortly after he left the pits.
Speaking to the team over the radio as he returned to the pits, he explained he hit trouble as soon as he shifted up to fourth gear.
Despite hasty investigations by his mechanics as he returned to the pits, the problem could not be sorted in time and he ended the Q1 session as the only driver not to set a time.
Ferrari later confirmed that the problem was related to the turbo on his car.
“Obviously very bitter,” said Vettel afterwards. “The car was great and we lost out on a big chance and hopefully we have another one tomorrow. I am loking forward to the race but it would have been nicer to start at the very front than the very back.”
Vettel’s German Grand Prix woe was his first Q1 exit since the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix, when he was also forced out with power unit issues.