Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”
― Ian Fleming Goldfinger
The sky glittered above the Principality as Qualifying promised once again to be a Mercedes showcase. In perfect weather, errant drivers with too much torque promised to turn qualifying into a last desperate spin of the roulette wheel, for those drivers who left it too late. After trading blows through the first two sessions, it was Nico Rosberg whose “mistake” set off the yellows that confirmed his provisional pole and brutally denied his teammate the chance to beat him. The engine dramas of Sebastian Vettel continued and the curse of Webber seemed to grow stronger as he was still unable to upset his teammate – Ricciardo. Normality returned to Ferrari-land as Alonso outpointed Raikkonen and Toro-Rosso surprised all by a double appearance in Q3 after a near disaster for Kvyat in Q1. Magnussen too finally showed a hint of his form from Australia by making Q3 and giving McLaren something to cheer for.
Williams disappointed, though Massa was taken out by Ericsson in Q1 so at least he had an excuse. Disappointed too will be Button. Starting out of the top ten yet again will do his contract negotiations no favors at all.
The first session kicked off with both Mercedes parked and waiting to go in marked contrast to previous races. Clearly leaving it late would be for amateurs, with desperate back-markers, lots of traffic and hyper torque engines making it likely that laps in the closing seconds would be spoiled by yellow or red flags.
Both Mercedes took their first timed laps in a leisurely fashion, as Magnussen, Maldonado and Massa immediately followed on with better efforts. But Mercedes efforts to improve were spoiled by double yellows as Daniil Kvyat donated his front wing to the cause of improving the show with an impressive loss of traction coming out of the tunnel. Somehow managing to keep rest of the car intact, he limped back to the pits with the opportunity to come back out.
In opposition to Mercedes’ strategy, Red Bull waited until 12 minutes to go to emerge from the garage and as they began their warm ups, Nico Rosberg finally got down to the business of improving his time going 1st, followed by Maldonado. The Ferrari’s slotted into 6th and 7th but with plenty of time to play those places were by no means guaranteed. As the clocked ticked over 10 minutes Lewis Hamilton found 2nd, followed by Maldonado, Massa, Sutil, Magnussen, Gutierrrez, Alonso and Raikkonen. Still, with the Super Softs to go it was all going to change.
Wasting no time, Grosjean was back out on the Supers and immediately into 3rd. Ricciardo took his customary P3 as Hulkenberg dropped into 17th, with Perez in 19th and Kvyat bringing up the rear after his thoroughly entertaining ride.
At the 6 minute mark, Ricciardo still held 3rd, 0.4 off of Rosberg’s best time as Hulkenberg began his effort to escape the back of the grid. Unfortunately for Hulkenberg he caught really bad traffic at the Hairpin, including an impressively slow Grosjean and had to back out. Meanwhile his teammate Perez leaped into 8th on the softer tyre as Hulkenberg came round to look for space to have another go.
As time began to run short the back of the field began their last efforts and it was all destined to end in tears. As Vergne took P1 on the softer tyre, Marcus Ericsson completely misjudged a pass on Massa and stuffed both of them into the barrier, ending the session prematurely, much to the delight of Vergne no doubt. Gutierrez was the big loser, occupying 17th, though the Saubers showed no real signs of being able to do better so it may have been inevitable in any event.
Sutil, Bianchi, Chilton, Kobayashi and Ericsson rounded out the 18th-22nd with Massa being the biggest loser as he was unable to make the pits and would not be able to compete in Q2.
Again wasting no time and taking no chances Mercedes were parked at pit exit as the circuit went green, this time sporting super soft tyres. As in the previous session, Mercedes’ first timed laps were on the slow side, as they clearly believed lap 2 to be their best bet on these tyres as well. Taking advantage of this, Hulkenberg crosses the line in 1st, temporarily ahead of the Mercedes. Ricciardo and Magnussen both cross and then once again the utterly dominant Mercedes came through with Rosberg again having the advantage, but this time by just 0.35 seconds. As the teams regrouped for their second efforts, Perez, Bottas, Grosjean, Maldonado, Vettel and Massa are on the outside looking in as Vergne is in 10th and clearly in danger.
With 6 minutes left, Vettel finally put in a time and seized 4th, though the lateness of the hour raised the spectre of engine issues. Moments later he confirmed on the radio that the MGU-K is acting out. Kvyat was amazingly into 8th after his previous excursion as Force India began their final efforts at the 2 minute mark. They take 8th and 9th excluding Button as ERS issues are reported for Grosjean as well.
As the last seconds ticked anxiously by, Rosberg improved his time as Vergne took 8th, relegating Hulkenberg. Hamilton edged Rosberg, evening the score and setting the stage for a dramatic battle for pole position. Button was unable to improve, and backed out halfway through his lap, once again failing to make the Q3, in contrast to his teammate Magnussen who had made the final session. Vettel also improved on his last effort, supplanting Ricciardo for 3rd and making the last session the rubber match for the top two teams.
With the fireworks promised by the previous two sessions awaiting fruition, the start of the last session was languid compared to the previous two. Kvyat was first out and then in a bunch the rest of the runners were off. Again, Mercedes played for the second timed lap as the Force Indias were ordered to go from the off. Taking advantage, Perez claimed provisional pole as Rosberg had to negotiate some traffic. He was rapidly displaced by Raikkonen as Alonso took 3rd. Vergne managed to improve Perez time before the Mercedes came through to take the top 2 spots, with Rosberg having the first touch in Q3, a slim 0.59 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who followed him across the line. Slightly further back, Ricciardo had reclaimed 3rd from Vettel, though both Hamilton and Vettel had better second laps than their teammates.
As the teams circulated through the pits for the last time, those with fresh tyres strapped them on and it was all left to play for – as the track filled back up. With 2:30m left – Raikkonen was on a flyer showing the Ferrari was still a bit of a handful and unable to improve on his 6th position. Rosberg was out with Hamilton behind him and with less than a minute left this would be the last lap for all the top 5.
And then Rosberg took it off track, spoiling the last minute heroics and killing Sector 2 for anyone behind, including Hamilton. Was it a cerebral move akin to Schumacher parking it in Rascasse, or was it an honest mistake from a driver who has made them before on his last efforts? The stewards will issue a decision as the incident is still being investigated, along with multiple incidents of impeding – so the grid is far from set.
One thing is indisputable, whether on purpose or by accident Rosberg holds the upper hand starting the race tomorrow, but Lewis has had the consistently better starts. Will we see Lewis imitating his hero and driving straight into Nico at Saint Devote? Has Nico mastered his clutch issues and will he finally be able to take the advantage into turn 1? Whatever the case, Lewis was certain he had pole locked up and has already promised victory tomorrow. The drama we were robbed of today will be paid with interest tomorrow.
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|4||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|7||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|10||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|