Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Displaying the typical Italian predilection for ignoring plans, the weather turned brutally hot for qualifying with nary a breath of wind to offer solace. Monza also gave unexpected hope to Hamilton fans as an electrics problem in P3 sidelined Rosberg for a change and put him on the back foot. Lotus continued to suffer with Grosjean barely making it out of the garage for a lackluster effort and Maldonado losing his gears during his last effort to make Q2. Raikkonen returned to his disappointing ways at a most unfortunate time and McLaren seem to have found a new gear, at least in Quali, surpassing Ferrari for the first time. Kvyat installed his 6th ICE, the first driver to do so, and as a reward would be driving with the millstone of a 10 spot grid penalty round his neck.
It was a predictable top 2, with Hamilton putting the fastest time in with his first effort, and Rosberg not quite able to make it up on his second run, running a lower downforce setup than Hamilton. McLaren were the bright light on the horizon, finishing P5 and P6 with Magnussen being the star of the session displacing his teammate for P5 after the checkers had dropped. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, it was Kimi in P12 and no doubt a chilly reception awaited the Iceman on his return to the garage after looking very solid in practice this weekend. Williams star continued to shine as they were solid in P3 and P4, with Bottas again ahead of Massa when it counted. Look for their season to get complicated when the fiddly bits return, as they won’t have the same budget as the big boys for the late season development push.
Force India, Marussia and Caterham were all out of the gate straightaway as Hamilton received an early call to focus on laps 2, 4, and 6, with lap 1 being an accommodation lap. The sharp end was on hards from the off looking to carry a tyre advantage into Q2.
Kobayashi was the first driver to set a time, a 1:28.2 with Perez and Hulkenberg slotting in behind him on their first efforts. Ericsson crossed the line almost a second down on his teammate, a trend the young Swede will wish reverse as soon as possible.
Vergne was the first of the runners to kick Kobayashi down the order as the big boys came round with 13 minutes left to go. Alonso and Rosberg were the first big names to go, Alonso setting a 1:26.514 which was topped by Rosberg’s 1:25.8. All eyes shifted to Hamilton as he posted a 1:25.8, demonstrating the advantages of being able to run P3. Despite being quicker than Nico, however, he was a full 0.3s down in Sector 1, clearly running more downforce than Rosberg.
As the clock ticked down to 11 minutes a brief shot of Raikkonen’s wild ride graced the TV feed as he struggled with oversteer out of the second chicane, which would plague him all session long. Kvyat, running hard to make up for his grid spot penalty, had a massive lock up as Button took P6 and the back of the grid began their migration to Mediums.
At the 8:30 mark Massa took P1 with a time that Hamilton characterized as shocking over the radio. Rosberg wasn’t intimidated as he swept past to take P1 back and momentarily the top three all were within a tenth.
As the TV cut to shots of Lotus mopping up the garage floor underneath Grosjean, Hamilton turned up the heat and came through 0.13s ahead of Rosberg. Grosjean made the end of the pit lane but with 5 minutes in sight it was going to be a sadly foreshortened quali for the Frenchman.
Vergne, Gutierrez and Maldonado languished in 14th, 15th and 16th as the desperate struggle to make Q2 got underway in earnest. The onboard with Hulkenberg looked massive as he approached the first chicane and as the director stayed with it for the whole lap into P9.
Time continued to evaporate and it was an anxious moment for the teams on hards as Vergne vaulted to P5. Perez, Gutierrez, and Sutil were 14th-16th looking to improve their times and stay out of the cut zone.
As Grosjean circulated, desperately looking for speed his engineer told him to look for a tow from the Marussia. Bianchi failed to oblige as he backed out. Oh, how the mighty are fallen. To make matters worse, Maldonado, who is completely happy at Lotus, suffered a failure that had the team telling him not to shift gears utterly derailing his effort to escape Q1.
With the checkers out Grosjean managed to beat Bianchi’s time, but only for P18 as Ricciardo Gutierrez and Sutil skate through in 14th, 15th and 16th with Maldonado, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Bianchi Chilton and Ericsson going no further.
Force India and Hulkenberg again are off at the open of the session and he will be the first to lay down a marker. It’s a 1:31 at the 13 minute mark and he seems to be emulating Hamilton’s even numbered strategy from Q1. No such mucking about from Kvyat with the weight of his grid spot penalty firmly on his shoulders. Wriggling the rear on corner exits he lays down a proper time of 1:26.2 with Hulkenberg unable to improve on a 1:26.9 and perhaps wondering where his pace has gone.
Rosberg Bottas Alonso Massa all flash across with 9 minutes left with Rosberg on a 1:24.6 band Bottas on a 1:24.8. No sign of Hamilton as time seems to have been accelerated for Q2 and Rosberg has a rare moment of confusion, being asked to discuss the run plan in the garage, not over the radio. The struggle for Renault continued as Vettel and Ricciardo languished in 6th and 7th, severely hamstrung despite their collective efforts at the high speed circuit. Finally, with 7 minutes to go Hamilton puts in his first time and it’s a 1:24.5 displacing his teammate for P1.
McLaren’s run of good form was looking more likely with Button in P6 just behind Alonso and the Williams pair tucked neatly behind the Mercs. Magnussen struggled home in P11 and his side of the garage looked frantic as they changed boots to head back out for their last chance to make Q3. Kvyat Vergne, Hulkenberg Gutierrez and Sutil all had work to do as well as the rest of the cars emerged from the garage for one last go.
As the field changed an interesting call from Hamilton’s engineer as he boxed informed Lewis that if he didn’t improve his time he would be forced to start with a flat-spotted front right. Wolff and Lauda discussed stock prices or possibly the likelihood of actually having to travel to Sochi as the cars emerged from their garages and began their outlaps.
Raikkonen was ahead of the field trying to sneak an extra lap in but after running into traffic on their outlap and getting scruffy again he backed off to concentrate on giving it one more go.
At the one minute mark Vettel used some reclaimed land in Parabolica to take a line that would previously been impossible and improved to P7. Ricciardo came across right after and failed to improve on his P9. Rosberg took P2 and Hamilton followed suit by also being unable to improve, now doomed to using his flat-spotted tyre. Perez maintained his top 10 standing and Magnussen finally woke up enough to relegate Kvyat to P11 at the last minute. Raikkonen again understeered out of the chicane and his P12 will do Ferrari no favors whatsoever for Sunday with Williams looking so strong. Rounding out P13-16 were Vergne, a disappointing Hulkenberg, Sutil and Gutierrez.
Ever since Monaco Hamilton has tried to get in a fast banker to put pressure on Nico and has yet to pull it off. It’s all to play for and as the light went green they were off. Or not, as everyone was apparently busy making dinner reservations and texting their mates. Perez was the first to realize the session was underway and making the most of his Q3 time he launched his hot lap as the rest of the runners began to emerge on their out laps. It was the plodding Mercedes of Rosberg that got the most camera time as Sergio approached Parabolica and the 1:26.23 was not the most convincing of times as a result, even on used tyres.
At the 8 minute mark, Rosberg and Bottas got things properly underway with Rosberg having the early advantage with a 1:24.5 and Bottas a 1:24.6. But it was Lewis with stunning 1:24.1 that finally managed to make good on his strategy, despite losing a tenth to Rosberg, again in Sector 1. The other side of Bottas looked like Massa, Button, Vettel, Alonso, Magnussen Ricciardo and Perez as the track emptied for fresh tyres and last minute adjustments. As they studied their teammate’s overlays trying to wring every last hundredth out of their last chance, the seconds ticked on. Ricciardo demanded tyre pressure changes and Magnussen’s garage looked like a tornado as his car was frantically shod with new boots.
With 2:30 left to go, Brundle broke the tension by quipping that although Mercedes would be delighted to see their drivers going 1-2 into the first chicane, what they were really hoping was to see them exit intact. At 2 minutes Rosberg was told to stay behind the Williams so as not to give them a tow, a sign of the respect Bottas has earned with his efforts this year.
50 seconds to go and Bottas cracks the plane and it’s on. Rosberg finds another tenth in Sector 1, agonizingly behind by thousandths in Sector 2 and though his effort was heroic and he cut his deficit to Hamilton in half, it was still not enough as the lack of running in P3 kept it from being as close as usual between the Mercedes duo. Bottas failed to improve, Massa failed to improve for P3 and P4. Hamilton failed to improve, not clear if he backed out in Sector 3 or not. Button Alonso and Vettel filled the next three spots when suddenly, Kevin “Magic” Magnussen came across the line so late that the commentators were already speculating the body language between the Mercedes drivers and the checkers were already in the closet, wresting P5 from Button and demoting everyone behind one more grid spot, with Ricciardo and Perez now in P9 and P10.
Look for an almighty thrashing tomorrow for P5-P8 and vicious teammate battles as the races grow scarce and race seats more expensive. Vettel showed the Colgate kid he’s not done yet and Magnussen v. Button with the Ferrari in between should be epic. The battle between Rosberg and Hamilton will be fascinating with their different downforce set ups, though one wonders if Nico chose that set up due to lack of running in P3 or if it was given to him by the team (hey, Rosberg conspiracists should get to play, too). Williams will be in with a fair shout at the podium and Fred will be desperate to uphold the honor of the Scuderia and give Montezemolo one last toss at glory. Despite Hamilton’s triumph today, the stark fact remains that we haven’t seen a straight shoot out without the interference of the technical gremlins in quite some time, so plenty of room for argument
|8||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|9||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|10||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|13||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|21||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|Daniil Kvyat – 10 place penalty for Kvyat for sixth engine change|