Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Somewhere off the coast of Japan Typhoon Phanfone loomed large but round the circuit it was the perfect storm of driver narrative that almost made one overlook the fact that there was a race on. The weather was hot and hazy, with a stiff wind to upset the delicate aero of the cars just to make life a little more entertaining especially when half the drivers on the grid weren’t even sure where they’d be racing next year. The driver speculation w**k was fuelled even further by the utter refusal of Ferrari to confirm that Vettel was headed to the Scuderia. The major players all looked pretty happy so it’s down to the second rank to play 52 card pick up with the teams that are left.
Despite all the fun, it was the race to get the cars on track that initially stole the show, with Ferrari topping the Mercs finally, by replacing Raikkonen’s entire PU in the same time it took Merc to redo Lewis’ front left corner. As the track went green on one of the most spectacular of tracks Vergne, Hulkenberg and Kobayashi were amongst the first out. Understeer was the flavor of the day with Degner and the Hairpin being the favorite places for epic smoking of tyres.
Immediately Kvyat made a hash out of the Esses as the first laps kicked off around the 15 minute mark. Toro Rosso chose to go out on the hards, though the trend would be for them to need the Mediums to get through. The first round of flyers left Vergne, Hulkenberg, and Kvyat at the top as the top teams got it together enough to roll out the garage. Rosberg was the first major player to make it cross the line at the 13 minute mark in 1:33.671 followed closely by Hamilton up by a mega 0.06 seconds with Bottas slotting neatly into 3rd as the top teams all set times, with the notable exception of the Red Bulls.
Down to 10 minutes and McLaren were bending it round as Hamilton complained of D rates on the radio. Hamilton coming round again had a bit of a kerfuffle trying to get past Rosberg, but appeared to have already gone off the boil and both drivers pitted. As the track went quiet to reset for the second wave of runners Hulkenberg torched a front tyre in slo mo for the viewer’s edification. The Red Bulls had finally given it up and immediately Vettel was reminded of why he was leaving, because his car started giving him trouble with the sync on his seamless gear shift.
Down to 8 minutes and the bottom six were Grosjean, Perez, Ericsson, Bianchi, Chilton and Kobayashi with Sutil and Maldonado hanging in the danger zone. With many teams including Ferrari and McLaren sitting on the bubble of needing the Medium to get through, it was an anxious few minutes and as the teams cycled through the pits once more it was down to five minutes as they re-emerged.
Force India were the first to tie it on, with Hulkenberg chasing Perez around the track. With 70% of the lap at full throttle it was the best the cars have sounded all year, no doubt also thanks to the sound boffins from FOM who finally woke up and realized they might have to earn their keep this year. Perez scored 10th with Hulkenberg 7th as Maldonado managed a jump to 15th with Grosjean unable to best him and doomed to 16thas Red Bull rolled the dice and kept Ricciardo in the garage in 14th. Inexplicably at that point the director showed a slow motion shot of Maldonado painfully using the kerbs to rotate the Lotus through the chicane, as the refrigerator-like handling characteristics of their chassis were yet again demonstrated. Back on track the battle amongst the bottom 6 raged and it was Kvyat throwing in the towel and admitting he was tapped whilst Gutierrez in 17th ran his hot lap as time disappeared. Sutil in 18th, too, was at the start of his lap when the checker flew.
Bianchi was the first out as he had simply mistimed it. Gutierrez tore into 12th putting Grosjean out and putting Maldonado on the bubble. Not for long as Sutil came through and put him down and then Ericsson came by and astonished all with his discovery of the go fast pedal, besting Bianchi, Kobayashi and Chilton. Nowhere close enough to get him into Q2; it was a victory nonetheless for the languid Swede.
Maldonado, Grosjean, Ericcson, Bianchi Kobayashi and Chilton occupied spots 17-22 though Maldonado’s grid penalty will just futz it all up, since he has to carry it over to next week’s race.
Lazy starts usually mean frenetic finishes in Q2 so it looked to be a corker. Finally the Williams lollygagged their way onto the circuit sporting some bright new shiny aero bits. The pace picked up rapidly and Rosberg was told via radio that he was fuelled for two timed laps.
As the clock dipped below the 11 minute mark times finally began to show up, first Sutil with a 1:36 as Hamilton destroyed the first sector and Massa trailed Bottas into the third. Times started to drop rapidly and it was Bottas, Massa, Perez and Sutil at the top. As Mercs sailed around it was Bottas who was the first non-Mercedes driver into the 1:33’s for the weekend. Rosberg immediately put him in his place with a staggering 1:32 and Hamilton an epic 0.03 off. Big lockup into the hairpin looked to have done him in as both drivers had been out on the Mediums.
At the 7 minute mark it was Rosberg, Hamilton, Bottas, Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen as everyone waited for Toro Rosso and McLaren to lay down their cards. It wasn’t to be long as Magnussen claimed a healthy 6th as Kvyat slotted into 10th and Button split them in 8th. Both the Red Bulls languished outside the top 10, possibly a victim of setting up for the rain tomorrow.
A small interval then and a little flop sweat at the neck and on the forehead for Red Bull, who hoped to have not got it too wrong with the maths.
Tic Toc down to 4 minutes and still everyone was in the pits and finally, for the love of Claire, Bottas launched out of the pits. Vettel and Ricciardo trailed out a minute later and soon everyone but the Mercs were out.
The Red Bulls were hanging it out and in the early going Vettel appeared mighty, but again Degner took an ugly bite out of his lap and Ricciardo finished ahead with both of them having vaulted safely over 10th, landing in 6th and 7th till they were displaced to 7th and 8th. Hulkenberg was on it and up by a few thousandths on relegation until he boffed it up on the final chicane, settling for 13th. Button came good in 8th driving the Red Bull duo into 9th and 10th but neither Vergne nor Kvyat could quite pull it off when it mattered most.
Vergne, Perez, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Sutil and Gutierrez all lost out and it wasn’t the least awkward that Vergne again out qualified his teammate, whom he has also significantly outscored this season, on the same day Kvyat got the promotion.
Unlike Q2, Q3 started with a bang, Bottas itching to get it on and when he hit timing and scoring at the 10 minute mark to start his hot lap everyone but Raikkonen was out. The camera lingered on a beautiful thermal of the rear of his car as he hooked up a sweet lap for a 1:33.3 and temporary P1. Good things rarely last and it was Rosberg who showed everyone how it was done, coming through again in the 1:32’s and 0.3 up on Hamilton, who seemed to have lost the pace in his car when he removed the corner during the last free practice. As they parked it up to have another go – the order stood Rosberg, Hamilton, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Button and Vettel in his solitary 10th.
Playing the waiting game again the director discovered that a lockup into the hairpin likely cost him a big chunk of that time.
Vettel and Ricciardo chose the early exit to guarantee a clear track and as the time ticked down it was Hamilton, last to leave at the three minute mark. Vettel hit the start/finish at the 2 minute mark and was again all over it until a big squirrel into the hairpin on this merciless track, but Seb wasn’t done trying to wring every last drop of performance out of his woeful ride and dragged it across the line in 6th, an improvement but not enough to match the Colgate Kid who finished a handy 0.4 ahead of him. Bottas confirmed 3rd, Massa 4th and then it was Rosberg across in a 1:32.5 leaving only Lewis on track with no time left, he approached the chicane, cutting hard across the kerbs, a dab of oppo on exit but it would not be enough as Rosberg held the day 0.2 up. Looking at it after the race they were so evenly matched it was down to the twitch of the rear for Lewis coming out of Spoon that kept it from being down to the thousandths again. Of such things are races and championships won and lost.
Rosberg, Hamilton, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Button, Vettel and Raikkonen start P1-10 tomorrow, in a race that will certainly feature an abundance of precipitation and hopefully a modicum of surprise.
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|9||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|11||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|12||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|Pastor Maldonado – 10 Place penalty – Engine change|