Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Sun streamed down through cerulean skies as qualifying for the inaugural Russian GP cranked into gear, with the imperious global might of the ex-Soviet concrete industry still evident at the edges of the viewers’ TV screens. The air temperature was 22◦C with a wind of 14kph and the session featured only 21 cars as the Marussia of Bianchi was parked in the garage, driverless, a stark reminder to the entire paddock, with the approval of the stewards. AS devoid of personality as many modern developments, the featureless track made judging braking points particularly difficult for the drivers. Set amidst a theme park, which heightened the oppressive surrealism of the paddock, the F1 circus was set off amidst its grim surroundings, artfully framed out of TV images featuring mountains and rollercoasters.
Once again it was the repressive might of the Mercedes that featured in qualifying, surprising no one with their brutal domination of the proceedings. The session was without drama until the end of Q2 when it became clear that the old regime was being swept clean at Red Bull, with Vettel failing to make Q3 yet again. Conspiracy theorists will point to the habit Red Bull have of cutting off its nose to spite its face, but the raw fact is that with all parts not coming from Suzuka a prisoner of byzantine bureaucracy, every team was potentially facing issues for which they were not prepared.
Yet when it was all on the line the big guns came out to play and it was Hamilton, raising the Union Flag again, this time in the new Russia of Vladimir Putin. But it was Bottas putting the scare into the big boys by refusing to back down and taking the fight to them adding the only real drama late in Q3. Kvyat had the best quali of his career for P5 but the breakout star was clearly the peaceful Swede, Ericsson, who has finally put his braking issues behind him and topped the back-marker teams dropping into P17, pre-penalties.
And there were sanctions aplenty, none for on track behavior but 4 for mechanical misbehavior: Maldonado with a carried over penalty for a new ICE, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Chilton all penalized for new gearboxes, and spectators reportedly not allowed to exit during the duration of the session by Russian security forces.
As the track went green, and the engines fired in anger for the first time, it was Hamilton out early to get the most of his tyres, which were a pair of softs. AS is the case often in the paddock, the Brit set the style as all runners save Button made the same choice. With 14 minutes left Alonso trundled out of the garage as Lewis lit the fire for his first timed lap.
Button, Vergne and Sutil set the early top threetimes, and as Hamilton came round for top honours a lockup in turn 13 had slowed him to a 1:40, with Rosberg pounding round behind him. Nico wasted no time toppling his teammate which put the Russian Kvyat temporarily into 3rd. Replays showed Kobayashi going wide at turn 2 with full throttle over the entirely paved run-off and losing absolutely no time, which is certain to feature in Whiting’s Event Notes for the race.
By 11 minutes an oppressive sameness had settled over qualifying, with Merc at the top but the regime was shattered by Button jumping into 3rd on the Mediums, while Magnussen had opted out and switched to the softs. Awaiting the Red Bulls marking of territory, Lewis was told to stay out and run another lap “for information” as Ricciardo started his lap at the 8:30 mark. Trailed by Bottas, the best the Colgate kid could achieve was 8th; whilst Bottas demonstrated he was not to be taken lightly, taking P3 into the 1:39’s.
But it was Hamilton providing a real world demonstration of the fuel effect that rocked it into P1 with a 1:38 whilst a suddenly stricken steed was steering Massa into the relegation zone. Fuel pressure issues according to the radio and unsolvable, leaving Felipe out to do the best he could. In the madness, Alonso coolly piloted into P4 only to be bumped to P5 by Magnussen. Struggling Seb drove it home in P8 round 5 minutes to go with Rosberg in the pits and the backmarkers readying for their last desperate stand. Grosjean was the first to swing round, twitching his tail through the final turn into P16. Down to 3 minutes and it was a resurgent Vergne, claiming P6 and Maldonado, Ericsson, Kobayashi, Chilton and Massa in danger.
Massa was first to flash across the line, improving to P17 and cursing his luck no doubt as 2 minutes flashed on the clock. Gutierrez in 15th looked well clear of any last minute drama but Grosjean was still in play as he occupied 16th. Massa went round for his last gasp and Maldonado squirreled under braking as the clock ticked the last seconds of the session off. Pastor failed to make it round in time and as he cruised it into the pits the team apologized for a “complete shamble” but adding no useful details.
All eyes were on Massa as he completed his final circuit and was unable to clear 17th, and he expressed his unhappiness over the radio as Ericsson, finally made good, came past the line to take 17th away from Felipe. As an apologetic Smedley explained the issue couldn’t be mended in time to get him back out the session came to a close.
Ericsson, Massa, Kobayashi, Maldonado and Chilton occupied P17-21 though Maldonado’s penalty would see him starting last on the grid.
Force India was out early with Hamilton not too far behind. Perez was first to crack the whip at the 13 minute mark as the wags at Sky discussed exactly what Rosberg might have meant by his “creative set up”. Interestingly, none of them suggested installing parts upside down, a’la McLaren at Jerez. But it was a momentary diversion as Macca look to have finally turned the corner they created for themselves in 2013, rumored to be called “Paddy’s corner” in the staff canteen.
Perez managed a 1:40 with a slower Gutierrez more than a second off. The opening wave began to take shape with Button taking over P1, into the 1:39’s followed be Perez, Ricciardo, Vergne and Hulkenberg. Again it was Merc to spoil the party as Rosberg took P1, but Hamilton came through almost 5 seconds off, having made a mistake and backed off. Magnussen took P2 away from Button, but both were eclipsed by Bottas showing his fight by taking P1 from Rosberg as the session hit 8 minutes to go.
Momentarily forgotten, Hamilton trailed Bottas across the line into the 38’s with a 1:38.3 and retook P1 for Merc so the leaderboard read Hamilton, Bottas, Rosberg, Magnussen and Button with Vettel buried in 14th.
Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Sutil, Gutierrez, also languished and as they began their final push with 5 minutes left, Alonso scurried into 7th on a 1:39.9 Kimi managed an 8th as 4 minutes ticked by and both Mercedes decided they had done enough and parked it up for the rest of the session.
Vergne came through, pushing Perez out of 10th. Raikkonen looked dicey and as 2 minutes went by Vettel had yet to improve. Gutierrez and Sutil locked out 13th and 14th and Alonso circled round to improve his time. Confirmed 8th for Fernando as 1 minute ticked off and Kvyat took 6th, outpacing both the Red Bulls. Raikkonen took 9th putting Vergne into danger with one lap to go.
As the checkers fell it was Perez unable to clear 11th, Vergne unable to improve and then Vettel, only into 11th and outqualified for the season by his teammate. Hulkenberg behind in 12th still faced a penalty but retained the qualifying speed over his teammate, one position behind in 13th. Gutierrez, Sutil and Grosjean rounded out the drop and it was a cold voice indeed that informed Sebastian of his relegation, whether it was dripping with satisfaction was left up to the viewers’ proclivities.
Quite the parade as the track goes green, Bottas, Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Magnussen and Ricciardo all out straight away. As the 2nd wave departed the pits it was Vergne leading it, with Bottas cracking the line just behind him. Raikkonen finally paid his TV money up as coverage featured him for the better part of a lap, but that was due to his being the first hot lap, a disappointing 1:41 and rapidly eclipsed by Ricciardo.
Bottas appeared not to be on full boil as he was 6 seconds back and as the clock rolled towards 7 minutes the Mercs hit the front, Rosberg trailing Hamilton. It was Hamilton to the top, but not for long as Rosberg came through almost a second faster. Bottas split the 2 on his second effort and then Button took P3. At the halfway point it was Rosberg, Bottas, Button Alonso and Kvyat with Hamilton in 6th.
At the 5 minute mark it was Hamilton who kicked it off as Ricciardo rolled back out and it was all to play for. Hamilton took P1 with a 1:38.6, still slower than his Q2 time, but Rosberg could do no better and slotted in behind his teammate. No surprise to see Bottas firmly in P3, followed by Button and Ricciardo. Despite the temperature remaining high, the track seemed to be going away from the drivers and with time for only one run left, they mustered their concentration for one last effort
1 minute and Ricciardo was saying the rears were burned, echoing a warning given to both Mercedes drivers before the start of Q3 to watch rear temps. There was a breathless moment as all the top runners circulated and then as the checkers fell first it was Hamilton across with a 1:38.513, then Rosberg who looked to have a chance but got sloppy in the third sector, into P2 0.3 seconds off, and then Bottas, who clearly got the attention of Merc’s top management as he finished sector 1 ahead of Hamilton.
AS the Finn wrestled the Williams through sector 2 the excitement began to build, could Mercedes be properly upset without reliability intruding into the process? Into sector 3 Valterri danced on the knife edge with top spot in his sights. Excitement finally bludgeoned the viewers into wakefulness, the caffeine having worn off long ago. All eyes tracked Bottas and as he rounded the last corner, took a page from his countryman Latvala’s playbook and 4 wheel drifted the thing, spoiling his lap and broke a few hearts, no doubt.
Still, it was a strong P3 and a clear signal to Merc they best stop pissing about because P2 looked to be a reality until that last corner. AS Bottas said afterwards, he just took too much out of the tyres too soon in the lap, but the bitter pang of watching the front row slip out of his grasp was evident in the presser.
They finished Hamilton, Rosberg, Bottas, Button, Kvyat, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Alonso, Raikkonen and Vergne respectively and with luck Bottas will seek to avenge his mistake in tomorrow’s race and motivate what has the potential to be a monumentally dull race at the front. Also look for the Safety Car to feature as it was deployed for every car stranded on track during the GP2 race that followed qualifying.
|5||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|9||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|Kevin Magnussen – Five place penalty – Gearbox change|
|12||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|17||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|Nico Hulkenberg – Five place penalty – Gearbox change|
|Pastor Maldonado – Carry over from engine change penalty|
|Max Chilton – Five place penalty – Gearbox change|