Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
The sky was clear and the wind kicked up giving no hint of the storm brewing behind the scenes in F1 as qualifying took place with only 18 cars on the grid; 17 if you take into account Vettel’s pit lane start. No hint either of the looming tax problems for COTA as the focus was mainly on celebrities and building Brand F1 USA. Ted Kravitz was bold enough to mention pre-show his concerns about the workers at Caterham and Marussia, a concern echoed notably by both Rosberg and Hamilton as well.
Any hope that fewer cars would yield more exciting qualifying was yet again dashed as the differences between the runners for P14 were much clearer than they were for P18. Vettel turned a lacklustre lap that would not have advanced him to Q2 in an exercise he described afterward as “pointless”. Rosberg looked utterly dominant all 3 sessions to take the pole position trophy firmly away from Hamilton.
The only real surprise was Sutil managing to advance the brick of a Sauber to Q3. That was a bit of excellent timing for Sauber as they are still without points this season, but the race is long and the team have demonstrated a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Aside from that, the session had all the excitement of a grilled cheese sandwich with the main battles being between teammates and the battle at the top sadly nonexistent with Hamilton either having braking issues or cracking under pressure, depending on your fanboi predilections.
Force India out early with Perez putting in the first timed lap. The big boys began stirring round the 16 minute mark with Hamilton rolling out of his garage as Perez began to get on it in earnest. His first time was entirely reasonable a 1:39.804 on the softs that looked fairly clean. Hulkenberg followed him for P2 with Kvyat slotting in between the pair as the 13 minute approached. As is typically the case the times began flying across the screen too fast to type (wish they would be a bit more considerate about that TBH) with Rosberg taking P1 in 1:38.8 then eclipsed by Bottas as Magnussen temporarily took P3 and Button rolled into 5th.
At the 12:30 mark the camera picked up Hamilton wiggling his rear like Nicki Minaj, but he managed to keep it together and grab P1 as the dust began to settle. In replay it was clear he was struggling with locking up the left front, and issue that would plague him throughout the session and later be ascribed by Lewis to a fairly steady 100 degree temperature difference between the two front brakes.
For the moment he ruled the roost with Vergne in 10th as NBC cut away to interview celebrities whilst the on track action continued. Granted, it might have been a bright move given the lull that was fast approaching, with Alonso confirming his genius at finishing 5th by coming 5th in his first effort. Those with a perverse sense of humour might believe that Alonso’s real genius might be in developing undriveable cars that only he can finish 5th in, but science demands we wait until he switches teams to confirm that hypothesis.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Rosberg had reestablished P1 and was looking seriously fast with Vergne having dropped to 15th after losing out an all of FP1 and having issues in FP2. Hamilton was on radio complaining about vibrations related to his now very flat spotted tyre and saying he couldn’t continue.
Vettel decided to put forth his first and only effort with 8:30 left, dawdling about and waving at fans with a time that would eventually leave him P17. With Kvyat, Vergne temporarily on the outside, Maldonado was on an out lap with no sign of Grosjean, who had apparently been busy with all sorts of non F1 activities with the announcement that his second child was on the way.
Maldonado’s first effort was good enough to take a temporary P4, due to running the softs and Rosberg looked massively fast, laying down a 1:38.3, almost half a second faster than Lewis.
With 4 minutes left, Ricciardo finally decided to set a time that turned out to be good for a P5 whilst Ted Kravitz on Sky gave best wishes to the lads and lasses at both Caterham and Marussia and talking about his unease at seeing the forlorn and empty pitlane. He also informed us that both McLarens were running on the softs and appeared to be struggling this weekend for pace.
They weren’t the only ones, however, as Hamilton emerged half a minute later also sporting a pair of the softer boots, with which he unsurprisingly unseated Rosberg with around a minute left in the session. Button, too, took advantage of the tyre differential to jump into P4 with Alonso in P2 and Grosjean having a terrible time of it down in P17 with his car looking thoroughly undriveable relative to Maldonado, whose car simply looked somewhat undrivable.
With the checkers fast approaching it was Vergne, Gutierrez, and Grosjean with it all to prove, and Perez and Kvyat within reach. Vettel having taken a pass given his preordained pit lane start was already swanning about complaining about the rules, finding a rare moment of unity with his estranged team boss, Horner.
With time having expired, both Perez and Grosjean were up on their times, until Grosjean cocked it up and went wide, dooming himself to P18 as Perez continued to improve thus demonstrating his fitness for the next session.
The bottom 4 were Vergne, Gutierrez, Vettel and Grosjean with the rest moving onto Q2.
Force India out early again as the cameras lingered on Button and hamilton rolling out of their garages and even SKY were playing the celebrity game whilst waiting for the outlaps to be over. This time it was Kvyat getting the screen time sweeping through T12 and hitting the start/finish at the 11 minute mark in a 1:38.699, good for P1 as no one else had yet set a time.
Bottas quickly ramped it up to a 1:38.094, despite a lock up, Raikkonen and Rosberg both crossing the line right behind setting themselves up into P5 and P1 respectively. Hamilton nabbed P2, not really in the same postcode as Rosberg.
Just to make things interesting, Rosberg hopped on the blower and complained of understeer as the session headed towards 8 minutes. Magnussen was on a flyer as Hamilton responded with a complaint of vibrations with his yet again locked up tyres. Button and Magnussen finished P4 and P5 and as the drivers all came in for tea and cucumber sandwiches, it was Hulkenberg, Sutil, Maldonado and Perez with a bit of work left to do.
Perez was the first to get back to it, rolling out with 5 minutes left followed by Perez and Massa, who was languishing in P9 which is generally not where a Williams should be. In honour of All Hallows Eve the camera’s lingered on Vijay Mallya’s new hair cut which was the kind of thing one normally associates only with TV shows like the Dukes of Hazzard and can only be described as sort of like a mullet without any of its redeeming qualities.
Thankfully, Bottas decided to get back to work with 3:30 left as Perez’s onboards looked fun if vaguely nausea inducing. Still, his time was good enough for P10 which was better than his teammate could manage. Massa, refreshed, hopped up to P2 whilst the best Bottas could do was P4.
With a minute left it was Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Sutil and Maldonado still outside the cut and Rosberg was putting on a show for the crowd, again looking ridiculously fast.
As the checkers flew and everyone completed their final laps it was Rosberg blistering across the line in a 1:36.29, faster than Vettel’s pole last year according to Sky. Sutil made P9 then Raikkonen came across and took it away from him. Maldonado was on a fast lap and looked to be putting Sutil under pressure until he finally kicked out the rears and lost his lap. At the end of the session, it was Maldonado, Perez, Hulkenberg and Kvyat parking it for good, in that order.
It was Danny Ric out early this time round, possibly to try and make up for his tardiness in Q1, and certainly to grab some undisputed screen time with the only action on track. 10:30 seemed to be the go to time for most teams, as everyone began rolling out around then. It was Ricciardo on the loud pedal (well, OK, relatively loud) as the rest completed their out-laps.
It was Lewis that was caught out, as he had to make way and compromise his out lap as the Colgate Kid passed him up just as he was getting ready to start his own effort. Still Ricciardo managed a 1:38.12 as Hamilton launched his first effort.
Bottas rapidly rocked that with a 1:36.9 with Massa following in P2 and Magnussen P4 and Alonso in P5 it was the Mercs coming round to upset the applecart with Hamilton P2 o.16 slower than Rosberg. Brundle attempted to hold out some hope by noting that Rosberg had basically matched his Q2 time and might not be able to improve further, but unless Hamilton’s side of the garage discovered a piece of wood lodged under his throttle, it was obvious that Hamilton was not going to threaten Rosberg today.
AS the drivers all rolled into the pits around the 5:30 mark, it was Nico asking for a front wing check as he felt contact with the kerb as no doubt Hamilton was asking for a small miracle to make his car competitive again.
Again it was Ricciardo leading the charge out of the pit lane at the 4 minute mark, with the rest of the runners waiting until the 3:30 mark to get themselves started with Hamilton trailing Rosberg for the last lap and Button being the laggard, not getting clear until the clock hit 2:30.
IT was Rosberg’s turn to get the traffic gremlin, being forced to back off significantly right before his final lap. Not that it made any real difference as he was still up on his previous time, crossing the line in a blistering 1:36.067, close to half a second up on his unusually uncompetitive teammate. Bottas, Massa, Ricciardo, Alonso (disappointingly P6), Button, Magnussen, Raikkonen and the unlikely, too little too late Sutil rounded out the top 10.
Given that when both Mercs are on song they are usually within hundredths, if not thousandths of each other, one can only hope for the sake of tomorrow’s race that Hamilton’s car gets sorted as otherwise yet again true race fans will be deprived of any meaningful action at the front. Further back, only the vaguely tantalizing possibility of Sauber scoring a point holds any long range excitement. Otherwise, it’s time to hold your breath and hope that the Merc’s wind up being closer on race pace or else it’s another predetermined outcome spiced up with the occasional battle for position further down the field.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|Jenson Button – Five place penalty – Gearbox change|
|13||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|14||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|17||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|Daniil Kvyat – 10 Place penalty – Engine change|
|18||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|Sebastian Vettel – Pit lane start – Changed all power unit components|