Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Cloudy, 36°C Track Temp, 25°C Ambient and brutal threat of rain marked the start of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite the promise of the weather, it never delivered more than a few drops, leaving a mostly dry qualifying on the slick, black tarmac of the newly resurfaced Interlagos. Giving exactly the results that might be expected this late in the season, with Mercedes yet again dominant and Williams nipping at their heels, a few jeweled surprises were nonetheless to be found. Chief among them Gutierrez redeemed himself after last week’s execrable race by almost making Q3 and Rosberg and Hamilton finally put on a display worthy of their relative talents, with Nico taking pole yet again, this time by only 0.03 seconds, promising fireworks for tomorrow’s race
AS with all sessions, the opening of the pit lane coincided with almost a minute of inactivity, before the Saubers sprang into action. Sutil lead the way, no doubt wishing to get as much running in as possible before the end of the season, followed by Gutierrez. Deciding the track looked inviting, Ricciardo and Kvyat followed suit at the 16 minute mark, as the Saubers were both firmly into their routine, with all four on Softs.
Vergne scrambled out moments after his teammate as Sutil cracked timing and scoring for the first lap driven in anger, with the cars clearly still looking for grip and plainly squirreling about on the freshly laid surface. Sutil got some nice face time as he notched the first target, a 1:13.401, which was immediately bested by Gutierrez, nearly 0.3 seconds faster.
Meanwhile, Hamilton and a gaggle of Williams joined the fun, the Williams being the first to employ the Mediums in pursuit of Q2. Whilst the World Feed skipped directly to Kvyat swinging his rears wide through Juncao and almost losing it on the exit over the kerbs, Ricciardo finished up a neat 1:12.825 and taking top honours for the moment.
With the clock approaching the 13 minute mark, Rosberg and the Force India’s joined the ever busier circuit, leaving just the McLaren’s and Ferrari’s to play the waiting game as Kvyat crossed the line ahead of his soon to be teammate, Ricciardo in a 1:12.555, having justified his theatrics back at Turn 12. Vergne was next to toss up a number, and he was having none of it from the youngster as he crushed him by nearly 0.002 of a second, whilst the Mercedes of Rosberg and Hamilton circled the track on their warm ups like a pair of hungry, pelagic sharks.
Hulkenberg ran a solid 1:12.491 as Hamilton got his lap underway, leaving only a solitary Sebastian Vettel in the pitlane as the clock turned over the 12 minute mark. Bottas on the Mediums scored a 1:11.834 and Massa quickly trumped him with 1:11.57. Rosberg appeared to have the S1 advantage as he, too, started his first hot lap. Maldonado decided to go off road as Lewis posted up to the top spot, but not for long as Nico came through nearly half a second faster, well into the 1:10’s.
McLaren, like Williams, were running the Medium and it was K-Mag scraping into 5th place as Bottas failed to topple Massa from P3 with the 10 minute mark approaching. Alonso was very unhappy about some setting on his car over the radio as he attempted to set his first timed lap.
Hamilton’s 4th lap saw him turn the track purple to take top spot back from Rosberg as Alonso infiltrated the top 3. Gutierrez was hanging tough in P8 as it was Button who had yet to get a good effort in, still languishing in the 1:12’s as time ticked away, down to the 8 minute mark. Rosberg missed out on S1, but got on top of the rest of his lap to reclaim P1 by a tenth as Vettel continued to sit in the garage.
Despite being P14, Maldonado had a bit of fun with Alonso, slipstreaming and passing the Spaniard across the start finish line, no doubt improving the Ferrari man’s mood tremendously.
By the 7 minute mark all the runners began to cycle through the pits, looking to take on fresh tyres and have a quick look at their telemetry before venturing back out. Button made the switch to the Softs and Vettel, clearly on a strategic play of some kind, finally headed out to set his mark. Vettel, Button, Vergne and Grosjean were in the bottom 4 as the majority of the field prepared for its second run .
Down to 5 minutes, Button was the first to make the leap, into P3 on the softs, barely edging his teammate who had made the same switch. Now it was Maldonado, Grosjean, Vergne and Vettel at the bottom, with Sutil poised on the edge and Vettel on a flyer. With the exception of a stunning Gutierrez in P5, all the top 10 were still lodged in the pits with under 3 minutes to go. Kvyat joined the top 10 by knocking Esteban back one spot to P6, as Raikkonen dropped to P10 in the pits and the track continued to evolve. Vettel exited the bottom feeders group with a less than exciting P12 as Vergne, Maldonado, Perez and Grosjean were left to try and extricate themselves, Sutil having taken P14 in the meantime.
Perez’ improvement sent Ricciardo into peril in P15 as the Aussie was on a fast lap which turned out to be more than good enough to send Maldonado into one of the places of doom. Bottas took the decision to set another time as Hulkenberg popped up in P11. Ricciardo completed another lap, this time for P9 which immediately sent the Force India back a step, though still ahead of the Colgate Kid’s teammate, who was hanging about in P13.
Having slid down to P8 whilst in the garage, Massa decided to give it one more go and headed for the pit exit with 2 minutes approaching on the clock and Maldonado once again ran off the track in his pursuit of lap time.
Down to a minute left and it was still Vergne, Perez, Maldonado and Grosjean with the Do Not Pass Go card, and Sutil barely safe, just a tenth away from disaster with all on fast laps. Given the rapid evolution of the track, only the top 4 stayed put, though Hulkenberg was the first of the midfield to park it up, 0.2 clear of P15 but having had a bouncy reentry to the track after a bit of rallycross practice.
After completing his effort, Perez saw no improvement still in P16 as NBC reported light rain in the pits in the waning moments of Q1. As the checkers dropped he would have one more go round to get clear, though with a 7 spot penalty staring him in the face it would make little real difference to his starting position on the grid. Ahead, the rest were in the throes of their last efforts to stay clear of the exclusion club.
Up at the front, Bottas reclaimed 3rd on the softs, also breaking into the 1:10’s while RoGro was only able to improve to P15, not enough to make Q2. Sutil was next across, unable to make a better time, but Kimi was, up into P7. Maldonado was unable to even better his P18, such was the dismal nature of his Lotus, leaving only Perez with a chance to make it it into Q2 and smite Sutil. But it was not to be, with Grosjean, Vergne, Perez and Maldonado left on the sidelines as the session continued.
In between sessions, Vergne apologised to the team, but called his car “undriveable” after his significant loss of practice time. Hulkenberg, the sole remaining Force India driver, became first to exit the pits with less than a minute gone off the clock, again venturing out on the softs. Gutierrez followed suit and then his teammate Sutil. Halfway through Hulkenberg’s lap, Alonso joined the fray and then Hamilton jumped in as well. Raikkonen hit the circuit just as the Force India driver threw up a time in the 1:12’s, clearly not his most serious effort.
Those drivers had the sandbox to themselves through the 12 minute mark, as the remainder of the field chose to sit in their garage and watch the fireworks for the moment. AS Rosberg decided to jump up, Sutil decided to simply ignore T12 and have an extended off track adventure that ended with him back in the pitlane rather than finishing his lap.
The rest continued anon and it was only Hulkenberg leading Gutierrez, both with times in the 1:12’s as the finish line beckoned. Massa was now out on scrubbed Softs, whilst the Mercedes availed themselves of the new set they had saved from the previous session. Nice, screaming lock up by Alonso into the twisty bits clearly audible as he tried to put down more brake pedal than the tyres could handle. He backed out and Hamilton came round to take P1 in a 1:10.712, well clear of anyone but Rosberg, who, perhaps enjoying not leading the championship, easily took P1 off Lewis and nearly 0.4 seconds off his time, very similar to the pattern of Q1. The Ferraris of Raikkonen and Alonso slot just behind as Williams and McLaren get their program underway, along with Vettel as the clock crossed the 9 minute mark.
That failed to last long as Massa rapidly took P3 off Raikkonen whilst Rosberg complained of his rears overheating. Though not much of a problem in today’s session given his times, no doubt Mercedes engineers were suffering a bit of PTSD given their tyre issues in past seasons. Bottas thoroughly disappointed the crowd by displacing Massa nearly a minute later at the 7 minute mark, with the McLarens half a lap behind to set their first times and Hamilton headed into the pits to look for his missing half second.
First Button, then Vettel and finally Magnussen came through lining themselves up P5, P7 and P6 accordingly and showed a solid gap to the Ferraris, who look to be desperately hanging on for the end of the season and a chance to retrench.
With 6 minutes come and gone on the clock, it looked to be Ricciardo waiting for a single run to set his time, along with Sutil and Kvyat. The Mclarens and Vettel returned to the pits and as everyone waited, once again the Force India of Hulkenberg was first out around the 4:30 mark to kick off the second wave of runs. Down to 3 minutes he continued his run, with a big lockup of the left front into T1 to mark his first effort to better his time and only Alonso for company.
Raikkonen emerged the other side of 3 minutes and rolling down the hill towards the 2 minute mark the rest of the bottom 10 began to emerge for their final efforts at gaining Q3.
Hulkenberg was first to improve his time, going significantly faster on his fresh set of Softs, but failing to make headway in the position department, still in P10. Alonso, however did better his position and time, making it P7 and leapfrogging Vettel who was also out on track.
Less than a minute left and still Kvyat sat in his garage, looking less and less likely to try and set a time whilst Kimi took P6, two places ahead of Alonso. Ricciardo slewed it around the final turn for his only chance to advance with his teammate going round, trying to maintain P9 in the last onslaught of times.
Kvyat bailed with 20 seconds left, perhaps choosing to start from the pitlane given his penalty whilst Ricciardo twitched into the final corners, looking very P5ish. AS the checkers once again flew, it was Gutierrez besting Hulkenberg for P10 in a magnificent drive for him, but immediately being relegated as Ricciardo delivered, but only P7. But that was not to last as Vettel came good P6, dropping Alonso to P10 to round out the session. Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, Sutil and Kvyat out and the rest going forward.
IN stark contrast to the previous 2 sessions, it was Hamilton first out after just over a minute had elapsed in the session. Rosberg was next, nearly half a minute later. After a brief pause, the Williams of Bottas joined in, followed by Ricciardo. The Mclarens and Bottas weren’t far behind and as he streaked to his first timed lap, Hamilton was clearly keen as purple sectors popped up before he crossed start/finish to officially begin his lap.
Massa and Vettel rolled onto the circuit as Lewis completed his first lap, clocked at a staggering 1:10.195 , though behind him Rosberg was already setting purple sectors and once again bested Hamilton, coming across the line with 7:30 left, but this time only 0.03 up. With both Mercedes done with their first efforts, the rest of the field began to sort themselves out.
The dust began to settle with 6 minutes left and the Ferrari’s clearly committed to having an espresso and gelato before hitting the track. Bottas with some big lock-ups, Button, Magnussen and Ricciardo all flashed across withing seconds of each other. Moments later, Massa came by to take P3 away by 0.081 seconds, slotting Vettel and Ricciardo into P8 and P9 with the second set of runs to come.
With 4 minutes to go, everyone was in the pits when Ferrari decided to make their move with Raikkonen, stronger in the first two sessions, out first. Ricciardo was next to dip his toes in the water, followed quickly by Vettel. Alonso, Hamilton Bottas and Button were the next group out. Rosberg, Massa and Magnussen were the final runners, leaving themselves less than 2 minutes to reach the line for their final shot at glory.
Hamilton started the drama, reporting a right rear brake reading of 0, but was reassured by the team that they saw it and all was well, just a sensor issue. Ricciardo crossed the line into tyre smoke from Massa hitting T1, maintaining P7 but having one more bite at the apple. Vettel was next taking P6 provisionally.
Hamilton was first of the sharp end to hit, miraculously improving his time to 1:10.056 despite a big lockup, but Rosberg was going to give him no quarter, already up on his lap and coming through in a 1:10.023 to take pole and drive a stake through the heart of those who complain about the speed and power of the new engines. Massa bailed on his last effort and brought it in, setting the top 5 as Rosberg, Hamilton, Massa, Bottas and Button. Following, it was Vettel, Magnussen, Alonso, Ricciardo and Raikkonen to round out the top 10, with Alonso again pulling a performance out of his car where there seemed to be none.
Brazil, Championship and Rain are all words that when put together have yielded great excitement. With the forecast for rain tomorrow and the championship not yet decided, with luck we will get a barn burner of a race for the second straight week.
|6||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|9||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|15||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|17||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|Daniil Kvyat – 7 place grid penalty for Kvyat – carry over of engine penalty|
|18||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|Sergio Perez – 7 Place grid penalty-Causing collision in USGP|