Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Like well trained actors prowling the footlights, the main players took the stage today for the last Qualifying session of 2014, providing a distraction for the real story fiercely percolating in the background; the political coup of the midfield and the shape of F1 going forward. With their backs against the wall, the spectre of the EU has been raised as the stakes are literally life and death for the trio of Sauber, Lotus and Force India and the gloves have come off in the press as well.
On track the roles are well rehearsed however, and it will be no surprise to learn that once again it was Rosberg who would provide the fastest lap in Q3, with Hamilton not getting as close being the only wrinkle this time out. Williams managed a second row lockout with Bottas getting the better of his more experienced teammate. Further down the grid it would be the battle between Ferrari’s and the battle for P10 that would steal focus away from the swirling drama of the driver’s championship as less than 0.2s covered the runners between 10th and 14th, setting the stage for some real racing tomorrow. Button too got more drama than he bargained for in his potential swan song, but with his troubles yesterday already hanging over his weekend, it’s not a real revelation that they echoed into today’s session.
Even further down the field it was Will Stevens managing to come good and finish within 0.5s of Kobayashi in the recently revived Caterham but no real surprises, other than it was the bottom 5 being dropped instead of the bottom 4 since overall numbers were up to 20 this weekend.
As it has been all season, the battle of the teammates dominated the session with the storylines set and the audience awaiting only tomorrow’s denouement to cap off a fascinating season both on and off track.
Sunny and warm, no other real way to describe the weather at Abu Dhabi, with the ambient temperature at 26°C and the track 33°C, a drop of 12°C from FP3. Many stories echoed through the paddock as the main focus remained the battle between the two Mercedes men for the Drivers’ Championship. Given that Hamilton needs only P2 and the Mercedes look to be a second clear of the field at least it is likely that the story of tomorrow’s race will be found further down the field.
As the lights went green there was a moment of breathless anticipation before Magnussen rolled calmly out of his box and headed toward pit exit, to be neatly edged as a rather eager Stevens jumped out of the Caterham garage just in front of him, claiming the glory of being first on track.
Following that dynamic duo was Button, then Kobayashi, Massa, Raikkonen and finally Rosberg, advancing the clock toward the 16 minute mark. Interestingly, Rosberg started on the Super Softs, meaning they will favor the Prime tyre and feel their advantage lies there, but the McLarens were out on the Softs, suggesting they could extract some performance there. Or, possibly they just hadn’t thought it through properly.
As the minutes ticked past 16:00 Hamilton emerged from his slumber and Perez got his first timed effort underway. Lotus and Sauber threw their lot in as well with the Option tyres, making for interesting bedfellows in the tyre department.
Perez cracked across in a 1:43.856 followed by Stevens in a 1:45.781. Magnussen followed up with a 1:43.171 and as the 13th minute ticked by it was the Williams of Bottas that took P1, upping the ante with a 1:42.344 and Massa unable to better it. To the surprise of no one, Quali darling and recent BAMBI winner Rosberg (it’s a German sporting award, seriously) stamped his authority all over P1 dropping the times into the 1:41’s.
But it was a surprising Hamilton that came through half a minute later and 0.1s faster to claim first honours, both of the Mercedes men with lockups aplenty in their first efforts.
Early days at the 11 minute mark and the leaderboard featured some unusual names as many of the midfield ventured forth on the Options whilst much of the sharp end had tried the Prime for their first efforts. Hamilton, Rosberg, Bottas, Hulkenberg and Massa were the top but as the teams reset for second efforts there were clearly going to be changes in the final wave as everyone went to the Options to ensure making Q2.
As the track settled, a lonely Bottas pulled a P3 as Rosberg rolled into the garage and the track began to empty, with only the Red Bulls yet to set a time and Kvyat was well into S3 on his first lap. Ferrari hovered suspiciously around the drop zone as their car appeared to not enjoy the Primes at all, setting the stage for some interesting moments for the tifosi at the close of Q1. Although, one could be forgiven for thinking they were getting used to it at this point of the season.
Kvyat jumped into the mix splitting the Williams at 8 minutes to go with the Mercedes firmly parked in the garage. Red Bull decided to get on with it, with both their cars on track as 7 minutes came and went.
Bottas and Massa finally joined the rest of the sharp end in the pits as Red Bull began to dial it in, with Ricciardo having the early advantage on his teammate. Vettel crossed first in P4 and not surprisingly, the Colgate Kid took P3 dropping Seb to P5 as the rest of the field began to circulate in anticipation of the showdown for P15.
3 minutes to go and both McLarens were down near the bottom of the time charts, along with usual stalwarts Gutierrez, Sutil, Kobayashi and newcomer Stevens. Button got on with it and leaped up to P4.
As Magnussen got on with it the Ferraris improved, Raikkonen far more than Alonso, P5 compared to P11. But neither was as good as Magnussen who came through in P3 with less than a minute left.
Down at the desperation ditch, it was Lotus looking for a way out with Maldonado, Gutierrez, Sutil, Kobayashi and Stevens all on the outside looking in as the seconds ticked by.
Ricciardo and the Mercs stayed in the garage as Massa attempted an uncharacteristic late effort.
Alonso came through in P11 with Perez behind him in 14th. Maldonado improved to 16th temporarily however it would not be enough to keep him in with a chance. Gutierrez slotted into P15 however he was hard done by Perez jumping to P14 and putting him right back out. Sutil then leapt over Grosjean to take P15 and stick the knife firmly in, once again denying the unlucky Frenchman Q2. Massa’s late effort was good enough for P3. Grosjean, Gutierrez, Maldonado, Kobayashi and Stevens were headed to the showers early as the rest went on their merry way preparing for Q2.
Sky quick off the draw to tantalize the tifosi with tales of the return of St. Ross to the scarlet fields of Maranello, where clearly the winds of change are blowing cold and hard, though they are quick to use the word rumour liberally.
As the session starts, it is Sergio Perez first on track followed by Hulkenberg and Raikkonen. Rosberg shuts his visor and follows, not far behind and no doubt looking to reverse the outcome of Q1. Sutil then went and Hamilton trailed behind and then the exodus was truly on. By the 12th minute only Button was left in the pits as twilight descended in the desert and Perez looped towards the conclusion of his first lap – a 1:42.467 to set the bar. His teammate was the first to get a crack at it and failed, coming just behind, but before anyone else could have a go, it was Rosberg off the track into T11 with big lock up. This left the door wide open for Hamilton, who promptly took advantage and laid down a 1:40.920, well clear of the rest of the field.
Nico gathered himself for a second go as the rest of the field plowed through; Massa, Alonso, Perez and Raikkonen rounding out the top 5 with 8:30 left to play.
Conditions continued to get trickier as the sun dropped, bringing increased wind and cooler temperatures to the track. Rosberg’s second effort showed the degradation of the tyres as he finished almost 0.5 down on Hamilton, good enough for P2. Bottas took P3 as the field retired to the pits to ready for their second run. Massa and Ricciardo rounded out the top 5 and at the bottom it was the 2 McLarens having set no time with Sutil and Raikkonen in front of them.
As the clock wound toward 4 minutes it was Hulkenberg and Magnussen first out with Button following closely. Soon the rest would follow but it was Button who seized center stage. In the middle of his out lap the team radioed him with a desperate message to cool the car and box as they had incorrectly fueled the car, in tribute to Sam Michael no doubt. Replying with utter disbelief “Are you serious”, Jenson nonetheless brought the car back into the pits as the precious seconds dripped off the clock.
By the 2 minute mark it was clear that only Danny Boy and the mighty Mercedes would stay put in their garages. Interesting choice for Rosberg, as he would now be starting the race on a set of flat spotted tyres that were also one lap older than Hamilton’s. But clearly he felt pole was more important and saved an extra set of tyres for Q3.
On track, with Button still not having set a time, the bottom of the time sheets featured Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Sutil as well as the now properly fuelled Briton and his teammate Magnussen.
Magnussen was the first McLaren up, taking P8 and demoting Hulkenberg to P9. Button was next through, claiming P6 despite his team’s wobbles and yet again demonstrating the depth of choice for McLaren in terms of drivers. The carnage continued for Force India as Vergne ruthlessly seized P10 as the checkers fell.
But the session doesn’t end until the last car crosses the line and it was Kvyat with a stellar lap to put K-Mag out and himself into P8, ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen, who had barely crawled into P10 after the flag dropped. As they headed for the pits it was Magnussen, Vergne, Perez, Hulkenberg and Sutil in that order who headed for the lounge, but with nary 0.2s between P10-14 there should be some good battles in the midfield tomorrow.
Bottas was first out of the pits but after only a minute gone he was followed by Massa, Vettel, Rosberg, Kvyat, Button and Ricciardo. Hamilton was the tail of the snake momentarily however Alonso followed him up with only Raikkonen left sat in his garage. The latter having decided to only give it one shot in the final session.
As the sun dropped into the desert, Massa was given one timed lap on his tyres and Hamilton complained of a vibrations in his tyres, not the first time he’s had that complaint. Bottas was first to get underway and as he came round, Massa was already setting faster sector times behind him.
It was Rosberg who was on fire though, going purple behind Felipe as he chased the wily Brazilian through the twisty bits of the track.
Hamilton was even faster and looked to be set to maintain his advantage as first Bottas and Massa took P1, before Rosberg crossed the line with a 1:40.697. It was not to be for Lewis though. A scruffy exit of T20 cost him his chance and a decent chunk of time as well, leaving him 0.3s off his teammate and only 0.1 ahead of Massa. Behind them it was Bottas and Ricciardo whilst Alonso ran off track at T1 somewhat spoiling his efforts with 7 minutes left to go.
By time the field were all back in the pits there was a scant 4 minutes left and certainly much for Lewis to think on.
The field began trickling back out round the 3:30 mark and it was the points leader last of all, departing with just 2:35 left in the session and everything on the line.
Vettel was on it as Lewis began his out lap and Bottas was warned not to hold up Kimi as the Elder Finn was on a hot lap. Ricciardo immediately had the better of Vettel but Bottas had the measure of them both and even Rosberg was unable to top his S1 time as he tried to buy himself a little insurance with his second effort.
S2 saw their fortunes reverse as Nico went 42 dead and Valterri languished 0.2 behind. Hamilton had a massive lockup into T1 thoroughly putting him on the back foot with nearly 0.2 lost in just that one moment.
The tripartite contest continued, with Hamilton making up some time on Bottas through S2 but still losing out to Rosberg.
The last sector was tragic for Bottas, even though he was fastest of the chasers. He was just unable to take Hamilton for provisional P2, the aero might of the Silver Arrows being too much for the Williams in the end.
As it stood, Bottas was 0.004s adrift of Lewis and as he continued to carve away at Bottas, Rosberg finished his lap by improving on his already stellar effort with a 1:40.480.
Hamilton kept his head in it and managed to improve as well, to a 1:40.866, plenty of margin over the Williams but farther than usual from his teammate.
Behind it was the rest of the field, marching two by two, Massa trailing Bottas, Vettel trailing Ricciardo, and then the odd couple of Button and Kvyat. The last pair were Raikkonen and Alonso, the Finn having upset the Catalan in his last appearance for the Maranello marque, only the third time this year that Kimi has topped Fernando.
Of course, as with all good things it was not to stay that way as Grosjean was being forced to start from the back due to his component usage (things must be tight at Lotus as it would have been simpler and less damaging just to replace the PU and start from the pitlane) whilst Red Bull (quelle surprise!) failed post race scrutineering as their wings flexed too much under load.
That fact had been evident for years on the World Feed, it appears that the FIA had finally got round to designing a proper test and have trotted it out for the last race. As a result, Red Bull will start from the back of the grid with “modified” cars and a butthurt Christian Horner took to Twitter to defend the team and “accept” the official ruling.
At the front tomorrow’s race looks to be fought primarily round the pit stops as in Brazil. A poor start for Lewis could see the Williams get involved and with a top speed of 341 kph they could prove tricky to pass, as Mercedes lag them nearly 10 kph through the DRS zones. Behind them, however, there is an amazing lot of cars that are very close on pace and the battle for those last 2 points could be epic in the closing laps, especially with the Bulls being relegated.
Happy watching and it has been a real pleasure covering qualifying for you all this season.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|6||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|7||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|Romain Grosjean – Four place penalty as part of 20-place penalty for power unit changes|