19° Air 43C° Track 32% Wind 3.6 kmh
The track surface was hot hot hot at the start of Q1 at the 2015 Formula 1 Chinese GP. An incredible haze of pollution suffused the paddock as across the pond the most serious question was whether it was too late for whisky or too early for coffee. In the interests of science the answer both was decided. Mercedes, Ferarri and then pick up sticks looked to be the order through FP3 with Alonso’s stricken McLaren having been carefully stage managed back to health by the omnipresent Ron Dennis
With a bang Q1 kicked off, with the big names out early and of the frontrunners only Mercedes were able to make the cut off on the Prime tyre. Manor made the 107% on merit and managed to run a decent number of laps to boot.
Shoe on the other foot wise, McLaren, having been loudly trumpeting their big step forward all weekend, patently failed to demonstrate said step in actual racing, not advancing out of Q3, but at least they did manage to get Alonso’s car operable for the start of the session. Button again got the better of his teammate, but by the tiniest of margins.
Sauber were back on it, with both Ericsson and Nasr handily getting through and Williams left it to quite late before they got on track to get it done.
The brake saga at Red Bull continued apace, with cooling issues for Ricciardo and Kvyat plaguing both drivers in the garage.. Danii (not Danny) in particular seemed to be struggling with his car. Further down the field the usual suspects found themselves in the shootout for P15 with Force India in particular reporting tyre degradation. At the end of it all. it was the Incredible Hulkenberg getting bested by Perez and relegated in P16 despite being ahead of Checo all weekend.
The role call of the forgotten was Hulkenberg, Button, Alonso, Stevens and Merhi in that order.
Mercedes decided to start strong on the Option, with Hamilton being told he was on a race set of tyres, meaning one and done for the Death Star. Both drivers faithfully delivered, P1 and P2 for the session, with Rosberg again trailing Hamilton by the seemingly intractable 0.2s that always seems to separate them this season. The session was not ideal for Lewis, in that the team lacked telemetry and he again complained of his seat being hot, despite putting in a different seat after P3 to try and solve the issue
The big battle in Q2 was the midfield, with Toro Rosso, Lotus and Sauber all trying to settle the best of the rest. And it was Sauber, getting both drivers through that laid claim to that title. Perez was a non-entity in that fight but it was to by Kvyat getting caught out and unable to improve on his performance, complaining of power loss. Toro Rosso wound up being the big loser, stuck hard on the heels of the hapless Kvyat in P12, with Verstappen, ever Brundle’s darling, getting the better of Sainz in this round.
Maldonado was the big loser in the nail biter that typically ends the session, coming P11 as his teammate finished in the money.
The final session featured 4 Ferrari engines, 5 Mercedes engines and one lonely Renault, this circuit having proved particularly unfortunate for them in qualifying trim.
There was a long wait before the cars took to track and when they did it was mischievous Ferrari with the upper strategic hand yet again. Having sent their drivers out on scrubbed Softs for the first run, they also waited till almost half the session was gone before launching their efforts.
As the commentators were working out the maths of getting in and out of the pits both cars ran through with race stops, meaning they were heavy on fuel and forcing Mercedes back on track as there was no way to be sure of their ultimate pace.
It was a bright spot in an otherwise oppressively dominant show by Mercedes. Hamilton’s first lap was a rather astonishing 1:35.782 which was rather fortunate as his second effort was much more pedestrian, leaving the door wide for Rosberg who very nearly drove through it, missing pole by only 0.042s. There was additional drama as Nico was almost released too late and had to stay close to Vettel in order to make the Start/Finish before time ran out. He delivered the goods however and despite his frustration he was clearly more competitive than in the previous race weekends.
Sauber played it all for the race, electing to run only once with Nasr beating out Ericcson for P9 and P10 respectively. Grosjean eked out P8 which no doubt brings a hope of points for Lotus this weekend.
Despite the fun of Ferrari’s strategy, it was again Kimi struggling with qualifying, despite looking good in yesterday’s sessions. His best lap would only be good for P6, not where he wanted to find himself as both Williams sandwiched themselves in between Kimi and Vettel in P3. Massa seizing on Bottas lacklustre lap to take P4 to Bottas P5.
That left Ricciardo to fill P7 with his admirably underpowered Red Bull, doing the job without catching his brakes on fire, though whether they can make it through the race without issue remains to be seen.
The gap from Mercedes to Ferrari would seem to indicate that they have re-established their dominance, but Rosberg post session indicated that tyre degradation would definitely play a part in his plans to pass Hamilton. More ominously, Hamilton’s hot seat is a bit of a concern in the reliability department as it puts one in mind of last year’s Montreal race, where both cars suffered with KERS and ERS problems.
The real fun will come with the midfield battle, with P5-14 covered by under a second in qualifying and a yet again out of place Raikkonen to liven things up even further.
Merhi was first out of the gate for Manor trailed by Alonso in his now functioning McLaren. Raikkonen and Sainz trailed out shortly behind them, followed by the other Man from Maranello, Vettel.
As the first runners came round it was Verstappen exiting the pit lane to join the fun.
Hamilton was rolling out of the garage just as Raikkonen kicked it into gear for his first go. Bit scruffy for Kimi as Merhi put the first time up. Roberto was rapidly dropped by Kimi’s 1:40.9, but Vettel did the job even quicker sinking the time to 1:39.913
Verstappen plunked in between them for P2 as Hamilton layed down his first shot at 1:38.2
Rosberg’s best answer to Lewis time was a 1:38.4, which is of course no answer at all. Nasr on Options leapt into P3.
Hulkenberg too was on Option’s as he took over P3, he has dominated teammate all weekend. Everyone else sported the Prime tyres for the time being
Alonso and Button exchange their Primes for Options as the serious pursuit of lap time begins. Naturally, Mercedes park it up having decided they were fast enough to make the next session on the Prime.
Both laps started for the Macca men as Hulkenberg ran in, Button in a 1:39.9 for P7 as Red Bull were nowhere on the Prime tyre
ERI shoved a lot of people down the hill by going P5 in a 1:39.48 but Nasr had already done him one better in a 1:39.408
Williams had a late late start and they finally sauntered out of the garage, both on Option tyres and ready to muck up the works. Danger Zone ran deep down the order due to the usage of options
Bottas came through P1 as Raikkonen was on it again, both Ferrari’s back out on the Options as there was not enough speed in the Prime for them. Massa went P3 and then it was Kimi topping the charts. Kvyat locked it up big time into the penultimate turn, doing himself no favors but coming P7 for the moment.
Vettel to the top on the Options, as Hamilton dropped to P4 and Rosberg P6. No danger of exclusion for the Silver Arrows though, such was their pace on the Prime.
Sainz, Maldonado, Grosjean, Stevens and Merhi were all in the deep stuff. No way was Manor going to emerge, but it was a dogfight between the rest. AS the time ticked off, Alonso, Button, Perez, Ericsson, and Nasr were all in play.
Perez was up to P9 with one more chance to lay it down. Maldonado came round to take it away from him as Ericcson went P12. Verstappen leapt up further to P5 with his last chance whilst Hulkenberg, could not seal the deal and was out in P16. Grosjean astonished with a P4 but Alonso and Button were out and Kvyat just scraped in with P15. Both Manors made 107% and the Track temp had dropped down to 40°C
Hulkenberg, Button, Alonso, Stevens and Merhi were all excused, everyone else rocked on to Q2
Wait for it….. 45s in Ericsson was first out of the gate followed by Nasr being told to expect a 1:38.0 cut off. Track temps continued dropping, down to 39°C
Bottas and Hamilton out .. Hamilton told this was his race tyre set, meaning the team were aiming for one run.
First runners came down the finishing straight, Ericsson in a 1:39.24 and Nasr in a 1:39.687
Bottas through in a 1:38.475 and to the top.
No telemetry for Hamilton just to make it entertaining but no matter he ran purples all the way for a 1:36.423, with Rosberg following in 1:36.747. Ominously, Lewis complained again about his seat getting hot as Bottas splashed into P3.
Maldonado took over P3, then Grosjean. Ricciardo went P4 with Verstappen P6 as the times tumbled in.
Bottas, Sainz, Massa were P7-10 as cars rolled into the pits except Ferrari who were just heading out on their first runs.
Raikkonen was first on it, into P3 with a 1:37.109
Vettel rocked it down the back straight as the out laps started. 1:36.957 for the newly minted Ferrari driver 0.5s off Hamilton.
Sainz, Massa, Ericsson, Nasr, Kvyat and Perez were all up the creek without surplus paddles. Grosjean P6 Sainz and Verstappen and looked in danger of falling in themselves.
Ericsson to P7, Maldonado dropped to P10 as he approached the line. Nasr went P6 Maldonado up to P9 but for a moment as Ricciardo jumped to P6. Massa continued the trend P5 for him as the miserable Kvyat could only manage P12, with Sainz only good for P13 before Verstappen took it from him. Maldonado plummeted like a stone in the flurry of times and dropped to P11 but both Saubers made it through, the first time since 2013 that had happened
Maldonado, Kvyat, Verstappen, Sainz and Perez were all gone with the rest onto Q3. The plaintive radio message to Kvyat “Not good enough.”
Track to 38°C tick tock who will break the ice. More than a minute gone then Grosjean and Bottas could wait no more. No other takers
Not for long as Hamilton followed, early bird and all that
Rosberg and Massa started their out laps whilst Bottas overtook Grosjean as he hit the Start/Finish to begin his first timed lap.
Ricciardo strolled on his out lap as Hamilton neared the start of his first effort.
Bottas neared the end of his lap as Hamilton purpled the time sheets.
Bottas through in a 1:37.903 as Lewis pulled a fantastic 1:35.782. Rosberg finished his first go with a 1:36.062 and Massa a 1:37.365 to put himself in the mix
Raikkonen and Vettel were out on scrubbed Options. Raikkonen put the first time up good for P5, with Ricciardo in P6 and Grosjean P7.
Vettel confirmed his pace advantage over Raikkonen by going P4 with a 1:37.776 whilst neither Sauber had yet shown themselves.
Raikkonen and Vettel rocked their in laps as time was running short to change boots and get back out.
Racing stops for the Ferrari dynamic duo to get them quick enough to set another time. Clever strategy as their first times were on used tyres and heavy fuel, forcing Mercedes to cover.
Everyone out on new tyres, time to light the fires.
Rosberg told to stay tight to Vettel so as not to get caught by checkers falling before he started his last lap. Raikkonen, first out for Ferrari, was already on it and struggled mightily round the circuit.
Kimi in for P3 followed by Ricciardo for P5. Bottas to P3 on a not great lap, Hamilton no improvement either. Massa seized P3 for a moment before Vettel took it away. Rosberg had a screaming lap but it was not quite enough .042s behind Hamilton, who could count that as a lucky escape. Ferrari 0.9s off the pace over 1 lap, but temperatures and tyre degradation tomorrow could make the race a different story entirely. And a special shout out to Fortis in comments for bringing up Lewis’ having won pole here for the 5th time, joining Senna, Schumacher and Fangio as the only other drivers to have achieved 5 poles at a single circuit. Congrats Lewis! Fairly sure the Grumpy Jackal filing that one away in his noggin for a rainy day 20 years hence.
Happy Race Watching!