Ambient 25° Track 44° Humidity 44% Wind Gusty 14-16 kmh
Brutal sun hammered down and a gusty tricksy wind that had unsettled the teams all weekend arose just before the lights went green. Ferrari’s big updates did not sit well with Raikkonen to the point where he ran the old car in P3, but it was deemed not faster and as a result he ran a bit of a FrankenCar compared to his teammate who fully embraced all the bright and shiny new bits. Red Bull both on 4th ICE for the event so some shiny new bits for them as well, but as yet no idea how well their vaunted new aero working as RIC had spent most of the weekend in the garage.
A big spin in FP3 and Rosberg finishing atop the classification promised perhaps an unsettling of the established order as the track opened for Q1.
And it was off to a cracking sit as it was well over a minute before Merhi hit the track with Mediums strapped on. No one deigned to join him however and eventually the FOM director was forced to give up his shots of engineers looking pensively at screens and actually show him rolling round the circuit. Hulkenberg joined shortly after also on the Medium and without any substantive updates to the car.
AS Hamilton exited for his outlap it was officially a movement and as went through the Start/Finish at the 14 minute mark it was a rapidly crowding track behind him, with the top teams trying to get through on the Hard tyre and the midfield not even bothering.
Early times were in the 1:28’s mostly with a 1:27.7 being best guess at a cut off time. As the first times rolled by it was obvious that Manor were still playing in a sandbox of their own as their times lingered in the low 1:30’s. Hamilton did the obvious thing and went utterly bailed on his first lap, a big lockup having spoiled his first effort, thus it was Rosberg who threw up the first marker, a 1:27.677. Raikkonen was on it as Hamilton took his do over. And his effort was faster, putting him to the top with a 1:27.322. Vettel took P3 behind Rosberg and for all the shouting on telly, Raikkonen could only manage a feeble P7, the result of some unfortunate traffic, not having all the new bits and as he sarcastically put it absolutely no grip in the rear.
Kvyat gave a remarkable demonstration of what sausage kerbs do to cars brave enough to take them on, testing the limits of his suspension travel in a shot that would be repeated so often with different teams during the broadcast that one began to wonder if the FOM director was trying to make a point, though whether the point was poor driving or dangerous kerbs was not clear.
Macca looked good early on taking P5 and P6 as the last runners finished their early set and were on their inlaps. Kvyat, Grosjean, Maldonado, Stevens and Merhi all were left with the most work to do as the track fell quiet with 6 minutes to go.
Hulkenberg was first to venture back out on the Medium tyre, the choice of all in search of a miracle which wound up including Raikkonen. Perhaps Arrivabene’s open flirtation with Bottas has robbed the elder Finn of his motivation, regardless, radio coverage demanded visual confirmation as the made the point that you cn’t trust the tyre screens these days.
AS time ticked down past the 2 minute mark, Perez, Nasr and even Bottas were also out on the Medium tyre as well as the gap between P11 and P17 was just 0.7s.
At the front Hamilton continued to have the edge on the Hard tyre coming through with a 1:26.382, a time which Rosberg could not better.
Hulkenberg managed a P8 as the last seconds dropped off the clock and then as the checkers fell so did his position.
First through was Nasr into P5, Maldonado and Bottas both leapfrogged him with Grosjean squeezing in between. Alonso and Button came through in P9 and P10, their new livery being worth exactly 0 tenths, but excellent fodder for those who note the unfortunate resemblance to HRT. Kvyat continued the damage as into P10 as the shuffle continued. Verstappen as well put in an excellent lap into P9 and just ahead of Vettel, the only runner besides Mercedes to save a pair of Options for the race tomorrow.
Out were Ericcson, Hulk, Perez and of course Stevens and Merhi. Alonso was through but in P15 by the skin of his teeth and Button had been struggling with his brakes throughout the session. The lack of updates was more than telling with the Force India as it was the first Q2 missed by Perez this season
AS the lights went green the field were off to a thundering silence as the clever ones had decided that the waiting game was the best choice. Desperate, the FOM director showed Vettel playing Mario Kart on his wheel as he waited patiently in the garage.
Nasr was first to dip his toes into the pool and as he continued his solitary outlap on scrubbed Mediums it wasn’t till the clock crossed 11 minutes that the rest of the field decided to join him, as he hadn’t jumped out screaming.
Again, Hamilton went first as he had had the honours at Bahrain and on his outlap Lewis was instructed to run a clean lap, i.e., think about race tyres. AS they were all out in a bunch the times came quick and fast and when the dust settled it was Hamilton who first set the bar with a solid 1:25.74 which was then utterly eclipsed by Rosberg, with a stellar 1:25.166 0.6s up. Raikkonen and Vettel slotted behind them with Bottas nice and close in P5.
AS the track cleared it was Alonso, Grosjean, Maldonado, Button and Nasr in the drop zone with Ricciardo in P9 and Kvyat in P10 to keep them company.
AS expected it was both sets of Bulls, Baby and Big, making their way out for a second chance along with the rest of the midfield. Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari were not the least bit bothered and took the rest of the session off.
Again as culmination came as the checkers fell and it was Grosjean, Maldonado, Alonso Button and Nasr who failed to make the grade. The McHonda which had looked promising yesterday was still clearly not all the way there, as Alonso equaled his worst ever quali in Barcelona, a P13 he had rung up with Minardi.
The FOM director inserted his obligatory Carmen Jorda shot as the commentariat generally agreed that Hamilton was saving his tyres and that Q3 had some real zest as Rosberg had serious pace.
All eyes were at the front as again the long wait. Bottas Raikkonen and Hamilton got it started just past the 10 minute mark and it was Rosberg to have the last word in the first half the session as only Verstappen, and Vettel joined him in having two bites at the apple.
Verstappen was on used Options as was Raikkonen, but the others were all on new tyres, also the Option.
Bottas was first through, with a bit of a moment in T10 before setting a 1:25.88. Raikkonen was next with a 1:27.172, in league with Verstappen, the pair of them on used tyres and off the pace at the front. Hamilton came through with a 1:24.948 and then it was all eyes on Rosberg as he serenely crushed S1 and managed to finally upstage his teammate with a 1:24.681 for provisional pole.
As they retired to the pits the thermometer continued to climb, with the track temps now upwards of 46°, definitely not a trend to make Mercedes happy.
The second charge again was led by Bottas, followed by Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Hamilton, Vettel, Sainz, Massa Rosberg and Verstappen who snuck out dead last.
With under a minute left on the clock it was Bottas first onto his hotlap, but clearly the interest was in Hamilton’s performance. S1 was his biggest deficit and as he came round and finished off the sector the lack of purple told the biggest story, as he got closer to Rosberg’s time but did not crack it. S2 as well wasn’t purple and at that point it was all over at the top. In fact none of the top 3 managed an improvement and it may be worth noting that happened as the temperatures were getting hotter on the track, a condition that the drivers are likely to face tomorrow as well. Vettel had a solid P3 but it was Bottas in P4, a Williams cat amongst the Ferrari pigeons as Kimi’s FrankenCar was only good enough for P5 today. OR at least it was P5 till both Sainz and Vertappen cleaned his clock with their last laps, going P5 and P6 and dropping the Finn who may be Fin at Ferrari to a miserable P7. Not as miserable as Kvyat, Massa and Ricciardo who rounded out the top 10, the Big Bulls new nose apparently not worth much just yet, though haters will hate and likely blame Renault for the fact that the aero didn’t work.
Tomorrow’s race promises epic fun as Lewis is likely to not want to stay behind Nico for very long. Worth pointing out he had the pace on the hard tyres over Rosberg and Wolff has said in interviews that the Merc preferred the harder compound in the heat of the Catalunyan sun. Ferrari on the other hand, or at least Vettel, was saying nice things about the Medium tyre so we could again see Mercedes forced onto it’s less favoured tyre in order to try and keep ahead of Ferarri. Raikkonen will have to do some work from the off, though, to avoid the carbon fibre zone and Bottas’ could definitely spoil his day if Williams have their tyre degradation under control.
P8-12 setting up for some great battles and if we’re lucky, some of them even might be shown on telly. With Williams looking to have done well with updates action at the front won’t be lacking but it’s likely not going to be much breathing going on at the Mercedes pitwall as the cars hit T1 for the first time.
Hats off to Nico Rosberg for his first pole!!
Happy Race Watching All!