Ambient 12° Track 20° Humidity 71% Wind 1-2 kmh
Cold and Rainy would be the way to describe the lead up to Qualifying at the Osterreichring With clouds overhead and a commentators in jackets . McLaren decided to up their driver penalties by adding a gearbox to the fun making it a grand total of 50 for the event between the 2 drivers. With the pavement still wet it was looking to be anyone’s game and it was likely on the minds of Mercedes as last year’s loss of pole spoiled their Total Dominance campaign. Winning today would give them 12 straight months atop the grid and make up for the singular blot on their otherwise pristine record
Well, complain about how boring F1 is at your peril as this week’s Quali, helped by a generous dose of uncertainty brought on by rapidly changing conditions, delivered high on the entertainment scale with the result hanging in the air until literally the last turn of Q3
The early runners were all out on Inters and it wasn’t until about the 10th minute when crossover times started popping up and Nasr decided he had nothing to lose and jumped onto the Option tyre to see what would happen.
Turned out faster times was the answer and that was when it began to get interesting, as it quickly became apparent that Hamilton was suffering in S2, running 0.4s slower than his teammate.
Lewis was not the only surprise as both Toro Rosso’s were continually circulating to the top, with Sainz having the better of it in the wetter conditions. Even Button made a surprise appearance at the top of the timesheets around the 5th minutes, though that was yet again a fairy tale and not reality as the minutes dwindled in the session.
With the Checkers approaching, both Rosberg and Vettel found themselves in the relegation zone, but not in serious danger as both hauled themselves up the ladder to P1 first Vettel, then Rosberg displacing him. Raikkonen was in more serious bother, seeming to be slow for no apparent reason, and being virtually invisible on the telly. He rapidly slid to the bottom as time waned along with Alonso, Nasr, Merhi, Kvyat and Stevens who were on the outs at the moment.
Coming round on the final laps it was sheer madness, but when the dust settled it was Alonso going P15 but sadly his teammate could not match him, winding up P17. In between was a thoroughly miserable Perez for P16, and the first of many surprises, Raikkonen P18 followed by the completely expected Merhi and Stevens. No words from Kimi or the team about that other than to say that the car had fuel and tyres. Clearly Kimi was the biggest loser of the drying track lottery, but the patchy condition were far from done upsetting the apple cart.
Rosberg started strong in this session, continuing where he left off lopping seconds off his best times and generally looking in charge of his own destiny. Hamilton meanwhile continued his personal battle with S2, where he was losing chunks of time that left him struggling to keep up, going P3 or P4 to Nico’s metronomic P1’s.
None of it mattered of course, as the conditions improved so did the times and the top step was phenomenally busy throughout the first half of Q2. At the 7 minute mark most of the runners were in for fresh tyres and it was Alonso left alone to chase his destiny, which he did with some aplomb, managing a respectable P10 for his solo effort. Ricciardo added to the drama with unspecified car problems for which he had to box, leaving him under great pressure as the field trickled out on the tyres that would be the race set for the top 10.
Massa took the early lead as Hamilton purpled the middle sector, but again failed to deliver as Rosberg serenely sailed to the top of the order and the first set of laps ultimately delivered a Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton trifecta, with Ricciardo suffering an off, the new chassis not really helping with the rest of the assorted gearbox issues he seemed to be struggling with.
With under 2 minutes to go it was Maldonado, Sainz, Alonso, Ricciardo, and Grosjean, who had suffered from brake by wire issues at the start of the session. Looking to improve as the checkers fell it was Grosjean the big winner as he managed a P9. Ricciardo was the big loser, going P14 and slow enough to have his teammate complain over the radio about his pace, Kvyat being stuck behind him on his last lap which was good enough for P10.
Maldonado, Ericsson, and Sainz were P11-13 and no surprise Alonso had drifted into P15 by the end of the session. Hamilton managed to neaten it up enough to go P2, but he was 0.4s off of Rosberg and clearly not playing the same game, though the culprit was apparently an understeer he’d been trying to sort all weekend.
AS the final qualifying session got underway there was no denying it, Lewis was definitely under pressure though Mercedes looked virtually assured to complete their campaign of total dominance, a race year straight of pole positions.
The first round of times confirmed this opinion, as Rosberg was again 0.4s up on his teammate, and it had been umpty-doodle races since Lewis had failed to lead at least one session at a Grand Prix. His engineers hadn’t given up and suggested to him a new differential setting as everyone came round to set a second time before coming in to change tyres.
It turned out to be the magic setting as Hamilton for the first time, managed an S2 that was faster than his teammate and as the track cleared, it was Lewis on provisional pole, but with it all to play for as the track continued to rubber in and dry.
With the final charge to glory at hand, Massa was first to throw down a marker, putting in an elegant lap ahead of the heavy hitters, followed by a resurgent Verstappen. Over the radio, Bonnington told Lewis that his second lap would be his only shot at glory and one he would barely make, having been released very close behind the Williams of Bottas.
With the checkers about to fly Rosberg was on his fast lap and Hamilton was getting ready to line up his effort with Vettel, Massa and Verstappen rounding out the top 5.
Hamilton charged into T1 with about 4 seconds left, pulling wide to get a better line through T1 and touching with his right rear the white line. AS he stepped on the brakes, the car snapped into a spin that left him sitting in the runoff of T1 whilst his teammate was already well into S2 and virtually dead even with what turned out to be Hamilton’s fastest lap.
Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg, who clearly benefited from an extra 24 hours worth of driving in the off week at Le Mans, rocketed into 5th place, displacing Bottas to P6 and shaming his teammate Perez who was knocked out in Q1.
Rosberg continued to push and a he came into the T8-T9 complex right on Hamilton’s time and with pole position in his grasp, he let the car slide wide onto the Astro Turf, which was still soaked with moisture from the earlier rains and as he went to turn into T9 the car was full of nopes and he locked it up. ploughed a deep furrow into the gravel and just manged to avoid wrecking his entire front end on the tyre barrier.
Surprise! No one saw that coming but it stands as evidence of not only how difficult the track is under those conditions, but also just how hard the two teammates are pushing to come out triumphant in Quali. Great results for Force India running some updates as well and it is terrifying to consider that in improving conditions Hamilton’s pole lap from early in the session still bested the Ferrari of Vettel by nearly 0.4s set after the checkers fell.
Still, it was clear that Ferrari had good race pace and with neither Mercedes man above the odd mistake, we may yet have a race tomorrow, particularly if the weather decides to lend a helping hand.
Happy Race Watching everyone!