Ambient 21° Track 34° Humidity 54% Wind Gusty up to 1.5 m/s
Cracking day in the Temple of Speed despite the overnight deluge, with cottonball clouds dotting the horizons. Nico Rosberg was not enjoying the weather as an unspecified engine problem has reverted him to an older spec engine, 7 tokens behind his teammate. That will no doubt give some very interesting points of comparison for the data lovers and a good reason to bust out the tin foil for the conspiracy happy. Like rabid vultures Ferrari were perched waiting to take advantage of the slightest Mercedes weakness.
Meanwhile lazy days for Toro Rosso and Red Bull as their grid penalties have sent them to the back. Red Bull mechanics not so lazy as a failure in P3 saw them desperately replacing Ricciardo’s engine, meaning the Smilin’ Dan would be starting with a new, NEW engine if they could get it done in time
With 3 teams taking penalties Q1 was a bit of a snoozefest, given the fact that both Toro Rosso and Red Bull sat out a huge chunk of the session. Early excitement was provided by Ericsson on an a out lap who apparently forgot where his mirrors were and cut directly in front of Hulkenberg on a fast lap, rather spectacularly spoiling it. Marcus went on to repeat this off camera and the stewards announced that they would be having a bit of a look at that. Early times favored Hamilton, with Rosberg a bit off the pace on his first effort with the older engine, an oversight he would correct with his second run.
When the cars hit the pits with 5 minutes to go the order was exactly what one might expect at this point in the season, with Mercedes leading the way and a checkerboard of Williams and Ferraris filling in. Also as expected, Mercedes and Ferrari were the only runners to stay on the Medium tyre with the rest going to the Soft tyre to stay out of the bottom 5., not surprisingly Button, Stevens and Merhi, with Verstappen and Ricciardo yet to run. thigns didin’t really get interesting, at least until Verstappen, in a last minute bid to get a lap in, lost his left engine cover at speed, creating a proper mess. Fortunately that was after the rest of the runners further ahead so no one’s lap got spoiled. AS the last times trickled in it was Button, Alonso, Stevens, Merhi and Verstappen out and absolutely no evidence of the horsepower increase Honda claim to have achieved.
Q2 piqued everyone’s interest as right off the bat Hamilton destroyed the track with a 1:23.283, a time so good that he simply rocked back to the garage and played Xbox with his mechanics. That wasn’t the interesting bit, though. The interesting bit was Vettel, done over by his teammate Raikkonen for P2 at the end of the first runs and ythat was with something hanging off his rear wing. Both Ferarri’s were much closer than one might expect to Lewis’ time, around 0.3s off. Rosberg was struggling with handling throughout the session and Q2 was where it showed up, with Nico clinging to P4. Raikkonen joined Hamilton on the Xbox but everyone else headed back out for 1 more go, with Nasr, Grosjean, Sainz, Ricciardo and Kvyat having work to do. Ricciardo sat out the Q2 altogether and at the end of the session it was Hulkenberg just hanging onto P10 by a few thousandths, with Maldonado, Nasr, Sainz, Kvyat and Ricciardo not making the cut and Vettel taking P2 back from Kimi.
Q3 proved to be fascinating as the battle raged between Kimi and Seb at Ferrari and the likelhood of a Mercedes split looked inevitable. Early days saw Lewis once again put in a fastest lap, a 1:23.397 this time, followed by Vettel and Raikkonen still around 0.3s off. Massa snuck into P4 and Rosberg found himself in a rather unexpected P5 at the conclusion of the penultimate runs. Hulkenberg lost power and his car croaked at pit entry, and required a bit of the old heave ho by the marshals to get back to the garage.
AS the clock ticked past the 3 minute mark, cameras caught the sweat visible on Rosberg’s face, a visible reminder of the days difficulties for him. Finally as the 2 minute mark approached the top 9 rolled out with Hamilton last out of the garage. AS the checkers fell both Mercedes and Ferrari were well underway and S1 times were staggeringly close between Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton all inside 0.2s. Hamilton continued to grind out his inexorable advantage slowly pulling away in S2 and S3 but it was Kimi with the big surprise, surpassing Vettel’s time on the finish line and putting not 1, but 2 Ferarris between the the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg. Massa rounded out the top 5 and it was Bottas, Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, and Ericsson rounding out the top 10.
Tomorrow’s race now looks rather fascinating, especially if you consider the glossed over brake issues Lewis had on Friday and the as yet unidentified gremlins that hamstrung Rosberg’s new engine. Did I forget to mention that Ferrari have generally had much better starts than Mercedes of late? My bad. Expect a real scrap tomorrow at the start and possibly an actual race for the lead before all is said and done.
Have fun in the comments and good luck sorting out who goes where after the penalties. See you tomorrow!