Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 22° Track 28° Humidity 29% Wind 1.8 m/s
The cars glistened under the spectacular desert lights as twilight descended and the qualifying session prepared to kick off, ready to answer the question as to whether or not any hope of redemption existed for the not quite so new and shiny qualifying format. Well, except the Red Bulls, because they have the matte finish, of course.
For Hamilton Fans: Boring Boring uh oh OMG DID YOU SEE THAT!!!!!
For everyone else: Boring Boring yesss OMG DID YOU SEE THAT!!!!!
That’s right, despite the Negative Nellies at Sky, it turns out almost any qualifying format can produce excitement if there is a real struggle or drama at the sharp end of the field. The last Q3 runs were as exciting as anything run under the old format, but significant problems remain for Q1 and Q2.
Q1 was not as boring as all that, possibly because I skipped the bits that saw Nasr, Haryanto, Palmer and Magnussen losing out and tuned in just in time to see Pascal Wehrlein rock his Manor up to P16 and doom both Pérez and Ericsson to ignominy, a sparkling drive indeed from the junior Mercedes driver and the highlight of the session. Lowlights included the performance of both Sauber and Renault, stooping on 4 of the bottom 5 spots as well as Kvyat who only managed an anemic P15. Rosberg led the way at the sharp end with Grosjean a happy P7 also a good sign for the debutante Haas F1 team.
Q2 was possibly the most painful session as only Hülkenberg chose to defend his position with everyone else accepting the results of their first runs. To be modestly fair, the light at the end of the pitlane kept the cars bottled up for almost a minute after the session started before the drivers were flagged green to start. Vandoorne officially outqualified Button but Macca looked nowhere near yesterday’s surprising results and Kvyat officially underperformed, coming P15 and looking nowhere relative to his teammate. Hülkenberg demonstrated there was pace in the Force India, going P8 and sending Grosjean out of Q3. Despite having time, Haas chose not to defend and it might have been a blessing in disguise as P9 is the highest place that gives free tyre choice for the race. Both Toro Rosso’s were eliminated as well, with Sainz P11 and Verstappen P10 when the music stopped.
Q3 started with Mercedes in a Ferrari sandwich, but on time, and as the hot laps commenced the sector times went purple for Räikkönen but not for Hamilton. Vettel was pushing though and Rosberg batting clean up took P1 up 0.17s over Vettel and into the 1:29’s. Hamilton, meanwhile, had a rough exit on the final turn and wound up P4 almost 0.7s down, setting the stage for a top 4 shootout with lots to play for. Ricciardo displaced the Williams for P5 and Hülkenberg was stuck in P8. Once Red Bull decided to not go for P4, the die was cast and as the cars headed out for their second run, it was Räikkönen leading the way, trailed by Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg with the last word.
Räikkönen was immediately not on it but in contrast, Hamilton was clearly out to atone for his first run error, turning S1 a colour of purple not normally found in Nature, almost 0.5s up on Kimi’s effort. Vettel couldn’t touch it and even Rosberg on a fairly spectacular lap himself could only get within a tenth.
Lewis continued his assault with S2 also going purple, but Rosberg trailing just missed him by 0.003s. Vettel was giving it everything but the Ferrari remained roughly 0.15s off per sector.
S3 completed the trifecta for Hamilton, again about a tenth up on Rosberg and as it turns out setting the fastest ever lap at the circuit, a 1:29.493, faster even than the brutal V10’s which remain for many the iconic F1 engine. What a sexy lap indeed, according to Lewis’ radio, a 1.6 litre V6 besting a V10 whilst using less fuel. And, TBH, not the least bit boring. Who needs laps after the checkers with driving like that.
Of course, after the miserable start Mercedes had in Melbourne, the race is far from settled, and the midfield offers more mysteries than answers as well. With more track to play with than Melbourne, hopefully overtaking at the front will be possible somewhere other than in the pits. But regardless, the midfield offers much material to work with, in particular whether McLaren’s Friday pace can be found in Sunday’s race. Renault also will be looking to have a better day and Wehrlein will be worth keeping an eye on as well, as Manor begin to extract the benefits of their new power unit.
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