Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 16° Track 30° Humidity 73% Wind 1.0 m/s
A hazy day in Sochi as the cameras carefully documented the Beauty and Nature that surround Sochi, while carefully ignoring the concrete slab monoliths that dominate the late Soviet aesthetic. 5 grid spot penalty for Vettel put the pressure squarely on Kimi’s shoulders, but problems with his ERS pre-quali likely did not help his focus. The problems continued at Haas as well with getting the tyres into the performance window continued to plague the upstart American team. On the bright side, Macca were feeling a bit cocky about their chances of making Q3, quite a lowering of expectations from chasing championships it must be said. Though given their current fortunes, not a bad shout.
Up until Q3 the clear stars of quali were a bollard and a wing mirror. The bollard, installed Friday after a drivers meeting at the behest of Charles White, Esq. (OK I made that up) who was unhappy at the behaviour of drivers who missed T2. He therefore required that drivers who missed T2 to go round the bollard, being of the school of make stuff up without thinking things through school of regulation writing. Unfortunately for Lewis he went wide through T2 in such a way that even Paul di Resta on the Sky Pad admitted he would have had little to no chance to get round the bollard.
So although he backed off that lap anyway, it was off to the Headmaster’s office for Lewis at the conclusion of quali to see if he was to be sat in the Naughty Corner for ignoring the race director.
Aside from that, he twice bested his teammate Rosberg for fastest laps, and looked to be in good form for pole, owning S1 and S2 whilst Nico had the goods in S3. Mercedes also featured a 2 lap outlap strategy the purpose of which was not disclosed, but likely meant to help the tyres last longer in the race and/or get them perfectly into the operating window.
Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Williams and McLaren waited till the session was almost half done to hit the track and once we had the full picture, not surprisingly it was the usual suspects up front, Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams, with Macca looking a bit racy.
Nasr, Palmer, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Haryanto and Ericsson were all left without chairs as the final minute ticked off and despite their best efforts, not a one was able to find a place at the table.
Q2 starred Ricciardo’s wing mirror coming loose around 300km/h in the closing minutes of the session, and flapping up into his cockpit. He wrestled with it for a brief moment before giving up and finishing his hot lap with the mirror firmly in his field of vision, a stellar bit of driving from the Aussie in what was otherwise a pedestrian effort from Red Bull.
Also playing on the celestial plane was Rosberg. Although Mercedes started with the Q1 playbook, Lewis besting Rosberg’s time by a tenth or so, on the 2nd run Nico just smashed it, with a remarkable 1:35.337s lap that left Hamilton a rather ominous 0.5s adrift. Furthering the ominousity was Lewis coming back out on a new set of tyres and not even beginning to set something like a competitive time as the clock for Q2 ran down.
Ferrari and Willams et al, continued the strategy of waiting halfway through the session to get started with more or less the results you’d expect, Macca on the bubble and Williams and Ferrari straight through, though nowhere near Mercedes.
It was left to Kvyat to create that last minute drama as with the Checkers flying, he was on a mission to escape the drop zone, whilst Button was desperately trying to nail down that coveted last spot in P10, with Sainz furiously defending.
Once the dust cleared it was yet again a failure, though a qualified one for McLaren as they definitely appeared to have added some pace, but just not quite as much as their competitors. Sainz’ valiant effort fell short as well, and it was the hometown(ish) boy, Kvyat, snatching the last pass to Q3.
Speaking of Q3, it opened with the rather disheartening news that Hamilton’s engine had decided to bugger off to the shores of the Black Sea for some beluga caviar and sunbathing. Actually, it turns out that the MGU-H was once again borked due to insulation issues, which would be exactly the thing that happened in China. Yes, EXACTLY. Which, no doubt will be causing little beads of sweat to break out on the brow of Paddy Lowe, as the responsibility for solving this issue lies squarely on his diminutive frame. Regardless, it had yet to be settled whether the issue could be solved or whether Lewis’ would need a new ENGINE (dammit, I’m tired of calling it a PU) presumably starting him in pitlane, as the lessons of China would discourage another back of the grid start.
So despite the seeming lack of drama, there was still much to play for given Seb’s 5 spot penalty and the missing Mercedes. But it was not to be for Ferrari’s Finn, as he was unable to put together the kind of lap he needed. To make matters worse, he left the door open for Bottas, who put in a stocking lap to go P3 after the first set of runs. This will surprise no one who remembers him almost stealing pole from Mercedes, except for his tyres which ran out of grip 2 corners too soon.
The second round of runs saw Rosberg on an all or nothing lap that turned out to be nothing when he smoked his tyres and wet straight on at T13. Still, there was no threat at all from any of the other runners so he had nothing to lose but a set of Super Softs he didn’t really need anyway.
Raikkonen v. Bottas round 2 was the duel to watch with Bottas again emerging victorious and no doubt lots of Italo-Canadian curses being muttered back in Maranello as despite Ferrari’s “progress” they are failing to replicate last season’s results.
A late night is in store for Mercedes’s strategists no doubt and if they put their thinking caps on, it could be as interesting as pitting Lewis lap 1 to start on some Soft tyres and run in clean pure air as long as possible, especially should he wind up starting at the back. Looking at FP2 lap times, it was also interesting to note that Ricciardo on 20 lap old Softs was lapping almost a second faster than Lewis on 16 lap old SuperSofts. Usual fuel load caveats apply.
In any event, with Lewis and Seb both out of place and with Williams starting on the front row (w00t) it’s possible that the race tomorrow might actually be interesting. Have fun discussing that…
Thanks for stopping by and play nice in the comments!