Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 22° Track 42° Humidity 45% Wind 3.6 m/s
Gusty ass wind, never a friend to the drivers, few clouds and glorious sunshine set the scene for qualifying in Barcelona. With 6th-17th covered by a second in FP3 it promised to be a particularly brutal session. Haas looked once again to be on the back foot and the Dan and Max show promised entertainment for all. Plenty of internecine warfare at Merc over the shiny new bits, but the real story might be the inability of Merc to sort the original issue and dare I say it, the desperation that drove them to give the new parts to Lewis instead of Nico.
Q1 is always the battle in the backfield but the Sauronic eye of the telly is inevitably drawn to the flash at the front. Both Mercedes were out fairly early and round 1 went squarely to Rosberg, clearly ahead in Sectors 1 & 3, leaving Sector 2 Hamilton’s only consolation for the moment.
With Red Bull and Ferrari typically leaving it later, when the times settled for the first half the session it was Force India showing well with their updated car. As the latelies hit the track Max Verstappen drew first blood going P3 and Ricciardo was unable to equal him. That was a secondary concern to Maurizio Arrivederci because both Bulls eclipsed the Ferraris, leaving them P5 & P6 and Ferrari completely exposed to the full wrath of FCA head Marchionne, who merely expected a win from the Scuderia this weekend. Still it was only Q1, and Ferrari had been much closer in FP3.
AS the seconds ticked off the clock those with real skin in the game queued up for their final shot at Q2 glory. Palmer, Grosjean, Nasr, Ericsson, Haryanto, and Wehrlein all had work to do as the checkers approached and Macca man Button was sitting rather uneasy on the bubble and Felipe Massa, who’d had a terrible first run relative to his teammate.
AS the checkers dropped first, Hülkenberg, then Grosjean managed to skate putting Button on his hot lap fully into the drop zone. Palmer improved to P16 only to see himself dispatched by Button who woke up enough to put in a decent time. When the dust settled it was Palmer the biggest loser save Massa, who in a massive shocker failed entirely to set a 2nd time because the team got him out too late, leaving him P18 on the grid. Except it’s not really all that much of a shocker as lately Williams has only seemed to have the resources to get one car going well. Perhaps the lack of Venezuelan petro-dollars is finally showing as the team looks a bit frayed around the edges.
Palmer, Massa, Ericsson, Nasr, Wehrlein and Haryanto were done for the day as the rest of the teams prepped for Q2.
Q2 featured Hamilton shot out of the pitlane the moment the track went green, with Rosberg trailing not too far behind, as Mercedes apparently wanted their dynamic duo to set a lap with as little traffic as possible.
Lewis set the early pace, with Nico slightly slower in S1 but in S2 something happened to Rosberg’s lap as he was nearly 0.3s off Hamilton’s pace. When Nico crossed the line he was nearly 0.6s off Lewis’ 1:22:159.
Early days had Sainz then Pérez P3 & P4 while once again Red Bull and Ferrari bided their time. Alonso put in a P6 appearance raising spirits at Macca.
Once the best of the rest put in their appearance it was again Mad Max Verstappen getting the better of his teammate and seemingly consigning Kvyat to the dustbin of history. And yet again it was Verstappen ahead of both Ferrari’s with Ricciardo bringing up the rear in P6, Vettel trailing Räikkönen for extra angst.
Those in the thick stuff included Pérez, Gutiérrez, Hülkenberg, Kvyat, Button & Magnussen with Grosjean sitting uneasily in P10, all of whom were out in search of their magic lap.
Once the checkers fell it was Hülkenberg delivering the goods first, as Kvyat could do no better than P11. Alonso went P9 then Perez P7 as Button fell rapidly down the order. Magnussen and Gutiérrez could do naught for themselves, which was a shame for Esteban as he’d gone P8 during Q1. P14 was the top for Haas as Grosjean continued to outdo his teammate in quali. Button could do no better than 12th, full of unhappiness with his set up.
After everyone caught their breath, Hülkenberg, Button, Kvyat, Grosjean, Magnussen and Gutierrez were done and their was the faint whiff of anticipation in the air as, mirabile dictu, Hamilton’s car had failed to self-destruct.
Q3 started just as Q2 did, with Lewis out the gate first followed by Rosberg on an empty track. Symbolic? Perhaps, a bit neat for my taste however. And utterly meaningless as Lewis wound it up for his first lap. As S1 ticked over the timing screen, advantage Lewis, the same for S2 but approaching T10 he had a massive lock up that handed the first result and provisional pole to Rosberg, whose lap was every bit as clean as expected.
Verstappen set many tongues a flutter as taking advantage of Lewis’ mistake as well, he went P2 splitting the Mercs. Räikkönen had a terrible lap and was sat behind Vettel with the rest (including Danny Ric) saving their powder (and tyres) for a 1 lap miracle.
At the final minute with all the drivers finally on track it was again Hamilton setting the purple sectors and Rosberg unable to match him. This time at T10, Lewis remembered his indicator and he successfully navigated it, setting a blistering 1:22 dead and leaving Nico 0.2s adrift once Rosberg crossed the line.
The drama intensified further back as Ricciardo completed his only Q3 run to step ahead of his teammate, who was still out on track. Mad Max couldn’t get it done, though, leaving him P4 to Danny Boy’s P3 as both awaited the finish of the Ferrari runs.
And it was not the news the Scuderia wanted as neither driver could get in between, never mind ahead of the Red Bulls. Räikkönen continued his quali dominance over Vettel (wait, whut??!! holy shattered TV narrative Batman!) and Bottas led Alonso, Vettel, Pérez and Sainz to round out the top 10.
A bad day at the office for Maurizio Arrivederci, who redefined the word desperation as he sought excuses for Ferarri’s poor performance and quite possibly to protect his job in his post race interview. Red Bull look to be exonerated for the Kvyat move with their results, though we’ve heard nothing about the possible tyre pressure controversy that might possibly involve teams that might or might not be Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Maybe.
And finally we had a proper contest for pole position. Hamilton fans will be delighted he finally has a car that doesn’t break and Rosberg fans will (perhaps rightly) point at the shiny new MGU-H for Lewis as the most likely explanation for the sudden reappearance of the 0.2s gap that plagued the German through most of last year’s qualifying.
Of course, Hamilton is barely 50% for decent starts this year and it’s a nice long way to the first turn so there is plenty of stuff to tune in for tomorrow. Still, nice that we might have something that resembles a race for P1 tomorrow. Possible redemption for Ferrari as they have unusually good starts, but it looks to be a defensive race for them should they eclipse the Bulls at the start. And equally worrying, the fact that both they and Haas seem to be going backward with the development race does not augur well for job security at Ferrari.
Best of all, the thoroughly unpredictable Verstappen lines up P4. How entertaining would it be for him to snatch the lead? Or crash into…. (Name your most likely candidate in the comments) T1. Discuss!
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