Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 27° Track 39° Humidity 60% Wind 4.1 m/s
Brutally hot dawned the day of qualifying at the first ever, nominally European Grand Prix, with hammering sun melting spectators and race data alike. Based on the GP2 race (nevermind the post checkers crash in FP3 of Perez) Bernd Maylander likely to lead the most laps come tomorrow’s race and it will be astonishing if the qualifying session gets off without a single red flag. With almost half the field gone by the end in GP2, now would be the time to get in a last minute cheeky bet on a backmarker to grab some points.
And it’s a safety car start in the wet with no formation lap as the heavens have opened here at Circuit de la Sarthe. BoP adjustments up and down the grid have seen the Ganassi team slammed after their brutally dominant qualifying…. OOOOPS, sorry, haha anyway it was Toro Rosso then Mercedes first out the gate at the crash-o-rama in the “City of Winds”. Winds which will likely play a role in the havoc about to rain down on the streets of Baku, with Perez firmly blaming his shunt in FP3 on an errant gust. A shunt that cost him 5 grid spots as it was necessary to replace his gearbox.
The Pitlane emptied fairly rapidly as the threat of a red flag spoiling the session proved to be a fairly adequate motivator. Only Force India, McLaren and Ferrari remained parked up with Vettel suffering some last minute drama with his ECU.
All the early runners sported the Supersoft tyre and it was Rosberg immediately eclipsing Hamilton for P1, with a 1:44.136 a full 0.123s up on Lewis. Bottas Kvyat and Massa followed up for the rest of the early top 5.
Just past the 12th minute Grosjean had a bit of an off as HAAS continued to struggle with their tyres and the curious case of the disappearance of Ruth Buscombe and appearance of Ayao Komatsu coinciding with their dip in form furnishes endless material for speculation as Will Buxton reports increased tension in the newcomer’s garage.
Red Bull banged in a P3 and P5 for Ricciardo and Verstappen respectively and no sooner was that up on the board than Lewis Hamilton got it completely wrong into T16 and limped it into the pits as his teammate put in a brutal lap to go 1:43.685 and it was on like Donkey Kong!
AS the session crossed the halfway mark Bottas inched up to P4 and Perez took over P5. Ferrari finally finished their tasty espresso and got themselves out the garage and it was Renault, Manor looking to be in the deep stuff as the late runners came round for their first laps as the clock crossed the 5 minutes to go mark.
Below 4 minutes and it was still Raikkonen, Grosjean and Button yet to put in a serious time. Kimi was first, going P7 then Grosjean followed for a P11. Button could do no better than P18 and as the last 2 minutes approached the final run for glory looked to be Gutierrez, Haryanto, Button, Wehrlein, Palmer, Magnussen and Ericsson with Sainz in the mix. And sure enough at the 1 minute mark out came the yellow flag.
Gutierrez was first to improve to P10. Button had to back off and was out in P18, possibly a victim of a lack of grip. As Palmer was on it, Sainz went an astonishing P6 whilst Palmer just managed to just qualify dead last. Haryanto outqualified his teammate for P17, just a tenth off P16 and Ericsson managed to improve to P20, which was still a fair ways off his teammate Nasr in P16 and headed to Q2.
Meanwhile the Safety Car continued to lead at LeMans as the standing water on the tarmac resembled a Slip-n-Slide and Audi was getting it’s money’s worth as th
Hulkenberg, Ricciardo led the way for Q2 followed by Mercedes and the rest of the runners were out of the garage by the 12 minute mark.
Early times were Massa, Sainz and Kvyat with Grosjean lingereing P4 as the heavy hitters circled. Bottas jumped up and Mercedes was on it just as Hulkenberg had a huge spin on exit to T16, drawing the yellow flags and spoiling Hamilton’s lap. A quick escape for the Force India let Rosberg complete his lap, however and straight to the top he went, followed by Perez, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen as Lewis headed to the pits P8 with work left to do.
It was Sainz, Alonso, Gutierrez, Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Nasr on the outs and Kvyat on the bubble as the usual suspects retreated for new tyres. Traffic on the circuit also had been playing an important role, with Young Max the supposed latest victim.
With 4 minutes left those drivers with something to prove circulated round the track, which turned out to be everyone but Rosberg, who was sitting pretty, well into the 1:42’s.
And it was Hamilton making a mistake into T7 and locking it up, leaving himself in P10 and less than 2 minutes to get a lap in. Ricciardo and Sainz both behind him were on track on going for it as more yellow flags for Gutierrez flew, again ahead of T8.
He continued his lap as the other runners scrapped for Q3 Lewis managed P2, ouch for everyone given his massively flat spotted tyres, which would also make his race start tomorrow no doubt rather entertaining.
Ohhh and then Hulkenberg bailed with no time left finishing P12 due to poor communication with his pit wall. Hulkenbereg being informed he had no time and fuel replied “You need to tell me that” followed by the rather succinct answer from his engineer “I did”. Grosjean P11 and Sainz P13 were followed by a duly irritated Alonso whinging about traffic, while Gutierrez and Nasr completed the list of those heading to the showers.
Still behind the Safety Car but with tyres starting to change at LeMans meant that racing for real might not be too far off.
Red Bull first out for Q3 with Mercedes and Ferrari interspersed as the rest of the top 10 trickled out slowly over the course of the first warm up lap.
Ricciardo was first on it with fresh tyres and purple sectors and not surprisingly, Vettel behind him immediately faster, then topped by Raikkonen. At the completion of his lap it was Vettel up by 0.009s and Ricciardo in 3rd as Mercedes headed for a second setting up lap. Perez jumped to the top and it was Hamilton fastest until he hit T15 and went off again!! Scrappy indeed and unusually so for Lewis.
At the halfway point then it was Perez P1 with Vettel, Raikkonen, Kvyat and Ricciardo making up the rest of the top 5, a result that would no doubt result in a most entertaining race. Telly was busy blaming falling track temps, though it had dropped all of 2 degrees from the start of the session, as racing finally got underway at LeMans.
And then it was Hamilton barely clipping the wall into T15 and bringing out the red flag at 2:05 left in the session with a broken RF suspension just as Rosberg completed a dominating and relatively effortless 1:42.758 for P1. Lewis thus found himself stranded at best P9 with Verstappen behind him yet to set a time.
With 2 minutes left most cars, barring Mercedes, took advantage to run one more lap and Williams danced on the edge of an unsafe release as Vettel was forced to take a little avoiding action as they raced to line up at the pit exit.
AS the checkers dropped it was Bottas attempting an overtake on Verstappen into T1 providing the first drama, but the Williams man was unsuccesful with his dive bomb and reamined bottled behind the Red Bull.
As they crossed the line it was Ricciardo for P3, Vettel for P4 with identical times, and that meant Danny Ric would get the front row seat due to the gearbox penalty for Perez in P2. Raikkonen took P5 and it was a nice run for Kvyat finally, splitting the Williams with his P7 to Massa’s P6 and Bottas’ P8. Verstappen managed to demote Hamilton to P10 and despite the utter dominance of Rosberg there will no doubt be some interesting discussions at Hamilton’s side of the garage, as Toto Wolff threw him rather firmly under the bus post session, and Lewis then refused to take the bait and blame set up changes to the car or even the lowering sun when provoked.
Given the race start at Canada, tomorrow’s Grand Prix has suddenly become potentially a lot more interesting with Vettel lining up directly behind Rosberg and Ricciardo next to him. Chance of a Safety Car has to be sky high as well and no doubt there will once again be infinite strategy repercussions to be discussed once the checkers fall.And it was Audi with the early jump on Porsche with and a sweet overtake for P1 just as the F1 presser started.
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