Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 27° Track 52° Humidity 50% Wind 1.7 m/s
Well Well Well it was a bit of a crashy start to the weekend with Vettel off into the gravel with brake issues in FP2 and Rosberg suffering a suspension failure in FP3. Both of them will now be sporting nice new shiny gearboxes along with the accompanying 5 spot penalty, Vettel’s already announced and Nico’s thanks to his adventure in wall surfing. To toss an extra bit of chum into the already oily waters, Pirelli helpfully dropped the recommended pressures overnight, which left Mercedes struggling a bit for pace and Hamilton only able to finish 3rd behind the 2 Ferraris in FP3. And that’s before the emergency suspension bodging added a bit of extra helpful weight to his car (hint: not really helpful). If there is a silver lining for Mercedes, it’s that they were able to get Nico’s car screwed back together (with Lewis’ side of the garage pitching in as well) in time to start Q1, though at the cost of working straight through and still not having determined the root cause of their problem. Brutally hot on the track with the sun thrashing the spectators and with high temperatures playing tricks on the tyres set the start of qualifying as the teams awaited the track going green.
Jolyon Palmer led the way (had to write that as it’ll be the only chance I get to do so) followed by the Manors and Saubers. After a minute and a half the faster teams began to emerge, notably Hamilton without Rosberg nearby, not Mercedes usual practice. The UltraSoft was the flavour of the session and Magnussen was the quickest of the slow teams early days. Red Bull, Ferrari and Macca all hung back in the garage, along with Rosberg. Hamilton went 1:07.014 followed by Perez in P2, half a second back with 13 minutes left in the session. No sooner had he put that time in then Mercedes sent Rosberg out to do battle, or at least to see if his car would randomly fall apart.
Massa displaced Perez for P2 at the 11 minute mark and after a slow lap, Lewis was back on it and improving to a 1:06:947, the first lap in the 1:06’s this weekend as Macca rolled out. And just like that it got interesting as Sergio Perez suffered a rear suspension failure. Ferrari trailed out during the Perez drama and Vettel went P2 and Raikkonen P3 as the field awaited the first times of the Red Bull’s and Rosberg.
Boom!! just like that Rosberg was across the line and up by 0.3s over Hamilton for P1 as Vettel lingered just 0.1s behind Lewis’ time with 6 minutes left to go. At the back of the field it was Grosjean, Kvyat, Ericsson, Wehrlein, Nasr and Haryanto with Sainz sitting P16 in the hot seat. Upper Wishbone for Perez announced as fixable and with 3 minutes those with work left to do circulated the track, preparing for their last shot at glory.
Ericsson put in a hot lap that saw no improvement and then it was all tears as Kvyat suffered a spectacular crash which completely destroyed his car, brought out the red flags and saw the driver already apologizing. On replay though, he went wide through T8 and hit the sausage kerbs and then his right rear suspension failed which sent him first into the Armco on the inside of the last turn, neatly removing the nose of his car before sailing straight on into the tyre barriers with all 4 corners off and a long night for his mechanics looming. Worth pointing out that laps are running almost 2s faster than last year, but also that suspensions are not necessarily designed for the types of kerbs being installed to keep drivers from abusing track limits.
During the interlude worth noting Rosberg and Vettel both went faster, with Vettel taking P2 away from Lewis and at the back Wehrlein put in a rather staggering time to go P9 and looking like a lock for Q2. Grosjean as well managed to go P15 leaving Alonso in the hot seat and 1:44 left in the session, for those with something left to play for and a big queue as the track went green for the coda. Hulkenberg and Magnussen led the way and on the out lap Carlos Sainz barbecued his engine, meaning both Toro Rosso’s were out and more importantly the double waved yellows were out, meaning even for those who made it round before the checkers there would be no improvement.
Massive lap for Wehrlein and end of the road for Magnussen, Palmer, Haryanto, Kvyat (who if he had any sense at all was already out buying a case of beer for his mechanics), Ericcson and Nasr with the lantern rouge.
Q2 kicked off with a risk of rain being announced and the Mercedes at the front and off the moment the track went green. Track had already dropped to 46°C as Mercedes looked to almost be on a hot lap whilst it was announced that Hulkenberg was under investigation for ignoring yellows. Ferrari chose the SuperSoft tyre in a bit of a tyre gamble for the race tomorrow. First blood to Lewis as he ran a 1:06:228 to take P1 as Nico was held up a bit in his efforts, with Ricciardo 0.5s off in P4 and Vettel taking P3 on the Supers, meaning those will be his race tyre for tomorrow. Bottas came P5 and Raikkonen P6 as Grosjean did a bit of rallying off T6. Both Mercedes drivers took a one and done into the pits, meanwhile Red Bull elected to go back out and have a go on the Supers, setting up a potentially interesting strategy battle for Sunday. Yellow flags briefly for Jenson making a hash of it in the gravel traps with 6 minutes left, as both Red Bull drivers improved on their times. Raikkonen announced the start of the rain as the Mercedes both reappeared with the SuperSofts.
AS the rain began, Rosberg bailed into the pits and Lewis gave it a go, but was forced to back off as S2 was properly wet and raised the likelihood of Inters for Q3. Left out in the cold, Gutierrez, Wehrlein, Grosjean, Alonso, Sainz and Perez, both of whom did not participate. That was excellent news for Button, who accidentally made Q3 for the first time this season. Again good effort from Wehrlein, P12 and with P10-P15 covered with 0.5s should be some fun in the middle of the grid tomorrow.
The falling rain delayed the start of Q3, and when the light finally went green it was Ferrari at the front trailed by Mercedes and all on the Inters, just as the sun reappeared. Not for long according to radar, however, as a heavier band was reported on the way.
Raikkonen was first to drive off the track, leaving the heavy lifting for Vettel who was trailing him and fastest on track. Hamilton went P2 0.5s off and Rosberg was just coasting, though it looked again to be a Mercedes strategy as Hamilton continued on, purpling S1 and S3 going 0.3s up on Vettel for P1 on his second go round. Times continued to trend lower as Rosberg came through followed by Ricciardo upsetting the order, with Ricciardo P1 followed by Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen and then Hamilton.
With 5:30 left and the track rapidly improving, Hulkenberg went P2 followed by Massa as Hamilton once again began purpling sectors ultimately going P1 almost a full second up on Rosberg who had previously been occupying the top spot. Button went P2 (wait whut?) as Hulkenberg popped in to try the UltraSofts. Rosberg turned down a tyre change as Hamilton came in for dry tyres with just 3 minutes left in the session. Despite the radio message, Nico trailed into the pits and acquired a set of the Ultra’s along with his teammate
Tough choice for those at the top, but Hulkenberg showed the way as he purpled S1 and went P1 by well over a second. Lewis was already faster but it was Massa up to P1 as Lewis completed his lap, having backed off a bit to give himself room behind Ricciardo and a chance at an even faster time with his final effort. Raikkonen went P1 then Hamilton (who hadn’t backed off THAT much, apparently), Rosberg and then the Hulk again all took P1 in succession as it was going to be last man standing as the track dried. With the checkers out it was Vettel, Raikkonen and then Hamilton to the top but Hulkenberg went P2 then Rosberg displaced him for P2 and that’s how it finished: Hamilton with pole position, followed by Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Vettel, and Button. With penalties, however, tomorrow’s grid will feature Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Button and Raikkonen filling the first 2 rows, barring the result of the investigation into the Hulk ignoring yellows.
Given the generally ruinous starts Lewis has had when he’s at the front, and the contra tyre strategy being run by Red Bull and Ferrari, tomorrow’s race looks to be a bit of an entertainment. Factor in that Rosberg has been fastest in the dry all weekend, with both he and Vettel starting out of position (never mind Perez), and you definitely have a race worth watching. Brilliant stuff from Wehrlein, Button won the weather lottery and the grim continued at Toro Rosso with both drivers out in rather brutal fashion. Q3 delivered the goods as Bernie’s sprinkler idea looking better and better (hahaha!) as the wet once again saved the day. With a bit of luck, more of the same tomorrow!
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