Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 22° Track 27° Humidity 89% Wind 3.4 m/s
30 minutes to Quali and the clouds poured in, smashing rain down on the brand new tarmac and delaying qualifying, sending Sky into their big bag of tricks to keep viewers entertained. Thunder and lightning framed the circuit as the paddock wandering journos sought refuge in panicky herds.
Also entertaining is Arrivabene’s apparent refusal to interview in English??!! That can’t be a good sign, but Ferrari’s future will really be determined by Marchionne over the summer break.
Turns 4 and 11 are the zero tolerance corners, being adjudged to yield an advantage if a driver is all 4 off. Lots of kvetching about the FIA carpark approach, from drivers and pundits alike. In the interests of safety, however, it’s hard to see how the sport’s governing body will extricate themselves from the corner they’ve painted themselves into.
FP3 saw Rosberg barely faster than Verstappen (0.002 counts as barely methinks), whilst Hamilton was unable to keep the car in between the lines on his 2 fast lap attempts, though he did manage to miss the walls today.
10 minutes of waiting kicked off the 1st qualifying session as oceans of water sat obstinately atop the new track surface already renowned for it’s lack of grip by Button (sorry JB fans it’s just getting too easy) and despite the newly installed drainage.
Maylander was first out and there was a definite waggle to his rear as he exited T3 as the sky lightened in the distance, prompting an additional 10 minutes of sitting about as he hit the pit lane without setting a time.
Quarter past and Bernd was back out but with the skies brightening and winds whipping up, the teams took this run a bit more seriously and drivers began to kit up for the happily mixed conditions awaiting them. And word that the session would officially begin at 20 past trickled down as the paddock ripped into action, with the shrieks of impact wrenches and generators punctuating the unctuous tones of the broadcasters.
With a minute to go, cars began queueing at the pit exit, led by Williams, which was be bound to slow everyone down. AS the cars began to circulate on full wets the call for more heavy rain in 5 minutes was played on radio and telly.
Big oversteer moment for Massa early on as it became very much a game of last man standing. Hulkenberg was early on fast man, replaced by Perez as heavy rain reported on track. At the 13 minute mark Hamilton found himself balked by Kvyat and slowed, only for the session to be red flagged seconds later, with both Mercedes firmly in the drop zone and Vettel being washed off track as he warned of too much water for the tyres.
While the cars trundled back to the garage, it was Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Nasr and Ricciardo top 5 on the time sheets with the fastest times all in the 1:41’s and the rain once again hammering down.
Not for long tho as the Safety Car bravely ventured forth to explore conditions about 5 minutes after the field were returned to the pits. The official announcement the session would restart at 20 till followed shortly and quelle surprise Verstappen, Hamilton and Rosberg this time were at the head of the queue.
As they waited, steam began to appear in the RH radiator of Hamilton who called it in as he waited on the track to go green, to which no reply was forthcoming on air.
Verstappen into the 1:40’s with Rosberg P6 and P8 to Lewis as Ericsson lost control and visited the wall T10, drawing and immediate red flag with 9 minutes left in the session. The car itself was wedged under the hoardings, as apparently Sauber can now afford to replace cars they break since they have new sponsors. During the brief green, Vettel was complaining vociferously of essentially having to drive about in traffic for no real reason.
And mirabile dictu, as the stricken Sauber was lifted off the circuit the sun appeared, meaning for all intents and purposes it was now to be a 9 minute Q1 with conditions improving until the last lap was completed. 5 till was when the fireworks were going to start once repairs to the tyre barrier were finished.
Nasr and Sainz led the pack this time out of the pitlane, with Red Bull and Ferrari already sporting Inters, along with the Medical Car, which somehow became caught up in the scrum.
Hamilton was definitely quickest but a brutal trip across the gravel at the chicane that cut short his lap and then Massa on an outlap with Inters coming out of T4 lost the rear end of the car and hit the wall bringing yet another red flag. This time it was Nasr at the top of the time sheets, with a 1:39.5 followed by Ricciardo, Verstappen Kvyat and Perez with just 5:20 left in the session. Charmingly somehow, Magnussen, Gutierrez, Sainz, Ericsson, Wehrlein and Haryanto were at the wrong end of the grid, leaving them with all the work to do once the session restarted. Improving conditions would guarantee that all the players would be on the field, however and no one would be safe.
This time round no discussion as the cars lined up it was Inters all the way round (save Magnussen) as the astonishingly messy session prepared to restart. Alonso, Nasr, Hamilton and Vettel were at the sharp end as the time started ticking down yet again.
Alonso purpled early and Hamilton immediately took them away. Behind, no one else seemed ready to play. Alonso 1:35 and then Lewis nearly a second faster, 1:34.21. Vettel P3 and then Rosberg to the top a full second faster than Hamilton as Haryanto crashed T10 and deja vu all over again drew yet another red flag. That rather effectively ended the interminable session with much swearing by the drivers caught out, in particular Jolyon Palmer who was unable to set a time due to the red flags.
Going no further were Palmer, Massa, Magnussen, Ericsson, Wehrlein, and, natch, Haryanto, whilst the rest reset at the end of the marathon Q1.
Continuing the weird it was a Ferrari first out for Q2, with Vettel hitting the pit exit first and all the runners on Inters to start the session. With the continual drying of the track, crossover to slicks loomed large in the minds of the drivers and engineers.
Vettel rocked the purples early on and set 1:34.1 which was bested by Sainz. Grosjean introduced us to the 1:33’s and then the Mercedes duo took us to the 1:32’s with Hamilton 0.035 up on Rosberg and 10:30 left to go in Q2.
Ricciardo was the real rainmaker going 0.3 up on the Mercedes duo whilst his teammate cold only manage P4. AS the spray settled it was Alonso, Perez, Bottas, Gutierrez, Kvyat and Nasr with work to be done.
At the front Lewis was having another go and looked strong to raise the bar yet again. And into the 1:31’s it was as the conditions improves and Bottas strapped on the Super Softs and off he went, trailed by Ricciardo who had made the same decision. Worth noting that Bottas had the new aero bits (including floor) strapped onto his car, unlike Massa.
The clock ticked past the 6 minute mark as everyone strapped on the Supers once Bottas hit the 1:30 mark on his slicks. Bottas continued on setting a fastest S1 with his second effort without a cool down lap in between. Alonso then Perez to P1 and into the 1:29’s. Vettel having been dropped was back up to setting purple sectors and he went to the 28’s for P1 as the timing screens began to resemble a 60’s rock poster with the amount of purple flashing up.
As the clock ticked under 2 minutes times were down to the 1:26’s with Alonso P1 then Hamilton, Verstappen and Rosberg until Raikkonen hit the line and dropped Nico to P5. Ricciardo locked up and languished P14 with the last precious seconds dropping off the clock. Perez hulkenberg, Sainz Bottas and Gutierrez joined him in the drama club as the checquers were out and it was last chance rodeo time.
Rosberg P1 as Hamilton dropped off the timing screens rapidly Verstappen P1 Button P5 Ricciardo P3. Raikkonen out and Grosjean just missed leaving Hamilton P10 as a mistake in his last lap (adjusted a dial and locked up into T1) just about cost him Q3. Grosjean, Kvyat, Perez, Raikkonen, Gutierrez and Nasr were out and Mercedes no doubt heaving a rather huge sigh of relief as everyone else groaned in disappointment as a Merc starting P10 would’ve guaranteed some entertainment tomorrow
Q3 opened, with Rosberg, Alonso and then Hamilton at the front of the line and a continually improving track to keep the drivers engaged. First Rosberg, then Alonso, then Hamilton purpled S1 and as the continued around it was Lewis fastest of the trio, 1:20.108 and 0.4s up on Rosberg. Ricciardo went P3 after almost losing it, followed by Verstappen and Sainz. Ricciardo’s loss of time left the question of the front of the grid wide open as the cars continued round with Ferrari now on the board. Rosberg improved on his 2nd go and leapt up to just under a tenth off his teammate with Hamilton having a mistake and giving himself no chance to improve. Vettel P5 as drivers continue to hit the odd patch of water. Ricciardo took it to less than 0.2s off whilst Verstappen was a more usual 0.4s off in P4.
Gearbox issues for Sainz at the 3 minute mark as the field made preparations for their final shot at glory, with unusual pressure on Mercedes.
Sainz went P6 as Hulkenberg, Alonso and Hamilton led the procession for the last hot laps. Sainz was first off and it would be Verstappen the last man to have a lap time.
Lewis had it locked up early on 0.3s off and just in front of him Alonso spun drawing the yellows with Lewis already 0.4s up ruining his lap and Ricciardo’s as Rosberg continued to pile on the pace. A brief lift for the double waved yellows and Rosberg stayed on it still managing to take S2 purple, and then across the line in P1, with a 1:19.965 a tenth and a half up on Lewis.
It took Sky no time at all to get Horner to throw some shade at that, given Ricciardo’s being 0.3s up on his own time and quicker then Rosberg’s last S1 when Alonso decided to play spoiler. Tomorrow should also be a good time to view Mercedes new and updated Rules of Engagement. Even better, Red Bull look to be closer, meaning perhaps a bit of a race for P1. Vettel P5 and Verstappen P4 should add some sparks and Sainz P6 really needs to be turning some heads.
Also worth the time was the ludicrous spectacle of the medical car being stuck in the queue during Q1, something that will no doubt take a bit of rethinking from the wizards at the FIA. In addition, the general smashtastic nature of Q1 worth noting, as the combination of rain, new surface and perhaps just a general lack of running in the wet have contributed to a remarkably messy session.
Remember, Play Nice in the Comments!