Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 39° Humidity 54% Wind 2.9 m/s
Wowsers, where to begin this week? Weather is stunningly boring with nary a rain drop in sight? Rosberg aces all 3 sessions at a track not favoured by Lewis? The entirely not Spanish Esteban Ocon all but confirmed for Manor after stealing Jolyon Palmer’s ride yet again for FP1? Lewis, mirabile dictu, escapes penalty for remarkably unsafe release, with Mercedes instead absorbing the €10,000 fine?
Or possibly we could go with the entirely mental results of Thursday’s Strategy Group meeting, which has seen the HALO out for 2017; Double Waved Yellows banished for the Qualifying Session in favour of Red Flagging; the teams argue that there should be no track limits whatsoever, which has resulted in Charlie Whiting thrice redrawing T1, with the latest iteration being times being examined should a car hit the AstroTurf, though not necessarily deleted. Oh, and complete and total radio freedom, with the minor and happy proviso that there will no longer be a privacy button for teams so ANY radio message fair game for FOM to broadcast. And it didn’t take long for Pascal Wehrlein to spice up the show, with an expletive laden rant about being stuck in traffic during FP3. What a world, that a Manor can now complain about being stuck in traffic!!
Worth noting that the younger drivers all seem to be in favour of deleting track limits permanently whilst the older drivers seem to prefer a strict interpretation and that Whiting’s red flag decision most strongly resembles that of an exasperated parent who HAS pulled this car over… Nevertheless it’s the FIA demonstrating the far limits of consensus as most fans at this point are likely suffering extreme whiplash from the rate of regulatory change, and tbh looking far less than professional. It’s also worth remembering Whiting’s long time crony, errr associate, Herbie Blash has been seen off, and one wonders how much longer Whiting himself will remain if this sort of farce continues.
Grosjean gets a new gearbox and both Ferrari and Red Bull look competitive in FP3 which means that Mercedes will, of course, dominate yet again in Quali.
The lights went green and it was some clouds rolling in, though the chance of rain stayed at a rather miserable 10%. Wehrlein led the way after a brief pause rocking the Super Soft tyre and remained the solo runner for the better part of a lap before Haryanto joined the fun.
That seemed to kick off the flood as Gutierrez was not far behind trailed by his teammate Gutierrez, with the rest of the runners keeping their powder dry for the moment.
Haryanto was first to set a proper time, 1:17.701, rapidly topped by Wehrlein then Grosjean then Gutierrez. With 12:00 left on the clock the rest of the field headed for the track, with just the Mercedes duo sporting the Soft, rather than Super Soft tyre.
Gutierrez was on it again, looking to break into the 1:16’s with 10 minutes left in the session but showed no improvement atop the leaderboard. Button was first to break into that tier, but he din’t last long at the top with Bottas surpassing him into the 1:15’s then Rosberg casually strolled across with a 1:15:485, only to be bettered by Hamilton with a 1:15.243.
Verstappen, meanwhile had gone P3 a full 0.6s off as the Ferraris finally elected to join the fray. Vettel’s first effort was hardly imposing, going a full tenth slower, and it was down to the Iceman to show Red Bull the pace as he went P3 a tenth up on young Max.
At least till Ricciardo hit the line, taking P3 away from Kimi with a 1:15.591, the best of the rest, but still a full 0.3s Hamilton’s time on the harder tyre. Bit ominous, that.
With 5 minutes left it was Haryanto, Grosjean, Magnussen, Palmer, Nasr and Ericsson with work to do and Gutierrez in the hot seat, running P16. Kvyat and Button as well jumped in, running P15 and P14 respectively to protect their ride for Q2.
Gutierrez had a stunner, going P8 and putting Massa into potential difficulty whilst he was firmly sat in the pits. With the Checquers out it was Button on a hot lap, Magnussen going P15 dropped him, then Palmer upped the pressure going P14 putting Jenson 2 steps into the exclusion zone. Button responded and went P10 to save himself then Carlos Sainz, momentarily consigned to the drop zone as well, went P12, dropping Magnussen back into the cheap seats. Heading for the showers with him were Wehrlein, Kvyat, Haryanto, Nasr and Ericsson.
FOM happily played a whole string of expletive laden radio messages as Kvyat’s utter collapse was the scene stealer for sure as he was informed his teammate finished P12.
Rosberg was first out in Q2 on the Supers, followed by Lewis. they remained the only runners as the turned the corner and started their hot laps with 13 minutes left. S1 to Nico by a tenth, S2 to Hamilton by less and it was all down to S3. Rosberg first with a 1:14.839 and Hamilton again pipped him on the line with a 1:14.748, half a second upon his Q1 Soft tyre time.
With that duel finished the rest of the field began to trickle out at the 10 minute mark. Red Bull, Toro Rosso led the way and one minute later the track was full of glory seekers
This time round it was young Max taking the honours over the Colgate Kid, followed by Bottas and Sainz but with Ferrari yet to make their play. AS Ferrari hit their outlap, both HAAS cars and both Force Indias shoved Sainz down the order. Raikkonen went P4 and Vettel P6 splitting the Red Bulls up. At the back, once the dust settled it was Gutierrez, Grosjean, Sainz, Alonso, Button and Palmer with work to do and 3 minutes left. Massa was sat in the hot seat, as his lap was interfered with by Carlos Sainz.
AS the runners with something to prove hit the track for their last shot, it was both Force India’s joining as well as Bottas P7. Ferrari elected to sit Vettel in P6 out.
Vettel did sneak out but too late to make the line, the worst of all world.
Boom went the checquers with Hulk to P6, Palmer P16, surprising no one. Massa P9 dooming Button was out. Perez P5 and Sainz P13 but the best he could do. Gutierrez to P11 and Massa P10 with Vettel having sunk to P9 and the Ferrari’s pit wall perhaps a bit distracted by their most excellent espresso.
Gutierrez, Button, Sainz, Alonso, Grosjean and Palmer were headed to the couch to eat Cheetos as the top 10 readied themselves for Q3.
Vettel was first out, followed by Perez and then Rosberg, Raikkonen and Hamilton, as the new red flag rule was perhaps prompting a change in strategy from the usually laconic Italian team.
Early days it was Rosberg up on Hamilton S1, looking quick on S2 and then into the pits for Nico as Hamilton came through with top time, down to a 1:14.486. Raikkonen went from P1 to P2 after Lewis came through, then Verstapppen demoted him to P3 as he crossed the line, with Ricciardo yet to set a time. He crossed the line with a 1:14.726, 0.24s slower than Hamilton but nearly 0.4s up on his teammate. OUCH!! Sick Burn… Vettel languished P5 slower again than Kimi.
Rosberg had to bail on his time with an electric problem and it was not looking good for the Germonafinngasque, but out he went by himself, trailed by Massa with 4 minutes left on the clock. Not ideal timing, perhaps but apparantly not a bother as he bettered Hamilton’s first time, by 0.12s. Just as he completed his lap, it was Lewis out, now with some work left to do, along with Vettel.
Very wide T1 and he purpled S1, but not S2 and again to S3 they went but this time it was Rosberg triumphant taking pole, with Lewis improving on his time, but not by enough. With the checquers out it was Ricciardo confirming P3, followed by Verstappen then Raikkonen and Vettel and 2×2 they went into tomorrow’s GP. A little lockup into the hairpin being diagnosed as the main difference between the 2 Mercedes drivers, should make tomorrow’s start an entertainment, particularly with the newly widened T1. Worth recalling that Verstappen almost made it in front of Hamilton last week and that the apparent race pace of Red Bull has looked fairly close to that of Mercedes. Also mentioned post race that the last time Lewis beat a teammate here in Quali was 2008 so there’s that little nugget for Lewis fans.
All in all a stonking lap for Nico, especially since he was fueled for 2 hot laps when he got it done. Paddy Lowe said post session he had several warnings and lost sync on his gears and apparently control of his throttle pedal as well when he brought it in to the pits. Also hammering their teammate, were Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Button. I would mention Sainz too, but at this point Kvyat looks more like a place holder quite frankly.
Tomorrow’s race likely holds few surprises (though hopefully some good battles) unless the weather turns ugly, but the start potentially holds some entertainment as does Mercedes continued run of uncertain reliability. Trying to work out a scenario where Sainz wins, as he has my number but so far the best I have is that he wonks a Merc driver over the head with a wrench and steals his car, so I’ll have to leave to you in the comments.
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