Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 31° Track 41° Humidity 40% Wind 0.9 m/s
The brutal hammer of Belgian Summer rained down its fiery wrath upon spectator and participant alike, crushing tyre strategies and leaving baffled fans searching for new uses for umbrellas and roving the hills in packs looking to raid sunscreen. In other words, it was hot and sunny. (See what happens when I get a few weeks off??)
Over the break F1 was for sale all over again, this time the rumoured saviour has rolled back to Liberty Media with an $8.5 billion pricetag, though once again no deal has actually been done. Honda has brought a 7 token update, but no clarity as to next year’s driver line up. Similarly the talk continued that Sergio Perez might be on the move but sponsor conflicts have stalled his plans, though Bob Fernley of Force India sounded a more optimistic note that their podium grabber would be sticking around for another season.
Grid Penalties, I’ve seen a few, Ericsson, Alonso and Hamilton for various PU takings (with Lewis adding 3 to his pool) and just to keep it fun, Gutierrez got dinged 5 spots for driving Pascal Wehrlein onto the grass during FP3, and the possibility of a gearbox hit loomed for Verstappen who had some “issues” with his during practice.
No matter what anyone says, the most interesting battle this week likely to be between newly minted driver Estaban Ocon (who is entirely not Spanish, but French) and Pascal Wehrlein as the 2 young drivers will no doubt be at it hammer and tongs.
Oh, and possibly the fact that fastest lap has been ping ponged between Red Bull and Ferrari befire Raikkonen finally drove the last nail in, taking top honours for FP3. Mercedes have been unusually quiet, though Hamilton appeared to have been mainly focused on race pace, given the fact he will have to start somewhere in the vicinity of Amsterdam given the grid spot penalties he’s been handed. Though Toto Wolff did admit Mercedes was a bit “uncomfortable” this weekend.
Tyre pressures again an issue as the remarkably high temps have handed all the teams a rather larger than usual headache, including quite possibly the aforementioned Mercedes, who were struggling to get their tyres into the operating window. Possibly because 4 psi have been added to last year pressures, as mandated by Pirelli and the FIA. As well as keeping those tyres on the track, as Should be fun!!
Just before the green light Red Bull confirmed that Max Verstappen would not need a gearbox change, which no doubt delighted the fairly large contingent of Maxfosi camped out to support their driver. Imagine what will happen if van Doorne joins the grid next year. It’ll be pandemonium.
HAAS was first out of the gate, followed by the lads from Manor. If Mercedes was to play the real strategy game, Hamilton would do 1 run to get his 107% time and then bail on the rest of qualifying to save tyres.
Round about 15 minutes Grosjean fired it up after completing his warm up lap and was first on the pace, as Mercedes rumbled their way out of the garage, with Rosberg on the Soft tyre and Hamilton on the SuperSoft.
Gutierrez whacked Grosjean thoroughly across the shins, running a 1:49.291, to Grosjean’s 1:49.519. with 12 minutes left in the session. As Manor were about their business it was Ocon, winning the first sector with purple honours for the moment as traffic had increased massively.
Wehrlein won the war though, whilst Nasr had his track time deleted for exceeeding track limits T4. Rosberg hit the top with his set of Softs, good for a 1:48 though that was rapidly surpassed by both Ferrari’s, Vettel ahead of Raikkonen. Hamilton turned in a remarkably lackadaisical effort, turning a 1:50 which was good for just 18th, with 6 minutes left in the session. His return to the pits seemed to confirm that he wouldn’t be bothering with the rest of the session. And during that stretch Magnussen became the 2nd driver to have his time deleted.
Wehrlein was the big star, however, with his time putting him P8, whilst Alonso, who was facing engine issues, failed to make it out of the pits, though he almost made the top of Eau Rouge before his PU threw in the towel. The good news is, given it was a brand new unit, it was likely still under warranty.
3 minutes to go and with all the grid penalties, it was Magnussen and Nasr under big pressure with no time, with Kvyat, Palmer and Sainz all a bit too close for comfort as they lined up their final laps, with Ocon P18 on the outside looking in.
Palmer P11 then Magnussen P12. Ocon to 15th with Wehrlein to 8th!! Massa was up to P1 and Button jumped to P11. Once the dust settled, it was Nasr, Ocon, Kvyat, Ericsson, Hamilton and Alonso going no further. The Manor match up may well have been the most interesting, but not especially close, unfortunately for Esteban. Sad faced emoji for him.
Whilst the cars were prepared for Q2, Hamilton gave a rare interview in which he said the SuperSofts were worthless and that it was not going to be an easy day in the office, given their degradation issues and the heat. That said, he didn’t appear to be too bothered by that so there you go.
Q2 kicked off with Wehrlein the first to appear, but he wandered back into the pits, complaining of a “loose” right front. With a long lap, the track was fairly populated with all those gunning for the top 10 rocking the Soft tyre, clearly the choice of the cognescenti for starting the race. That being Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes for those of you playing at home, with the exception of Verstappen. The rest were on the Supers as Rosberg came round with the fastest time of the weekend with a 1:46.999 as the clock crossed the 9 minute mark.
Once the first set of times dropped it was Rosberg, still at the top, followed by Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Perez. then the Ferrari’s in P5 and P6, this time with Kimi leading the way, with Ricciardo slotted behind in P7, which might well have them rethinking their tyre strategy a bit.
Grosjean, Palmer, Massa, Wehrlein, Bottas, and Sainz were on the outside looking in with just under 5 minutes left. During their outlap, Alonso joked his engine issues might well have him beating his alway rival Hamilton in grid penalties, surpassing Lewis’ current 55 spot drop.
Williams were on it hard during the interval and as the runners trickled back out for their last shot at glory they went P6 and P7 with Massa in front and having split the Ferraris, demoting Vettel to P8 and Ricciardo to P9.
Ferrari reacted by sending both drivers back out on SuperSofts, but Red Bull opted to stand with his Ricciardo’s time, gambling P11 with softs would be better than anything on the Supers.
All eyes on Button then as he rocked across the line P10 and bit of a relief. P11 for Gutierrez, then Grosjean pipped him for the same spot. Wehrlein to P14, Magnussen P12 and both Ferraris abandoned their laps as soon as it was apparent that they didn’t need to go faster. Tyre strategy on and a small drama for what seemed to be a fairly mundane qualifying.
The official word had Grosjean, Magnussen, Gutierrez, Palmer, Sainz, and Wehrlein off to the beach as their day was done while the rest of the top 10 turned it round one more time to see who would claim the ultimate glory today.
With no need for fancy tyre strategery Q3 opened with Bottas bang out of the gate, trailed by both Force India drivers and within a minute all the runners were out except Massa and Button.
First, Bottas then Raikkonen, then Rosberg purpled S1. 1:47.612 for Bottas as Perez went wide, kicking up dust. Perez, then Hulkenberg, as the heavy hitters rolled round as Raikkonen bailed and was into the pits, having committed some dreadful error. Mistake from Ricciardo in addition, as Vettel went P2 then Verstappen took it away, just 0.149 off Rosberg’s time.
Since that likely makes no sense, it was Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, Perez, Hulkenberg in the top 5. As that was sorted, Massa and Button were out to take advantage of a quiet track, which did him no favours as he locked up at the start of his lap and was well into the runners on their outlap for their last chance at glory.
P8 for Massa when all was said and done, rather underwhelming when it all counted. Ricciardo looked messy getting into it as telly stuck with him through his effort. Off screen there were no purple sectors, with no one improving and Ricciardo managed to pull his effort together to go P3 as the crowd awaited the Ferrari times.
Raikkonen was first across the line splitting the Red Bulls with a P3, with Vettel pulling off the same trick, taking P4 and demoting Ricciardo to P5.
T1 should be delightful tomorrow, given the iconic Mercedes start, and it is to be noted that Rosberg radioed in a rather cryptic “Nice recovery” message after the team confirmed his pole position, leaving the pundits scratching their head as to exactly what it was they recovered from.
Also worth a thought is Verstappen on the SuperSofts which Lewis rated as good for about 3 laps. But should Max get ahead of Rosberg at the start, it will create no small headache for Mercedes. Lewis coming from the back is always an entertainment and with race pace and tyre deg it remains to be seen exactly how much of a contest it will be at the sharp end, but as always, there will be plenty of midfield melees to keep it slightly less boring. Strategy battle between the Red Bulls as well to keep it fun. And there’s always the consistently inconsistent weather to consider….
Hope you’ve had a good break and welcome back!
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