Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 29° Track 41° Humidity 46% Wind 1.7 m/s
It’s another smashingly hot weekend, with sunlight pouring down onto the spectators and dripping across the track. And it wouldn’t be Formula 1 if we weren’t talking about tyres. This weekend the tyre pressure has been reduced from the stratospheric 23.5/21.5 psi (front/rear) to the slightly less 23.0/20.5. Compared to last year’s 21/19.5 (which was already a bit insane tbh) and you can get a sense of just how far outside the norms the pressures are, mainly to cope with the enormous increase in downforce the teams have achieved. That said, the real driver of this is that Pirelli have had 1 day of (entirely legal) testing over 3 years, never a realistic thought by the FIA.
Also on the radar is that Charlie Whiting of the gentle Verstappen warning fame, is headed for the exits, following his friend Herbie Blash to greener pastures and raising the infinitely interesting question of who will replace him. AMuS are strong with the Liberty Media story and worth pointing out that Liberty already own Formula E and even though they are direct competitors, Liberty and Sky have worked together before. Although the new rumoured price is a bit lower than the originally printed one, by around a mere $2 billion or so.
Racing Car-wise Grosjean on for a new gearbox, Perez not a fan of the Halo extraction time and having resigned with Force India for the 2017 season. Mercedes look to once again be running their own race, with Hamilton nearly a second clear of the rest of the field and reports from the chatterati are once again reverting to “fastest non-Mercedes” type language. Sad!
Magnussen and Wehrlein were first out of the gate when the light went green. Palmer rolled out shortly thereafter and then Kvyat, with Wehrlein entertainingly on the Medium tyre, and the rest on the SuperSoft.
Magnussen was first to have a lockup but and managed a 1:25.074 which was rapidly beaten by Palmer then Kvyat both into the 1:24s. With 4 minutes gone, Mercedes rolled casually out of the garage as the traffic on track began to build and Gutierrez went top with HAAS fancy new wave wing. Merc were rocking the SuperSofts but Ferrari were on the Softs, the only team to use them in Q1.
Surprising no one, Rosberg went straight to the top with a 1:22.497 as Ocon came to a stop with electrics problems and was pushed off track. Hamilton went 1:21.854 at the 10:00 minute mark to claim the top step, leaving the rest to fight over the scraps.
Wehrlein, then Button went P3 until Verstappenn took it away. Vettel was the next to grab that rung of the ladder, but on the Soft tyre, which does not augur well for Red Bull this weekend. Raikkonen slotted behind him as the last of the runners were on their hot laps. Bottas went P6 with the Force India duo claiming P8 and P9 with Perez leading the way. Massa split them with his time and as the clock crossed the five minute barrier, Ricciardo put in a late effort to split the Ferrari’s and go P4. At the back, Alonso, Grosjean, Palmer, Magnussen and Ericsson had work to do, with Ocon’s afternoon already being done. Nasr and Wehrlein had cause for concern as well, sitting on the bubble.
Grosjean put in a cracking effort and went P9 demoting Nasr with 2 minutes left in the session, dropping Button to P15 as the runners came round for their final push for glory as the checquers flew. Gutierrez P8, Button P12 Alonso P14 were first round. Wehrlein then to P14 dropping Kvyat who could not get loose of P17. Sainz P13 as Palmer could only go P20, but that was still better than Magnussen who went well off in his try. Nasr went P18 but complained of a misfire, followed by Ericsson, Palmer, Magnussen and Ocon who were going no further as the rest reset for Q2.
The next session kicked off with no one out for the first minute until Rosberg ventured forth on the Soft tyre, as Mercedes were attempting to convert their huge pace advantage into a starting tyre advantage. Hamilton followed suit as did both Ferraris.
Rosberg purpled S1 with Lewis trailing behind and it was Rosberg the quicker. The pendulum swung in S2 with Hamilton claiming the middle sector and he continued, displacing Nico from P1 with a 1:21.498, 0.311s up as he flashed across the line. Ferrari went back on their initial thought and out they both trundled on the SuperSoft as Lewis complained of a flat spot on one of his provisional race start tyres.
Williams were lingering P3 and P4 with Bottas leading the way, at least until Vettel came throught with 7 minutes left, taking P3 away. Red Bull tried to copy Mercedes strategy, but went P9 and P10 leaving them a bit vulnerable, but with a half second margin to P11 and Sainz, a tough choice for them to make.
With 4 minutes left the track was clear, but Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Wehrlein, Alonso and Button all were on the outside looking in. Yes, that’s right, Wehrlein was ahead of the 2 McLarens, his Mercedes engine apparently being worth more than their amazing chassis at the Temple of Speed.
As the clock ticked down, everyone decided to get in on the fun and all the runners hit the track, with both Mercedes again on the Soft tyres, but Red Bull having thought better of it sent their drivers out on the SuperSofts.
As the checquers fell Hamilton distracted everyone by not quite going faster. Gutierrez went P6. Ricciardo went from P11 to P6 whilst Verstappen jumped to P8. Grosjean couldn’t improve and was P9 with Perez still circling. Sergio went P9 and dropped Massa, who decided to get an early start on his retirement by not quite going fast enough. Thus it was Massa, Grosjean (with a 5 spot penalty), Alonso, Wehrlein, Button and Sainz headed for an early Negroni with the rest turning it around for one more go at glory.
Q3 started like Q2, empty track and ticking clock. First out was Rosberg with 10’30” left in the session. Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen trailed him out fairly quickly and by the 9 minute mark everyone was well on their way as Rosberg hit the line for his first go at pole.
Again purple S1 for Nico but this time Lewis took it away from him. Hamilton kept the pressure up through S2 0.2s up and S3 made it a purple trifecta for the Mercedes man, knocking Rosberg down to P2 by 0.288s. Raikkonen took best of the rest honours P3, followed by Vettel P4. Bottas kicked Red Bull firmly in the teeth with his P5 as they rolled into the pits to reset for the last shot at pole.
3 minutes to go and Bottas rocked out first, followed by Mercedes and Force India. The rest of the runners followed suit with Raikkonen playing tail gunner this time round.
Off they went with just a minute left adn it was and underwhelming S1 for Rosberg. Hamilton too, could not improve on their first time. Lewis picked it up in S2 for purple honours. Rosberg picked it up as well and improved to 1:21.613 but still P2. Hamilton continued his purple streak in S3 and lifted his time to 1:21.135. 0.478s faster than his teammate, and good for P1.
Vettel took P3 ahead of Raikkonen while Bottas confirmed his pace by holding onto P5. Ricciardo bested Verstappen to take P6 while it was Perez taking the honours from Hulkenberg for P8, leaving Gutierrez P10 and good news for the generally luckless HAAS driver.
Perhaps it will rain tomorrow, but otherwise it looks like a race between Hamilton’s flat spotted front tyre and the rest of the field. Yes, it’s possible there will be a bad start but the excitement of Spa looks to be replaced with a crushingly dominant drive by Mercedes. Ominously as well, by starting on the Soft tyre they seem to have handed themselves an advantage on top of their advantage.
The good news for Ferrari is that they didn’t look entirely hopeless compared to any team whose name didn’t start with the letter Mercedes. The bad news is that they seem no closer than they were at the start of the season. Nice job by Wehrlein and Bottas in particular. Gutierrez, too, seems to have finally come good on the result side, well timed given the timing of HAAS driver decisions.
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