Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 23° Track 26° Humidity 89% Wind 1.4 m/s
Rain in Suzuka…. sound familiar? This time there is no typhoon, as it’s on the other side of the world hammering the Southeast United States. P3 kicked off with a wet track and the odd lap on Inters before the track dried enough for proper laps to be done. Less than a hundredth between the 2 Mercedes on the Mediums but Lewis failed to deliver a proper quali lap on the softs so it was game set and match to Rosberg for the Practices. Sector 2 was Hamilton’s bete noire, T7, T8 and T11 specifically according to his engineer (Dunlop, Degner 1 and the hairpin if you’re scoring at home).
And with the weather echoes of Bianchi again reverberated after Ricciardo’s moving dedication of last week’s win to the memory of his friend. At 0 dark o clock with a glass of whisky it gets hard to escape so yet again I find myself raising a solitary glass in his honour. Feel free to join me if you like.
Pirelli has raised tyre pressures after examining data, to 23/21 PSI, front and rear respectively. Along with that there is now a small war brewing over Pirelli’s desire to test in Bahrain so as to have some running in warm weather with representative downforce before the 2017 season commences.
Mercedes forensic scientists have diagnosed the disaster last week as being the fault of the big end bearing, but have disclosed no further insight. They are reverting to a more conservative spec of oil, and it was disclosed that oil pressure went in T15 before the engine followed at the other end of the straight. Still, they seem to be dancing around exactly what they think might have caused it and it may be another one of those things that simply will provide hours of grist for the conversational mill for years to come.
Also entertaining and endlessly speculative at this point is silly season. Lewis to Ferrari? sure why not. Vettel done. Absolutely. But the real offer on the table that everyone seems willing to discuss is Sainz to Renault in return for some engines. Not sure he’s keen on it, but he’s also owned by Red Bull so he may have only so much to say at the end of the day. Oh, yes, and I refuse to comment as to whether or not I’ve been in discussions with a top team for an unnamed job. Hahaha!
The lights flashed green at the end of the pit exit and it was go time on one of the most iconic of all the circuits visited by F1. Thick clouds roiled overhead with patched sun which left everyone guessing.
Ocon, Wehrlein and Sainz were out immediately, with Sainz having suffered electrics issues that limited his running. Mercedes were out on the Medium tyre and for the moment the 5 had the track to themselves.
Williams joined the party with about 15:30 left in the session just as Rosberg was winding it up for his first go. And it was too wide at Degner 2 spoiling his first run. But not by a lot as he was still 0.4s up on Hamilton with a 1:31.858.
Red Bull opted to go for the Mediums as well as with 12 minutes left it was just Ferrari sat in the garage.
A minute later Kimi was on his way out the door on the Softs, with Vettel not far behind also on the Soft tyres.
AS they started their outlap it was Red Bull finishing their effort, and Verstappen had the early pace, going 0.05s faster than his teammate. While that was going on there was a replay of Hamilton getting caught in traffic as he tried to put in a second effort and immediately thereafter it was Ricciardo reporting also picking up some traffic in his lap.
Ferrari on the Soft tyre jumped to the top with Vettel leading the pair, with a 1:31.659 and demoting Mercedes to P3 and P4. Hulkenberg managed to split the Red Bulls by going P5 and it was decision time for Red Bull, whether to stand or burn a pair of Softs for insurance.
At the back it was Sainz, Button, Wehrlein, Ocon, Palmer and Ericsson with it all to do and Magnussen in the hot seat. The good news for Ocon is he had pared the difference to his teammate to just 0.023s and with 3 minutes left the cars began to roll out for one more toss at Q2 glory.
2 minutes to go and it was Red Bull out of the garage on the Softs, which drew Kvyat in P8 as well. Perez in P9 stood firm as the clock ticked down to the inevitable denoument.
Alonso P11, Button P13 dropping MAgnussen. Grosjean to P6 as the Red Bull decide to pit rather than burn the tyres. Palmer P12 then Kvyat P12 dropping Button. Magnussen P18 could not do better and the Manor’s had no effect, with Alonso winding up P16.
Going no further were Button, Magnussen, Ericsson, Nasr, Ocon, Wehrlein with Alonso and Honda heaving a bit of a sigh of relief. Nice work by Palmer in his school bus of a car and a shout out to Sainz as well given his lack of running. And Ocon in front of Wehrlein.
The rest got themselves ready for the start of Q2.
Mercedes were first out once the track opened and with 13 minutes left to go they were still the only two out and playing.
12 minutes to go and they were off, with Ricciardo hitting the track just after Lewis flashed past. S1 to Rosberg and he was into the 40’s for S2 which Lewis coudl not get near. A bit of a fight back in S3 for Lewis but it was Rosberg with a 1:30.714 and 0.415s up on Lewis, who gave it away at first Degner. Or maybe he was just saving his race tyres, hahaha!!
Red Bull were on it and with 8 minutes left it was Ricciardo going P3, at least until Raikkonen hit the line on the very congested track. Vettel pipped Kimi and Vertappen again got the better of Ricciardo. Grosjean had a lurid moment as the times were settled and Verstappen had a bit of a complaint about not being allowed to do an outlap that would keep him out of the traffic.
6 minutes to go and it was Sainz, Alonso, Kvyat, Palmer, Bottas and Massa with it all on the line. Hulkenberg in P10 was in the hot seat as the track emptied to prepare for one last go at Q3.
Under 2 minutes and Williams was on it, the telly riding along with Bottas whose lack of general downforce was telling in the mid to high speed corners as he just couldn’t maintain his line. Still good lap for him, but behind Grosjean in P8. Massa behind him in P10. Hulkenberg was on it and up to P7 putting Massa out of top 10 and Sainz had a spin, ending his bid.
Gutierrez came through with a P7 ahead of Grosjean as HAAS seems to have finally found some of their early season form. Perez was last through and he went P10, dispatching Bottas to his Norse gods while he stormed on to Q3.
Bottas, Massa, Kvyat, Sainz, Alonso and Palmer were done like a dinner whilst the rest got ready for their shot at ultimate glory. Big shout to HAAS for solving (at least temporarily) their issues.
Q3 kicked off with Red Bull and Raikkonen. Rosberg joined soon after and within the first minute Hamilton and Vettel joined the fun.
9:30 to go and Ricciardo was on it as one by one the drivers jumped in one by one.
Verstappen purpled S1 Ricciardo S2 and S3 till Verstappen took it away. Raikkonen topped them both until Rosberg came through and then, Hamilton surprised the crap out of everyone by going P1 with a 1:30.758.
Verstappen boxed having lost gear 6 and Vettel was an anemic P4 and staring down the barrel of a 3 grid spot penalty as well, as the top 10 reset for their last shot at glory.
Ricciardo led the way again with 3 minutes to go. The rest spilled out rapidly save Vettel who waited a good long time before heading out. He was concerned going out with the bunch would lead to destroyed tyres was the message on the radio.
Again the purple sectors tumbled through the drivers as Lewis took the first honours. Verstappen P3 then Raikkonen took P2, splitting the Mercedes. Rosberg then put himself on provisional pole and and and it was not enough. Hamilton came through P2 having lost out by 0.013s to Rosberg’s scintillating 1:30.647.
Raikkonen 0.3s back for P3 and then Vettel getting dinged 3 places followed by Verstappen and Ricciardo. Johnny Herbert got on the blower and did an in car interview on Rosberg’s inlap, a neat technique borrowed from Formula E.
Definitely some talk that Mercedes have somewhat constrained their engines, but nothing definitive yet.
Perhaps tomorrow we’ll finally get that mythical epic battle for P1, but perhaps even better we’ll get some changeable weather. Regardless, there’s always the Bathurst 1000 to consider as well. And Formula E. Ok, face it, we’re a bit spoiled at the moment.
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