Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 23° Track 33° Humidity 34% Wind 0.6 m/s
Well Well what a break it’s been. Seems like forever since the shriek of my mechanical keyboard rent the air. And it’s been a busy one as well with silly season extending to team leaders, with Bouillier rumoured to Ferrari and Dennis rumoured on the way out, perhaps as payback to the advantage he took when Mansour Ojjeh was ill a few years ago.
Toro Rosso has confirmed Kvyat for next year, leaving the other seat at Force India wide open as of yet, with Ocon now tipped to move up. Haas is playing it’s cards a bit close to it’s chest, refusing to make any announcements until they get a little closer to the end of the season.
Perez is still hanging in the breeze as well and again it’s Ferrari that is being whispered in the same breath as Sergio. No doubt happy days at the Scuderia as no one is sure if they will have a job next year as the team self destructs from management tactics that date back to the 1930’s.
Austin is a town that lends itself to celebration, and it was Mercedes that was at it all night, though sadly for them, not at the beer and BBQ circuit but replacing Hamilton’s fuel system.
Pressure in the teams this week was perhaps only exceeded by pressure in the tyres, as Pirelli went from 21/19 Front/Rear to 22/19. That may or may not have played a role in the double puncture suffered by Sainz in P3, but the official announcement was that it was the wheel rim and brake duct being slightly too close together.
And to top it off, there was that drivers meeting, in which all of the drivers ambushed Verstappen about his late moves under braking. His succinct reply, that since he wasn’t penalised he was well within his rights was met with fierce denunciation, including a 3 minute rant by Raikkonen, who afterwards reportedly collapsed and was carried off on a stretcher to the infirmary, for some medicinal ice cream .
Charlie Whiting promised that telemetry would be consulted from now on and despite Helmut Marko’s defense, the rules were updated today to represent the prevailing sentiment of the majority of the drivers. Hulkenberg in particular made the point that not every car was optimised for braking as the Red Bull was, and releasing the brakes and opening the steering was not always an option for those not in a Red Bull. This was seconded by Alonso, who pointed to his incident with Gutierrez in Melbourne as a perfect example of what can happen in those circumstances, whilst still holding Esteban blameless.
Wehrlein, who brought out the red flag in P3 was first out the gate, with Ocon not far behind. Perez made it a trio as the first minute dutifully ticked off the clock.
Nasr lumped it onto the track about 30 seconds followed by Ericsson. A mix of Soft and Super Soft tyres, with Ocon and Perez on the Soft for starters.
3 minutes gone and 15 left with still no sign of the sharp end on the track. Early days it was Wehrlein on the Super Soft in a 1:39.319 who ruled the roost. But not for long as with 13 minutes left in the session Red Bull and Mercedes roused themselves from their afternoon torpor and headed to the track to set some times.
Ferrari rolled out about a minute later and it was all hands as the times began to volley in.
Grosjean to the top with 10 minutes left as Hamilton was crushing it with purple sectors and P1 with a 1:36.296. Rosberg behind him managed to be just a tenth off with Verstappen in P3, 0.317 back.
Gutierrez reported brake problems and it was Massa P4, at least until Ricciardo sailed through the start finish to take away his candy.
Mercedes took to the pits while Raikkonen outdid Vettel, whose radio was full of sweary words. both Ferrari’s were sat behind the Red Bulls though and then to make the Scuderia yet indeed more uncofortable, the newly liberated Hulkenberg set a lap time faster than both Ferraris, going P5 and highlighting the utter car building genius of Bob Fernley, who would likely do a much better job fixing Ferrari than Bouillier, but is also probably smart enough not to touch that job with a twenty foot pole.
Into the pits for those with work left to do. Bottas ahead of Massa natch, Alonso P11 from Sainz P10, but it was Gutierrez, Ocon, Wehrlein, Ericsson, Button and Nasr with it all on the line, and Grosjean, Magnussen and Massa were far from comfortable as the track hotted up for their last fling at Q2 glory.
Button was first on it and well early too, nearly 2 minutes left on the clock when he cracked timing and scoring. P16 as he hit huge traffic, but enough time for one more go if he kept his foot in it.
Ericsson to P13 and there went Button, victim of being sent out on Softs for his first run. Perhaps Macca have hired some Ferrari strategists when we weren’t looking.
Gutierrez into P15, Palmer P16 and Grosjean eliminated, not a great result for the American team at their home race but also no great surprise.
Button all over the radio to complain about the traffic, particularly the Renault of Palmer, which occupied the racing line into T20, as Palmer complained on the radio that he was not getting the info from his engineer he had asked for re traffic. Of course, the larger issue for Button was not driving fast enough and Macca sending him out at a weird time, so he picked up all the runners trying to get their tyres and brakes into the window as they tried to time their lap to beat the checquered flag.
Heading for the craft beers were Grosjean, Magnussen, Button, Wehrlein, Nasr and Ocon, with the rest turning it around for Q2.
Q2 was off quick with Mercedes out from the moment the track turned green. Again Perez was 3rd to come out to play as this time round it was Rosberg leading Hamilton round, both on the Soft tyre, no surprise after they tipped their hand in P3.
12:30 left and it was once again Hamilton stealing the purple from Rosberg S1. The needle flipped back for S2 and Nico kept it for S3, going P1 for the moment, with Hamilton taking his turn to be a tenth slower.
Red Bull split strategy, sending Verstappen on the Soft and Ricciardo on the Super Soft. Ferrari went all in on the Supers as Perez hung about gfor the moment in P3.
Bottas neatly demoted him and then with 8 minutes to go, Ricciardo went P1 on the Supers, roughly a tenth up on Rosberg. Raikkonen was heading for a quick time as Verstappen went P5 with his race set of Softs. Raikkonen’s purple S1 did not lead to glory at the top of the leaderboard, and Vettel managed to neatly outpoint him over the full lap, taking P4.
Hulkenberg maintained his status as class of the midfield, P7 and closest to Verstappen of the midfield.
5 minutes to go and it was lonely Ericsson, rolling round the track as the rest of the field were resetting for their last shot, with Sainz, Kvyat, Ericsson, Massa, Gutierrez and Palmer with it all to play for.
Alonso, Bottas, Perez and then a big gap to the Hulk as the cars trickled back out with just 3 minutes left in the session, and the long wait as they circled to build temperatures in tyres and brakes.
As Alonso approached T20 the checquers fell and it was P9 for Alonso. Bottas P8. Hulkenberg to P8 and Sainz to P8 effectively dispatching Alonso. Kvyat to P12 then Massa to P10 and ending Perez. P14 for Palmer demotes Gutierrez to P15, and that was the end of Q2, neatly coinciding with a snack from the commissary.
Perez, Alonso, Kvyat, Gutierrez, Palmer, and Ericsson were headed for the pit BBQ while the top 10 prepared for their final shot at glory. Special shout out to the Hulk and Sainz, with his year old Ferrari engine, just smoking the opposition today.
At the top it looked fun, with Hamilton quicker on the first run on Supers, and Rosberg quicker on the Softs on the second run. With Verstappen back on the Supers the top 4 spots were all up for a brutal struggle for dominance.
AS the track went green for Q3, it was the deafening sound of silence for the first 30 seconds, before Rosberg again was first out, followed by Hamilton and Verstappen. Vettel kept the V thing going and then Raikkonen and Ricciardo continued the alphabetical theme. Sometimes I think the teams do this on purpose, just to see if we’re paying attention.
An aching 2 minutes later Rosberg put his foot into it and off he went, through timing and scoring and immediately very wide through T1, handing the first sector to Lewis by nearly 0.2s and possibly leaving a hole for Verstappen as well. Another half a tenth in S2 for Lewis and then a bag full of nope as Rosberg took S3. Still it was provisional pole for the Brit, running a 1:35.37 about 0.075s up on his teammate.
Ricciardo and Verstappen nearly a half second back followed by Vettel and Raikkonen over a second off.
Room for both the Mercedes to do better on their second run as Hulkenberg and Sainz both have now embarassed the Williams by going P7 and P8, ahead of Bottas and Massa.
Bottas lit the way for the final runs with just 3 minutes left on the clock. Hulkenberg, Massa, Sainz, Rosberg and Hamilton followed in short order.
Verstappen and Ricciardo, trickled out with 2:30 left and as 2 minutes approached it was the Ferrari’s rocking out of the garage adn apparently enjoying a quicker outlap than the rest of the cars.
Weird shift to 7th reported by Lewis as Nico screamed across timing and scoring. Again wide through T1 but much better than the first effort. Half a tenth off as Lewis improved his first run’s time to take S1, nearly 0.3s up on Rosberg. S2 saw Nico claw some back and S3….. to Rosberg by a tick but not nearly enough as Lewis crossed the line. 1:34.999 took pole position for Hamilton and it was Rosberg P2 in a 1:35.215. T1 proving to be THE difference in Q3.
Verstappen was quickest of the Red Bulls, and Raikkonen did the job on Vettel, but don’t ask Arrivabene any questions about that as journos have been warned not to talk to him this weekend. Things clearly going swimmingly at the Scuderia lately.
The Hulk neatly dispatched Williams, but Sainz was relegated to P10 with their second effort, Bottas still leading Massa in that competition.
Hamilton, Rosberg and Verstappen all start on the Softs, with Ferrari and Ricciardo on the Supers so some interesting strategy on offer for tomorrow. Mercedes haven’t had both cars cleanly off the line from the front since I can’t remember when (and no, not just my age talking there, LOL) and as the commentariat were quick to point out, it will be Lewis with a lot more to lose in any wheel to wheel hijinks at the start.
Turn 1 offers many a way through, and it’s not inconceivable that a flying Ferrari could come screaming around the outside to cause the odd problems, though with Vettel lately doing his best Maldonado imitations at the start, up the inside is perhaps equally likely and crashtastic to boot.
Shame the races generally aren’t as close as the qualifying, but here’s hoping tomorrow will prove an exception to the rule. Red Bull supposedly have the long run pace, and I will just throw it out there that based on P2 times the Soft will be quicker than the Medium for about 15 laps and then it starts rapidly losing out.
Banging job by Sainz and the Hulk today, the class of the midfield and still also Palmer, again edging Magnussen as the season starts to run out of shots at redemption. And congrats to Lewis on his first ever pole at COTA, a factoid which certainly surprised me…
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