Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 19° Track 27° Humidity 82% Wind 5.8 m/s
Just when you think the drama is done, leave it to McLaren to drag politics into it. By which I mean the impending doom of Ron Dennis, who is rumoured to be getting the boot from the team that he has run for the past 31 years, to a greater or lesser extent. In essence, having rather Shakespeareanely betrayed Mansour Ojjeh and Martin Whitmarsh as well in order to return from the exile of running the road car division to the sweet warm embrace of F1, Dennis is now on the wrong end of a buyout he had promised and will be reaping the whirlwind should he be unable to secure last minute funding that will satisfy the Bahraini’s.
Rather more boringly, it turns out that the WDC might be ending this weekend, should Rosberg be able to secure top spot. To that end, he managed another big turnaround, going from being several tenths off yesterday to a full tenth up on his rival, Hamilton in FP3.
Though it should be noted at this point that the drizzle that plagued Sky during the pre-Quali show had started on Hamilton’s effort and that in general, he has significantly oupterformed Rosberg in wet and cold conditions, as Nico struggles to keep his tyres up to temperature in those circumstances. That being the case, of course, wet conditions also ups the uncertainty for all drivers, as anyone who remembers Hamilton being punted from the lead by Hulkenberg at Sao Paolo a few years ago would likely agree.
Ferrari continues to flail, first by appealing the penalty received by Vettel at the Mexican Grand Prix and more immediately by discovering a hydraulic leak on Vettel’s car that was still under repair with less than 30 minutes left to the start of the session. Raikkonen also spent a nice chunk of FP2 trundling about on the extra set of Hard Tyres, suggesting they might be looking to 2 stop perhaps instead of 3, such is the nature of their qualifying deficit. And strategic deficit. And organisational deficit etc and so on…
Alonso once again ruled Social Media when, after being forced to abandon his car for ERS issues in FP2, he took a brief shot at running the remote camera whilst he was stranded on the outside of the track, and FOM chose to run his previous year’s lounge chair adventure strictly for the giggles.
Williams and Force India still have rather a lot to play for as do Sauber and Manor, with the glory of the championship being replaced with the grim desperation of cold hard cash.
Drizzle abating as the session approaches, and Ferarri having the floor off of Vettel’s car is all kinds of nope, particularly as Marchionne has already promised not to dump unlimited funds into next year’s effort, which will of course, require unlimited funds to be successful.
Tyre pressures are 20.5/21.5 F/R and relative to the brutally hot temperatures yesterday afternoon, it’s a cold and nasty track today. Such was the Merc advantage yesterday, Mark Hughes reckons that they could make Q3 on the Medium tyre with 0.03s in hand. Stag-Gerr-Ing.
With the weather being highly uncertain it was Mercedes at the front of the pack with Lewis leading the way the moment the track went green. Vettel was still in the garage and the wind had picked up into T4 with Hamilton being warned to be wary of the changing conditions.
S1 went the way of Rosberg, S2 for Hamilton with both running across the Red Bulls. S3 went the way of Lewis as well and he was P1 with 1:11.511 and Rosberg nearly 0.3s back and definitely getting the worst of the Red Bull on it’s out lap in terms of placement.
Mercedes was brought in and told to keep the tyres warm as they “might be needed again” as Verstappen went P3, followed by Raikkonen and Ricciardo.
Raikkonen had kept his foot in it and banged out the fastest S1, though his S2 left much to be desired. While that was going on, Vettel had finally managed to get his car screwed back together and with 11 minutes to go he was on his hot lap, with Kimi reporting the drizzle was picking up a bit.
Slightly further down the order, Williams was well ahead of Force India, with Bottas and Massa P7 and P6 and Hulkenberg hanging on to P11 by his fingernails and Perez P15.. And Hulkenberg radioed in that “it ain’t happenin'” as he headed to the pits to reassess and have one more go.
Those with it all to play for at the 7 minute mark, Button, Wehrlein, Ocon, Nasr, Ericsson, and Magnussen.
Palmer, Perez and Gutierrez were certainly on the bubble as well as the track emptied with 5 minutes left to play, and the runners set about making their last stand. AS that transpired, suddenly the heavens opened!! No, not like that, the clouds cleared and the sun came out to smile on Gutierrez. who frankly needed something nice to happen after summarily getting the boot from HAAS for next season.
Button was next to be on it but lost mega time, keeping him squarely in P17, not really where he wanted to be, as the rest of the runners hit the track.
1:10 to go and Alonso was up to P9 as Grosjean hit scoring and timing to go P10. Big off by Sainz as he slid wide, p12 as he awaited his fate. Magnussen just up to to P18 and Palmer kept P16 as Button proved helpless to manage the car, complaining of both understeer and oversteer at different points in the corner and rather sarcastically saying on the radio “Well we’ve solved those problems haven’t we?” missing perhaps the fact that Alonso apparently had.
Button, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Ocon, Ericsson and Nasr were off to the churrascaria with Nasr having been accused of impeding by Palmer to put the cherry on this particular sundae for the other Felipe.
Back to overcast for the start of Q2 and again Mercedes at the head of the field, with all the teams sporting Softs. Again Rosberg dinged Hamilton for S1 by nearly a tenth. S2 went the way of Lewis as did S3, leaving Hamilton 0.14s up with a 1:11.238 and P1 for the second straight session. Clearly as well starting the race on the Softs and leaving another epic shootout looming for Q3 and pole.
Vettel had a bit of a wiggly moment coming through the last turn, but he still managed to go P4, just behind Verstappen, who hated the hot track but was looking rather untouchable on the colder tarmac. Ricciardo rounded out the top 5 and Alonso had managed to infiltrate himself between the two Williams, with Bottas P7 and Massa P9 this time around.
Kvyat, Palmer, Perez, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Gutierrez had it all to do with 7 minutes left and it was Perez first to have a go as the track was relatively empty, pulling P10 just behind his teammate Hulkenberg, sending Massa back to the drawing board as the teams reset for their last tilt at Q3 glory.
4 minutes to go and it was Palmer out by himself and 2 big lockups did nothing to help himself out of the relegation zone, but within it, moved himself up to P12. Forlorn, he abandoned the track as the rest spilled out to have the final say over who made Q3.
Alonso led the way, followed by Massa and Hulkenberg. Gutierrez, Sainz, Perez and Kvyat made up the next tier with Grosjean and Bottas aiming to cross the line just before the checkers flew.
Hulkenberg had the S1 advantage over Alonso, but Fernando hit a personal best for S2 that Nico couldn’t match. P7 for alonso and P10 for the Hulk as Perez and Grosjean managed to get between them. Massa could do no better than an anemic P13 and in a real shocker, Bottas wound up P11 as both Williams were dispatched brutally from Q3, their pace woeful in their last effort. Thankfully they have excellent tyre management….. oh wait, nevermind.
Banging lap from Grosjean to make Q3 and off go Bottas, Gutierrez, Massa, Kvyat, Sainz and Palmer for caipirinhas as those at the top prepared for the ultimate shot at Q3 glory.
Q3 started as Q2 did, Hamilton then Rosberg straight onto the track followed by Alonso and Raikkonen.
Hamilton screamed across the line to kick off the festivities. S1 and it was again Rosberg by 0.003s. S2 and the needle tipped to Hamilton and he hit a 1:10.860 as he crossed the line. And again, nothing that Rosberg could do, still lingering 0.15s off and at the low end of the 1:11’s. Verstappen, then Vettel, then Ricciardo then Raikkonen all hit the line and thus they were. Hulkenberg went P8 with Alonso currently the best of the rest and perhaps some of those McHonda doubters might wish to be reconsidering their position right about now.
In lap and Rosberg was asked if he wanted more pressure, and he complained of traction at the back, a distant echo perhaps of his issues getting the tyres into the window when the temperature drops.
Into the pits and time for last adjustments with 4 minutes left to go. Grosjean became the first to have a go on the empty track going epic P7 with just 2 minutes left to go.
Hamilton then Rosberg emerged for their final duel, with Alonso, Vettel and Verstappen trailing not too far behind. And there they went, car compressed through the last corner as Hamilton gave it full throttle, echoing down the start finish and going purple yet again for S1!! Again Rosberg topped him but a mighty S2 saw Lewis up again and for the last time as it was again Hamilton’s S3 that held the line, going 1:10.736 to Rosberg’s 1:10.838 and taking pole, the momentum of the pivotal middle sector setting him up nicely for holding his lead. Those with a keen memory, i.e not me, will remember Rosberg using S2 in the past to stay free of Hamilton’s DRS about 2 seasons ago.
Raikkonen killed it again, pulling a P3 from an undisclosed bodily loacation, followed by Verstappen and Vettel, and Ricciardo once more the lanterne rouge of the top teams.
Alonso’s fortunes reversed rather unfortunately, a meagre P10 but the standout this round was clearly Grosjean, whose new brake material was well argued for, as his newfound confidence on the brakes has finally yielded the measure of the HAAS team. Force India now appear to have the ultimate upper hand in the race tomorrow, as not only do the Williams suffer in the wet, but Force India have the superior tyre management, meaning that even trying to go long will be an option that has a lower probability of success for the team from Grove.
The long knives will also be out between Red Bull and Ferrari tomorrow so there will be plenty of fun to be had, but the attention of the telly and the journos will be all over the battle for WDC. Hamilton fan’s will be delighted to see aliens attack and blow up Rosberg’s car on the grid whilst Rosberg fan’s will be looking forward to Lewis again straight lining the first corner, this time directly into the barriers. On race pace, Hamilton was quicker on his FP2 laps, but Rosberg ran slower then put in a really fast lap as Lewis ended his run, so it might just be down to Mercedes exploring different strategy options and not a fundamental difference in pace.
The best outcome for race fans, however, will be one that sees winning the last race of the season as the requirement for being WDC, double points or no. Hopefully the writers are getting their final script revisions to Toto even as we speak. Will it be the start, the weather, or just perhaps the race pace and strategy of Red Bull that animates the race tomorrow. Or perhaps Ferrari finally leave Raikkonen alone and he gets it done. Right, once you’re done laughing….
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