Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 29° Track 32° Humidity 48% Wind 1.5 m/s
OK kiddies time to heat the coffee or top up the whisky depending on your time zone as the first qualifying of the year offers the one thing that F1 has had in short supply of late: Genuine uncertainty.
Already the new formula has claimed it’s first victim, Pascal Wehrlein, his back not yet recovered from his brutal crash in ROC, has cried “Hold, enough” opening the way for Ferrari protege Antonio Giovinazzi to claim his first F1 weekend, though in a Sauber to be fair.
Lance Stroll has also fallen foul of the regs as he put his Williams into the wall in the last minutes of FP3, though in his case it’s because he whacked the rear suspension hard enough to necessitate changing the gearbox, earning him a 5 spot penalty before he puts the first wheel across the line in anger.
After looking rather ordinary yesterday, Ferrari was back at the front, running a Mercedes sandwich, with Bottas and Hamilton in between Vettel and Raikkonen. Of course, we’ve seen that plenty in the past without it ever coming to anything, but at least one can pretend for the moment. Christian Horner in particular was visibly amused, suggesting that Vettel was running well light on fuel, but the fact of the matter is that Red Bull are looking nowhere this weekend, Ferrari’s suspension gambit apparently having hit home as Max and Danny porpoised along throughout FP3.
How bad was it for Red Bull, well if Hulkenberg in a Renault ahead of Ricciardo in a Red Bull is your definition of bad, then bad it was. It was also less than good for British hopeful Palmer, who was sunk in P19 running the same equipment.
The midfield looked exceptionally brutal, with Sainz always a favourite, but Grosjean looking quick and Williams the big unknown as Massa was unable to set a time thanks to his teammate’s red flagging the end of the session. And of course, Hulkenberg.
With less cars comes new numbers and it’s 5 out Q1, 5 out Q2 and as usual, all the marbles in P3.
McLaren were first out of the gate, with their upshift making the kind of sound that horrifies anyone who cares about their equipment, but much improved from the sack of woe that was their testing at Barcelona. Of course, no sooner was that typed than back to the box for Stoffel as the track hotted up.
Ferrari off early on the Supers with the rest keeping company on the Ultras as the clock ticked by 14:30, Mercedes and Red Bull hanging back in the garage for a change. AS Vettel put in an early time, Mercedes emerged from the garage on the Ultras. Raikkonen was looking good and then, right at the end of his lap he put his wheels just a bit too far off and coated them with the dirt, forcing him to abandon and reset.
12 minutes to go and Mercedes was on it, Bottas lighting it up purple, sector after sector. Hamilton kept him close company, finishing just 0.021s off his teammate and locking up their trip to Q2 along with P1-P2.
Bad news for Vandoorne as a fuel flow problem robbed him of whatever power his Honda might have once had. 8:30 to go and Ricciardo was on it as problems mounted for Raikkonen, calling in about suspected damage on his wing and languishing in P9.
Hamilton’s second effort put him 0.3s up on Bottas as Verstappen, spectacularly flatspotted his tyres, but carried on as Red Bull’s programme didn’t leave him time to have a reset. Raikkonen was down to P10 with 5:30 left and looking at having to strap on a new pair of tyres and go back out. Off camera Perez had put in a spectacular lap to go P4 as Stroll didn’t crash, but did go P18, slowest of those that had set a time.
Across the 4 minute mark and Ricciardo took P4 from Perez whilst at the back it was the scintillating Giovinazzi going P14 ahead of Ericsson with an hours worth of running.
Ocon through and into P14 putting Ericsson out of Q2 for the moment whilst Magnussen, Stroll and Palmer had it all to do. Vandoorne was kicked out the door just in time but couldn’t get it done and commentator’s curse, at the end of his 2nd lap Giovinazzi made a mistake and spoiled his lap, allowing Ericsson to take P15 and the last spot in the chopper out of Q1.
Left behind were Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Stroll and Palmer. But it couldn’t have been a good feeling to be Pascal Wehrlein, as all the commentariat could talk about was Giovinazzi’s robust performance with no preparation whatsoever.
A thoroughly irritated Raikkonen strapped on a set of Ultras to make sure he made it through to Q2 and set a time only 0.2s off Hamilton at the top of the mountain
Q2 kicked off with Mercedes first off, and onto the Ultras , Bottas rocking a brand new set to Lewis’ slightly scruffy ones. Rain in the distance as Bottas again drew first blood with a 1:23.215 and Lewis 0.036s off. Raikkonen then Vettel filled out the hypothetical second row with Kimi just 0.161 off the Mercedes.
Ricciardo took up a more traditional P5 and with 9 minutes left the 2nd shift got ready to set some times, with Massa, Grosjean, Alonso and Ericsson getting ready to bang out some laps.
Massa cranked up to P7 and as the clock ticked past 6 minutes to go, Ericsson confirmed his P15 by going P15 and it was Sainz, Kvyat and Perez occupying the last of the coveted seats to the promised land of Q3.
4 minutes to go and all those in danger were back in the box readying for one more go before the checkers flew.
Vettel took advantage of a quiet track to have another go and around the last turn and it was a 1:23.4 and no improvement. No word on why Lewis was left on 6 lap old tyres, unless the info from the F1 app was wrong.
Checkers!! Hulkenberg to P8 as Ocon approached but troubled no one with his P14. Gro was next to crack the line and it was P8 for him, displacing the Hulk to P9. Alonso had leaving Perez last one on track but it was P11 for Sergio, and on replay it clearly appeared that Massa may have been responsible for his sub par performance as Felipe apparently forgot he had mirrors on his cool down lap.
Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Ocon and Ericsson were done like a dinner as the rest got ready to play for all the chips.
At the end of the session, it was revealed that Vettel had slowed at the end of his second effort, significantly, and that Lewis was actually on new tyres. Perez refused to ding Massa and said it looked worse than it was. Lots of speculation from the commentariat as to Vettel’s motive, but drops of rain were on the way as the track opened for Q3.
Thanks to the incoming weather it was a proper scrum at the pit exit with Bottas ahead of Vettel then Hamilton and Raikkonen, but visible drops hitting the drivers as they racked up their outlap.
Bang and Bottas was off with 10 minutes left, but it was Vettel over Bottas S1 then Hamilton cleaning up from both. S2 went the same way with just 0.01 between Vettel and Hamilton . Bottas 1:22.798 then Vettel aced him with a 1:22.796 before Lewis completed the purple trifecta and went 1:22.496, a full 0.3s up.
Raikkonen languished and then it was Ricciardo into a spin and well into the wall at T14, smashing the rear of the car, red flagging the session with 8 minutes left. Ricciardo’s place in the order meant that only the first 4 drivers actually set a time as the rest had their effort ended by the stoppage. AS the track was cleared, the weather hovered ominously about, and much effort was expended trying to dissect the exact cause of the Aussie’s mishap.
As the exit went green, the sun began to cut through the clouds and it was a lonely Grosjean first out.
He made his outlap and most of his hotlap before Mercedes trickled out followed by the rest of the field. Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel in that order as the 2 minute mark flashed by.
Grosjean went P5 by dint of being first across the line with a 1:24.074.
Again it was Bottas going fast, then Hamilton going faster in S1. S2 saw the positions reversed and it was all down to S3. Bottas reclaimed the top spot by 0.01s until Lewis rocketed past the checkers with a 1:22.188 decisively claiming the first pole of the year. Behind him, it was Vettel thoroughly hooked up and as he crossed the line, it was not enough for P1 but more than enough for P2, less than 0.3s off the Mercedes. Bottas was not troubled by Raikkonen for P3 and it was Verstappen claiming P5 in lieu of his stricken comrade. Grosjean, who had a remarkable drive to make Q2, took full advantage of Ricciardo’s disaster and settled himself into P6, proving the worth of this year’s Ferrari power unit rather emphatically.
Massa, Sainz, Kvyat and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10 and just as spring returns to the Northern Hemisphere, so too for one more night at least does hope return to the paddock that we may yet have a proper season of racing for the top spot.
New Blue flag procedures for the benefit of one Mr. Sebastian Vettel have been instituted, though should he find himself trailing a Mercedes as the rear end of a Sauber approaches he may yet regret his remarkably creative use of invective in the past.
There are still wide unknowns about fuel usage and energy regeneration given the faster speeds and then there’s always the start to discuss. New clutches for all and a redesign for Merc, but all in all Ferrari has owned the launch more often than not.
Brilliant from Grosjean and Giovinazzi as well and depths of despair for Palmer who melted down on camera about how undriveable his car was. Joining him in the misery pit were Stroll and Vandoorne, though for different reasons. Stroll because he was embarassingly slow after destroying his car yet again and Vandoorne, because literally everything that might have gone wrong for him went wrong.
Massive lap from Lewis to cap it off and he walks into the race tomorrow as odds on favourite, after a superlative qualifying.
Points on Sunday though!
Remember, Play Nice in the Comments!