Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 21° Track 32° Humidity 66% Wind 2.1 m/s
Well another day another dollar, as the drivers finally delivered some entertainment in FP3 after a day of mega weather normally reserved for apocalyptic zombie movies canceled pretty much all of FP1 AND FP2.
And entertaining it was as Vettel and Raikkonen topped the time sheets with Mercedes looking decidedly on the back foot. Perhaps the disintegration of Bottas’ T wing provided the perfect visual metaphor for Team Merc, as Lewis looked all but set to outdo Vettel but then completely bollixed the hairpin and wound up P4 for the session, leaving a lingering question mark as to whether Mercedes will be able to pull another qualifying rabbit out of whatever nameless orifice they seem to be storing them in.
Meanwhile, even on this bestest day of weather, a liberal application of the word grey would not even begin to cover the formless beast that regularly swallows the sky around Shanghai; air not just thick enough to cut with a knife, but lightly bread, sear in cast iron then finish in an oven at 500°F.
For those playing used parts bingo at home, Ricciardo and Bottas are both sporting new Control Electronics whilst RoGro and Stoffel “the Waffle” are banging with new Turbochargers and new MGU-Hs. And Everyone who failed to finish in Australia (which was rather a lot) are also showing off their shiny new gearboxes, which they are allowed to change free of penalty, unless you count having to drive a Mclaren a penalty, of course.
But it’s the whispering winds of change that will be sending a chill down the neck of Toto Wolff, for the second race in a row his mighty Death Star is looking somewhat vulnerable, and it won’t be long before the whispers about whether letting Paddy walk out the door was indeed the smartest move.
AS the green light approached, a massive ball of fire called the sun made a last, desperate attempt to claw through the murk, but it was ultimately fruitless, portending who knows what in this day and age.
Bang! And out straightaway went Giovinazzi and Ericsson, trailed by Stroll as the first of the 18 minutes began to trickle away, all rocking the SuperSofts.
First lap time went to Giovinazzi who naturally shot to the top, but the important number was 0.432 along with the fact that this was his margin over his erstwhile Swedish teammate who came P2 to his early effort.
Stroll eclipsed both as the track filled rapidly with runners on their outlaps, to the top with a 1:35. Ferrari sent Raikkonen and Vettel out on Soft tyres, perhaps to taunt their nearest rivals who followed the crowd on the Supers.
With 11 minutes left Hamilton went fastest yet, but he was crossed with a spinning Grosjean. Despite the yellows, Lewis still rocked up with a 1:33.078. Puncture for Grosjean as Raikkonen fetched up just shy of Lewis and Vettel overtopped him, taking top spot with a set of Softs, nearly 0.3s up.
Bottas took the expected P4 and it was Ricciardo taking P5 while Verstappen called in with engine trouble.Told to box with 6:30 left, he also got nabbed at the weigh bridge, adding insult to injury.
AS terror time approached, those languishing at the bottom of the time charts were Stroll, Ocon, Palmer, Grosjean and Verstappen, with the bottom two yet to set a time. Vandoorne on the bubble ws suffering engine ailments of an unspecified nature and as Macca tried to give him one more go, young Lance Stroll was sent out to a track bereft of traffic in an attempt to give the young Canandian the best possible circumstances to make Q2.
A fairly successful tactic as it played out as Stroll jumped to P5, ahead of Ricciardo and Massa. With less than a minute left, Verstappen suffered again his mystery engine ailment and P17 was the best he could do, though he did have one more bite at the apple coming as he crossed the line before the checkers fell.
Action at the bottom was now furious. Vandoorne was through P16 and then, Giovinazzi was onto the astrograss out of the last corner, tossing him into a spin and directly into the tyre barrier, permanently taking the bloom off that particular rose. Grosjean, Palmer and Ocon all had their laps spoiled and would go no further, along with Verstappen who fetched up P19 in his ailing Red Bull.
During the delayed start to Q2, it was revealed that Verstappen had software issues whilst both Grosjean and Palmer were under investigation for not slowing for yellow flags.
Slightly further up the grid and with a fair amount of self-commentary on his own self-heroism, Alonso wrestled his car into P10.
Finally the pit exit went green and it was Stroll the first one out of the gate. Raikkonen was right behind him and by time the first minute had ticked by all of the main players save Ricciardo graced the asphalt.
Reminders that the race set of tyres were at stake hit the ears of Hamilton on his out lap. Stroll was out first but rapidly it was Vettel setting the purple sectors. Hamilton couldn’t get it done in S1 but Bottas did, while Hamilton claimed the S2 crown. Across the line, Vettel topped Raikkonen as Lewis charged down the final corner. Splitting the Scuderia was the best Hamilton could do, 0.015s slower than Vettel and then Bottas came through and made Mercedes the meat in the Ferrari sandwich, taking P3 away from the Iceman.
With the top 4 covered by 0.211s, Ricciardo started the race for best of the rest, P5 but more than a full second off Vettel. Massa took round 2 off Stroll for P6 and at the interval, it ws alonso, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Ericsson and of course, the rather stationary Giovinazzi on the outside looking in with 3 minutes left in the session.
Perez on the bubble was back out and with 2:30 left the track was hopping, including both Ferraris, quite surprisingly.
Hulkenberg and Kvyat were in the TV eye as the checkers fell. P6 for the Hulk, Kvyat to P8 as Sainz was in trouble. Perez to P8 as Sainz could do no better than P11 and when the dust settled, it was Stroll just eking out his first Q3 visit. The Ferrari strategy elevated Kimi to the top rung of Q2 with a new lap record of the circuit. Headed for the dim sum at craft services were Sainz, Magnussen, Alonso, Ericsson, and the ever still stationary Giovinazzi, while the rest of the teams put their various noses to the grindstone, lifted themselves up by various bootstraps and got ready to play for all the marbles.
Q3 and Hulk, Kvyat and then the Hamilton were eagerly out of the gate, while the Ferrari strategy was do the opposite, apparently, with Vettel and Kimi cooling their heels in the garage till the clock hit the 10 minute mark, when they were dutifully launched down the pit lane.
Purple for Hamilton S1, Purple S2 but then Vettel took his S1 toy away as Lewis hit the Hairpin.
Big oversteer for Kvyat as Bottas ticked the box for P2. Raikkonen had a less than perfect P3 and then Vettel into P2, 0.2s off and no doubt scratching his head a bit as it looked to be his lap. Fastest ever lap for Lewis (2nd one for the night/morning/day or whatever it was depending on where you were watching)in 1:31.902 as Vettel’s travails were down to a gust of wind T12 unsettling the car.
2:30 to go and back out they went with Vettel looking to be last across the line whilst Hamilton again was running 4th in line on the outlaps, led by Perez, Kvyat and Ricciardo and a nice gap.
Into T1 Lewis went and it was not purple but still up on his first effort. Purpled S2 as Vettel hit S1 and then through the hairpin and tearing down the straight, shredding space time for a 1:31.678. Bottas P2 and it was all down to Vettel, who again managed to split the Mercedes by a rather gnarly 0.001. It was a further 0.3s back to a lacklustre Raikkonen, and then an absolutely mental full second to Ricciardo in P5.
Of course with rain predicted tomorrow, it’s anyone’s game but the good news for F1’s new owners is it looks like there will be a legit race for WCC and WDC this year. The bad news is it only involves 2 teams and the gap to the rest of the field is, at the moment, horrifying to say the least.
But the best news is that the weather tomorrow is supposed to be spectacularly unpredictable which is good news for the race fans, but already has the writers grumbling. And in fantastic developments, Vettel coined the phrase “chickened onto the brakes” in the post quali presser.
Good work for Kvyat and Stroll, but especially kudos to the Hulk for knocking out a P7 when it mattered most!
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