Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 21° Track 40° Humidity 37% Wind 2.0 m/s
If you had 4 races in the “How Long before McHonda get an engine penalty” office pool, congratulations, your ship has come in. 15 place banger for Stoffel as misery and woe continues to be visited on the team from Woking. But McHonda far from the only team with engine issues as Jolyon Palmer will be rocking a new Power Unit as well, his having given up the ghost in FP3.
Even the upfront teams are not immune, as it’s looking as if Ferrari’s ICE has a propensity for munching turbochargers, an expensive proposition when figured in grid penalty terms. Given that a balky wheelgun and 6 seconds extra on a pit stop helped turn the race in the favor of Ferrari in Bahrain, looming grid penalties could mean Mercedes strong focus on reliability could be the ultimate arbiter in the championship this season.
Which is good for Mercedes, as they look to be nowhere relative to Ferrari this weekend, and though their rainbow unicorn powered Quali map may yet see them on pole, the tyre issues that have plagued them thus far appear yet to be settled.
Of course it’s not F1 unless the fans have something to complain about and in this case it’s the news that next year’s regs will ditch the move to 3 power units only as it turns out to be rather expensive to engineer for that level of reliability. This of course throws into question the whole idea of limited Power Units being an effective cost savings measure in the first place, a question that might’ve been asked before Whiting dashed off the regs in the margins of a cocktail napkin.
Pressure squarely on Mercedes as the track waited to go green, the fans waiting eagerly to see if Mercedes could throw enough sandbags out of the car to maintain their death grip on pole position. In the telegenic background, snowcapped peaks were silhouetted against a brilliant azure sky as the cars prepared to roll.
The track went green and it was homeboy Kvyat leading the way, followed by Magnussen, Grosjean and Wehrlein as the midfield battle looked to be particularly torrid. Early days, already calls for drivers to do 2 warm up laps instead of 1 as the smooth asphalt at Sochi has made getting all 4 corners working properly a real dark art for the teams.
Kvyat first in with a time 1:37.052 but he was rapidly eclipsed with Sainz taking king of the midfield for the moment on a 1:36.575, followed by Magnussen and Danii in P3 till Alonso crossed the line with 12:30 left in the session, taking it away and moving the Russian 1 step further down the order.
Mercedes and Ferrari were out of the garage as the teams at the top circulated on their complex pattern of out and cooling laps, desperately trying to get tyres into the optimum temperature range.
Bottas was first to kick off a proper effort, on the Ultrasofts but it was Ferrari again on the Supersofts in opposition to the rest of the field.
In short order it was Verstappen to the top, then Bottas with Vettel slotting in P2 about a second off. Hamilton was forced to bail as he lost the rear a bit in T8 and had to abandon the lap, as his weekend continued to be umm less than ideal shall we say.
Williams was out and Perez rocked himself a P6, with Ocon P7 0.055s behind. At least until Felipe Massa outdid them both. It was Hulkenberg again being the surprise lingering in P6 between Verstappen and Ricciardo. Vettel had another go on his more durable tyres and with 6 or so minutes left in the session Vettel halved his deficit to Bottas, suggesting that Merc had few if any sandbags to toss out the chassis this time round.
But then it was Lewis scruffing his way to P2, just ahead of Vettel and well behind (0.3s) his teammate. Reports that Mercedes was struggling with front tyres and the understeer that would bring would fit with Lewis generally hating on understeery cars, liking a bit of oversteer to make the car work its best.
So damage control for Merc and as the minutes ticked down it was alonso, Wehrlein, Vandoorne, Ericsson, and Grosjean with it all to do and Palmer in the bubble.
AS the last seconds ticked off it was Alonso on telly trying to get into Q2 and into P13 as Palmer was last across the line and immediately to yellows and the end of the Palmers effort as both he and Wehrlein apparently became somewhat acquainted with the wall. Jolyon had clipped the sausage kerb at the apex of T1 which unsettled the back and sent him straight into the tyre wall. Wehrlein was a rather simpler affair, with the rear overtaking the front but the car staying short of actual damage.
Palmer, Vandoorne, Wehrlein, Ericsson and Grosjean were done like a dinner as the rest turned it around to get ready for Q2.
Massa, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Bottas led the way as the track went green for Q2. Hamilton lingered for a bit then followed suit. No tyre shenanigans for Ferrari in Q2 as they were launched on the Ultrasofts along with the rest of the field.
Massa looked to be on it after his warm up, rocking a 1:35.677, 0.6s up on Stroll. Hulkenberg was on a 2 lap strategy and then it was Kvyat with a proper effort, going P2 just ahead of his teammate, a turnaround from Q1, with Hamilton trailing through on a 2 lap strategy, just behind Danii.
Purple S1, Green S2 and then Green S3 and into the 1:33’s but nowhere near Bottas, who rocked Raikkonen off the top spot with a 1:33.264 and it was the DeathStar duo P1 and P2 as Vettel could do no more (purposefully perhaps?) than a 1:34.708, 0.775s back in P3.
Ricciardo appeared to be suffering a bit as both Hulkenberg and Massa were between him and Verstappen, and the performance gap between the Red Bull teammates had to be preying a bit on the cheerful Aussie’s mind. Perez set no time as he had an exceeded track limits moment and it was Kvyat, Sainz, Magnussen, Alonso joining him on the outside looking in as the time dipped below 5 minutes left in the session.
3 minutes to go and Kvyat was out and on it, whilst Ferrari decided to play with their extra set of tyres and wandered back out. Kvyat couldn’t improve and Ricciardo was also back on track having been told to find a few more tenths to be safe for Q3.
Under a minute to go and the track was getting crowded, but it was all eyes on Perez who was having his last shot at getting to the big show. P9 and just ahead of Ocon who was now on the bubble with the checkers out.
Sainz outdid his teammate for P11, with the Spaniard facing a 3 spot dinger for his naughty behaviour in Bahrain, and it was Stroll, just not being able to get the job done, and coming P12. Not the best looking session for many drivers alongside stroll Hulkenberg had an oopsie on his effort and was well off the track, but to no effect on his Q3 prospects, as it was Sainz, Stroll, Kvyat, Magnussen and Alonso headed for the Borscht and Vodka table as the top 10 got ready to play for all the marbles.
Mercedes was in such a hurry to get on with it in Q3 that they queued up at the pit exit before the light went green, and then it was Hulkenberg on his outlap just about getting together with the Mercedes man, before Hamilton by.
Fantastically, Lewis then just about ran into the back of a slowing Hulkenberg, whose outlap and first lap effort had by then thoroughly confused and upset the Mercedes strategy.
Raikkonen, Vettel hulkenberg early days as it was Bottas winning the battle of S1 with Mercedes lagging behind the rest of the leaderboard. S2 to Bottas as well and it was Hamilton losing the rear as did Bottas to a lesser extent, coming P2 and P4. The Hulk complained that Hamilton compromised HIS lap, but the fact is they managed to compromise each other quite effectively.
Mercedes defo fastest through the first 2 sectors, but sector 3 is their Achilles heel, as with 3:30 left the big boys headed back out to play one more time.
Vettel was on it trying to overcome the gap to Bottas and Raikkonen, and then he backed off leaving it till late. With a minute left Raikkonen cracked the line and was first off in search of glory.
Kimi was green S1, green S2 but it was Hamilton purple S1 and Kimi through in provisional pole. Vettel 0.2s up and into P1, neck and neck between the Mercs and again the final sector did them in as first Bottas and then Lewis failed to improve on the grid. Thus it was Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas and Hamilton in that order as deep underground, the rumblings of seismic change began to be felt in the paddock. Ferrari with a lock out the front row and begin to confirm the form they showed in testing whilst new man at Mercedes James Allison is going to be under great pressure to sort out the manic scribblings left behind by Paddy Lowe. Singapore 2015, according to Sky was the last time Merc missed out on the front row and 2008 in France the last time Ferrari locked out a front row.
Massa split the Red Bulls for P5, well done for him and it was Ricciardo finding a certain something as he wound up on top in the brutal battle of the Bulls.
Sochi is normally not the most interesting of races but given how quick Mercedes were in S1 and S2, the opening lap at least promises to be more than the usual entertainment of locked tyres and off track excursions. Actually with the kerbs they’ve installed to keep drivers from cheating track limits we could well be treated to flying F1 cars again. Who’da thunk it?
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