Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 44° Humidity 27% Wind 2.1 m/s
Ooooooh!! Well no time like the present says Ferrari as an engine problem at the end of FP3 has resulted in an engine change for Vettel, according to Sky normally a 4 hour procedure, and this just after the current points leader ascended to the top of the leaderboard in the last session before qualifying. It’s been no picnic at Mercedes either as the team were forced to break curfew in order to fix an electrical fault with Bottas’s car, and a subsequent water lead in the AM saw the Death Star forced to swap engines as well, sticking the Finn with an old spec 4 race engine that Lauda’s protestations aside, will not have the same amount of power as Lewis’s brand new shiny PU. It will also weigh more as it has the old spec gearbox. Despite that, Valterri was able to knock off P4 finally making it to the track with just 8 minutes left in the session.
Such is the cost of the massive development race between Mercedes and Ferrari, with the Mercedes in particular showing up with a bin full of new parts screwed onto the chassis.
Left in the lurch was Red Bull, who despite lots of talking seem to be stuck in perpetual 3rd place, as the gap they had hoped to close to Ferrari and Mercedes seems stubbornly to recede everytime they think they are near.
Hulkenberg outpaced Massa as the works Renault team are looking quicker and quicker over a lap and for fans of Palmer, it’s worth noting that a slow and inattentive Magnussen managed to put the kibosh on his only shot at a fast lap.
P10 for Alonso partially redeemed his Friday running, but the siren song of Indy is quite loud and it will be interesting to see if he finally finishes a race tomorrow.
Also worth noting that Pirelli significantly dropped the recommendations for rear tyre pressures, down to 18 psi from the original 19, which is on the lines of what the teams had during testing.
But the biggest change is perhaps off the track, as Liberty debuted its new, improved fan zone and talk of NASCAR-style open scrutineering in F1 escaped the lips of the inimitable Ross Brawn in interviews this week. The new fan zone has received a fair amount of positive press this week and as for open scrutineering, well, it will certainly give the fans plenty to talk about between the races.
AS zero hour approached, the weather was sparkling, random puffs of cloud scudding through a brilliant blue sky, track temps spiking as all eyes awaited to see if Vettel would make it out of the garage before the end of Q1
And they’re off!!! oh wait And the track goes green!!
Vettel was out straight away on the soft tyres and was first to hit the line in anger and it was into T5 and the message of doom from the team, “stop the car”. Vettel queried this and was told to try and make the box.
Vandoorne at the top and then with 13 minutes to go in the session a bit of unwanted publicity for HAAS as Grosjean had a lurid spin.
Hamilton was on it then and immediately to the top he went, besting Vettel’s time with a 1:20.511, as a delayed message from Ferrari confirmed that all was well after all with Sebastian’s car, and he slid his time under the radar as Grosjean was telegenically bouncing across the kerb in slow motion.
P3 for Bottas as the camera lingered on Massa who put it into the 1:22’s just 0.5s off Ericsson. The Red Bulls were on the track though, and it was Verstatppen well ahead of Ricciardo, who had a rather scrappy lap to be somewhat polite about it.
Carlos Sainz led the best of the rest with 7 minutes to go and the Force Indias on the attack. Perez hit the line to go P7 and then it was Ocon P9 with Sainz sandwiched in between, and Hulkenberg in P10.
With 5 minutes to go Williams was looking at 2nd runs, but it was Vettel and Bottas also electing to go again, as their various issues saw them looking for extra track time.
Raikkonen also had a 2nd run and it was good for P2 and with 3 minutes left Grosjean was out and having a serious go, which saw him end up P7 as those at the bottom were all trailing our of the pits to have their last shot at Q2 glory.
Ericsson, Vandoorne, Stroll, Palmer and Kvyat all had the work to do and Massa sat on the bubble as Williams engineers predicted a 0.6s improvement as track conditions improved.
Wehrlein, Alonso Hulkenberg all on it. Alonso P10, P13 Wehrlein, P12 Hulkenberg. Stroll improved, not enough to make Q2 though.
Sainz P8 and Kvyat only P19??!! Story there for sure. Palmer continued to make no impression and it was Massa only up to P14 which is a bit of a yikes for the team from Grove.
TL;DR headed to the Ramblas were Ericsson, Palmer, Stroll, Vandoorne and Kvyat who wound up the lanterne rouge of this race. AS the rest reset for Q2 it was a standout for Grosjean P7, and Ocon P8, well ahead of Perez.
Q2 opened with Bottas and Hamilton, both on track with 30 seconds gone in the session. Raikkonen saw fit to follow suit and the trio had and empty track to play with on their out laps.
Bottas started first and immediately set purple S1, which was quickly toppled by Lewis. Raikkonen couldn’t best it either and then a brutal lockup put paid to Bottas efforts as Hamilton charged on to a 1:20.21 fastest time of the weekend with Raikkonen 0.4s back. Even worse for Bottas, the tyres were meant to be his race set, now flat spotted with extra lap sauce.
Bottas had another lockup, but managed to get it across the line for P2, just 0.09s off his teammate. Early days it was the Hulk P4 as the Red Bulls circulated for their efforts and Vettel was out as well.
Ricciardo again had a tough lap but into P4 as he struggled with the car. Massa to P7 as Vettel continued to put in personal bests. P2 for the Ferrari as Verstappen bested his teammate, putting Danny Boy P6, trailed by Sainz, Ocon, Magnussen and Alonso, once the dust settled.
Grosjean, Massa, Hulkenberg, Perez, Wehrlein had it all to do as the cars reset for their last shot at Q3 glory and a brutal battle loomed, such was the state of competition for the midfield.
2:30 to go and the track got busy with Hulkenberg leading the way. Despite the tyre torture, Mercedes elected to keep Valterri in the pits, but it already provided a potential strategic wrinkle for the Mercedes team to consider for tomorrow’s race.
The Hulk and Grosjean on it as time ran off the clock, with RoGro having the better of it early on, P8 for the Hulk and then a brutal off for RoGro. Alonso to P7! P8 for Massa followed, which pushed Sainz out. Perez then went P9 which dispatched HAAS’ last hope, Magnussen but left intact Alonso in P10, which greatly cheered the Spanish crowd. Alonso treated his inlap as a proper victory lap, driving around, waving at the crowd.
Having various forks stuck in them were Magnussen, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Wehrlein, and it was from the sidelines they would be watching the big boys go at it in Q3.
Banging lap for Ocon, P7 and 2-0 through the first 2 sessions.
Q3 opened with the track up to 46° and 12 minutes on the clock. Bottas was first out after a full minute had elapsed, trailed again by Hamilton but this time it was Vettel on the tail of the Mercedes duo, then Raikkonen and the Red Bulls.
Boom! Bottas was off purpling S1, at least until Hamilton was through. Vettel splitting the pair but Rai took top honours.
Bottas took S2 and S3 but Hamilton fought back in the final sector and bested Bottas’ 1:19.39 with an astonishing 1:19.149, a small twitch out of T14 costing the Finn his shot at pole glory on the first set of runs. Raikkonen took P3 0.05s back and Vettel radioed in he had a derate incident which confined him to P4.
Verstappen and Ricciardo rounded out the top 6 as the rest sat in the garage, electing to save tyres for tomorrow’s race over having 2 runs in Q3.
3 minutes to go and Alonso and Ocon led the parade out of the pitlane for the final efforts. During the interlude, under slow motion the difference at the front appeared to be down to Mercedes’ ability to make the rear tyres last into S3, where there were gobs of time to be found if you looked at Lewis’ lap.
Alonso and were setting personal bests through S1 and S2, as were Massa and Perez behind.
Personal bests for Bottas and Hamilton, through S1, with Lewis having the advantage but Vettel went purple, 0.2s up. Hamilton purpled S2, up on his first run as Bottas ran into trouble and lost time. AS he launched into S3, Vettel again took top honours for S2 and it was Hamilton, unable to improve on his time across the line, as all eyes turned to Vettel who had gone purple yet again through the middle sector.
Again with his number purple Vettel streaked through S3 and approaching the chicane it was a small lock up, just a whiff of smoke from the tyres, and it was all done for his pole hopes.
Across the line in P2 then, for the Ferrari, just 0.05s back from Lewis. A brilliant S1 for Raikkonen lacked follow up and it was once again a P4 for Kimi.
While the epic battle at the front took place it was Alonso stunning the crowd with a P7 for Macca’s best show of the year. Perez managed to put the feisty Ocon in his place and the resurgent Massa as well, the sole Williams between the two Force India’s . Still the team from Grove will be cheered that their nearest rivals will be starting out of the points on this circuit which is renowned for the difficulty of overtaking. Less happy will be the knowledge that Force India seem to have gotten on top of their issues and their development now has both their drivers starting in the top 10.
Red Bull were a thoroughly anonymous P5 and P6 and no doubt the PR department is thinking fondly of the days when the engines would burst into flames and give them the column inches they so desperately crave.
The best of news for race fans is that the brutal development race at the top seems only to have brought the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari down. Now if Red Bull could only join the party what fun could be had.
Tomorrow’s race sets up nicely and the strategists for Ferrari and Mercedes will no doubt be up late tonight. The possibility of patchy rain during the race brings no comfort to the front runners but will lead to restless dreams of glory for Alonso and the rest of the midfield.
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