Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 48° Humidity 64% Wind 0.4 m/s
One of the less illuminating FP3’s prefaced qualifying for the Azerbaijan GP, with Vettel, Verstappen and Hamilton all not setting representative laps. Hamilton balked by double waved yellows brought about by the total failure of Verstappen’s car in the waning minutes. In classic French tradition, it had tired of the constant verbal abuse from its driver, and gone on strike in search of better working conditions. Just kidding! Humour aside the real cause of the failure was asdfasdf.
Vettel never got close, with an undisclosed issue also keeping him from even running 1 proper lap. He gave it one go and was immediately called back into the pit, and his car remained in the garage for the remainder in the session, in an alarmingly large number of pieces. With the start of qualifying approaching it was identified as a hydraulic issue.
Palmer was the real focus stealer, though, with his car erupting into flames early in the session and properly barbecuing his engine, equally symbolic of the city in which the race was being held (City of Fire FYI) along with the trajectory of Jolyon’s career at the moment. That was caused by a high pressure fuel leak and at least gives him a bit of a pass as Bob Bell rapidly ruled out the possibility of his car being ready for qualifying.
Equally in flames was Sauber’s management, with Monisha Kaltenborn “agreeing” to part company after what was widely reported as a rift between the new owners of the team and the Team Principal. This was either caused by A) Unhappiness over technical staff and disagreements about how to handle it or 1) Refusal to make Ericsson the favoured driver going forward.
Either way, perhaps it could be termed Van der Garde’s revenge as it’s not too hard to connect the dots between his court case and the eventual sale of Sauber to Long Bow, coincidentally with close ties to Ericsson and his family.
Hmmm… in any event after Kolles somehow got his name into the media as a possible replacement for Kaltenborn, Cedric Vasseur has emerged as a front runner for that spot going forward.
The other big change is the kerb that sent Perez into the wall, which has been reprofiled, not because of the driver’s whinging, but because the FIA has concluded that the likelihood of a Long Beach style blockage is rather high, given the kerb automatically routes any driver taking too much of it directly into the wall.
Nevertheless, the clever F2 drivers managed that exact thing in their first race, bringing out the red flag and effectively ending the race several laps early.
Along those lines, and despite the longer straights and higher speeds, the closest current comparison trackwise would be Monaco, but with slower marshals.
Hulkenberg lead the way as qualifying for the Azerbaijan GP officially kicked off. Traffic in S2 was a major issue in FP3 and as a result over half the field was out within the first minute of the session. Again complicating issues was the fact that many teams were taking 2 laps to get the tyres into the proper window, guaranteeing all sorts of nasty conflicts over cars getting themselves sorted vs cars on hot laps.
15 minutes to go and no proper times set as the field circled to get the elusive front tyres fully into the window.
Hulkenberg was first to put a time up on the board, which was improved on by Magnussen and then Stroll.
13 minutes to go and Verstappen from Red Bull was the first of the big boys to put a time up, P1 with a 1:43.75. Sainz had a moment where he had to reverse against traffic, which is generally rather frowned upon.
A minute later and at last the Mercs were circling like sharks, along with the Ferraris.
Raikkonen outdid Verstappen, and both Perez and Ocon sandwiched themselves between. Telly replayed a lurid drift round a corner by Massa who narrowly avoided clouting a wall with his rear.
Verstappen was lighting it up purple but Hamilton trailing behind erased them 1 by 1 and at the end of his lap with 9 minutes remaining, it was to the top with a 1:42.384.
8 minutes to go and Bottas was keeping his powder dry as Ocon improved on Perez time to take P3 away from his teammate. P6 for Ricciado along the way and as the clock crossed the 7 minute marker it was Raikkonen on the board setting purples for S1.
Or maybe not as Bottas finally banged home a P4 and with a track temp of 48°C perhaps the explanation for the switch in performance from FP3 could be explained by the 10°C drop in temperature.
4 minutes to go and Hamilton to the 41’s with Verstappen and Raikkonen trailed by Ricciardo and Vettel. With it all to do were Grosjean and Ericsson as with the penalties for Macca and Palmer out it was job done for the rest. Wehrlein and Hulkenberg were still at risk, though, so there was some action yet to come.
Under a minute and on hot laps were the Willams. Massa missed a corner and reversed game over. Ericsson was on it but was only able to improve to P18. Grosjean too was flying with Wehrlein in P15. But not a great effort by the fickle HAAS with RoGro only able to hit P17 whilst his teammate managed a P14. Alonso, Grosjean, Ericsson, Vandoorne and the ever luckless Palmer were headed to the canapes (to be fair, he’d probably been at them all session) whilst the rest turned it around for Q2.
Bottas led the way for the second session but it was Raikkonen to P1 first, after Massa had a near miss again at the corner that claimed Perez yesterday.
10 minutes to go and it was Vettel taking it away from Raikkonen, but it was child’s play for the Mercedes’ to take it away from them, with Hamilton dipping into the 1:41’s and Bottas just 0.04s off him in P2.
Raikkonen retook the lead from his teammate with Verstappen rocking P4 after painting the walls with his tyres on his effort.
6 minutes to go and Hamilton was just having fun, Purple, Purple Purple and 0.7s faster than his previous time with a 1:41.275. Bottas was into the pits with more or less a 1:42 even and it was still Raikkonen and Verstappen. Ricciardo was a bit further back in P7 and Sainz, Kvyat, Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Wehrlein with it all to do and 3 minutes left in the session.
Ferrari were back out as they felt Vettel was at risk and it looked as if they were going to try and use Kimi to tow Vettel but as time ticked off it seemed a poorly planned venture as the cars were too far apart to manage that strategy.
Ricciardo managed a rather more representative P5 as first Vettel, then Verstappen managed to put themselves ahead of Bottas with just 30 seconds left before the checquered flag.
Magnussen got called off as he loitered in P13 and that was his day one. AS they stood when the flag dropped it was Kvyat, Sainz, Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Wehrlein headed for the hor d’ouevres and all the glory awaited the top 10. Which included a certain young Canadian P7 and crucially ahead of the Force India of Sergio Perez and remarkably also ahead of his teammate, Massa.
Q3 and again it was the Merecedes quick off the mark, wasting no time getting on track once the light went green at the end of pit exit. As a reminder, the track temp had dropped again, down to 43°C.
8 minutes to go, and it was Vettel putting in a first time of 1:43.194. Verstappen was into the 1:42’s and ahead of him but inexorably behind them Hamilton had cranked it up rocking purples to a 1:41.274. Which was only good for P2 as his teammate had a better S2 and managed a 1:41.274 for provisional pole. Lewis ran wide and lost time but until that moment the 1:40s looked in play.
A study in contrasts then as Vettel kept running wide and had only managed to be P6. Lewis stayed out and gave another go as he kept up a quick dance with his engineers about strategy for his second go and then it all went south at 3:33 as the red flag was flown for Ricciardo put it in the wall and crunched his left rear in a very unfortunate spot.
With a 2 lap minimum to get the tyres going that was going to be barely enough time for the rest of the field to have a go so utter chaos loomed once Ricciardo’s car was cleared. As it stood, Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen was the provisional grid, with Vettel’s mechanics running down the pitlane to recover the car from pit exit and get the blankets on the tyres as quickly as possible as pit exit remained closed.
Hamilton was 0.2s up on Bottas when the session was red flagged and even worse, Massa and Stroll had yet to set a time. The rest of the top 10, in order, were Raikkonen, Ocon, Vettel, Ricciardo, Perez, Massa and Stroll.
The stricken Red Bull recovered and it was all hands on deck, with Verstappen leading the way and Red Bull looking the best at switching it’s tyres on.
30 seconds later and Ferrari were out with Raikkonen and Vettel, an odd wasting of time given a second lap was mathematically possible.
A minute to go and the track was down to 42°C. No one was setting purples and in S1 it looked to be a tall ask with 26 seconds to go.
Purple S2 tho and S3 for Lewis and up to a 1:40.593!!!! What???? Unreal performance under maximum pressure for Hamilton. Bottas improved too, but it was not going to be enough, as the time he dropped in S2 cost him momentum in S3 that proved decisive.
Raikkonen to P3 and Vettel to P4 with Verstappen P5, as he tailed away after his strong S1. Stroll stayed ahead of his teammate in P8 and it was Perez just edging the youngster by 0.08s.
But it was a savage beating administered to the rest of the field by Mercedes and given the Monaco-like driving dynamics of the track it’s going to be down to the strategy to make passes happen. Fortunately, as has already been demonstrated, there should be no lack of Safety Cars to give the strategists a chance to mess it all up tomorrow.
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