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Ambient 29° Track 49° Humidity 29% Wind 1.4 m/s

Well Well Well, warm and sunny with massive cotton balls hanging overhead set the stage for the qualifying session in the Styrian hills. Vettel’s story of crime and punishment was rapidly banished by the news that Hamilton was staring a 5 grid spot penalty in the face for an early gearbox change. According to Mercedes the change was due to a damaged transmission bearing that might not have finished the race and was unrelated to the impact Vettel imparted to Lewis in Baku. Nonetheless, aluminium stocks were on the rise throughout the week.

Frankly even that controversy was rapidly eclipsed on Twitter by the fact that at the end of FP3, Hamilton’s right front brake exploded in spectacular fashion as he attempted to decelerate from around 300 kph. New MGU-H for both the Red Bull racers as well, and frantic work in their garage as the green light approached.

Perez was nowhere relative to his teammate, and Williams had a torrid session, with neither driver into the top 10. Sainz had his car grind to a halt at the beginning of the session but fortunately for him, the team he is looking to leave was able to get him back out on track.

Also of note was F4 driver Sophia Floersch, who posted video of her almost being ended by a recovery vehicle trundling across the track as she was bringing the car home under red flag conditions. For her troubles, she was handed a €20,000 fine and accused by an ADAC spokesperson of being under investigation for speeding. Said accusation was quickly binned as she doubled down, pointing out a lack of penalty and the gear she was in absolved her of any shenanigans in the incident. Clearly, either the PR people at ADAC have never heard of the Streisand Effect or the interns have just been let loose to run the asylum as the incredible tone deafness of their response will now suck dry much of the marketing goodness they were building.

And more to the point, if there’s any investigating to be done, it should be Race Control and its procedures under the spotlight, as that’s the kind of fail that should NEVER happen, regardless of what the drivers are up to.


Green Light!! Wehrlein, Ericsson, Grosjean and Magnussen led the way with Sainz and Vettel trundling out shortly thereafter. Ericsson purpled S1 on the outlaps, but at least I finally got to write that sentence at least, hahaha!

More relevant was the fact that Ferrari sent both drivers forth to do battle in Q1 on the SuperSoft, not UltraSoft tyre.

Magnussen was the early leader with a 1:06.143 as Ferrari looked to be giving the Supers an extra lap to get fully up to temp.

13 minutes to go and Vettel put the pedal down for his first serious go, and as he cleared the board of purple sectors, Ricciardo took P2. Vettel was easily to the top and Grosjean had taken a quick excursion to the beach as Sebastian was getting ready to lay down his time.

Ocon banged in a nice lap taking P3 away from Magnussen as the Mercedes duo finally got down to brass tacks. Hamilton walked away with P1 in 1:05.238 but this went almost unnoticed as Magnussen had a rather spectacular suspension failure with his rear suspension shouting “Hold, enough” as he took to the kerbs one too many times and the vibrations shredded some important piece of carbon fibre.

Force India in the meanwhile had managed to get Perez’ car sorted and as the rest of the runners piled on, it was Perez just ahead of Ocon by 0.05s. Lolling about in the drop zone were Sainz, Palmer, Stroll, Wehrlein and Ericsson and with 5 minutes left, all eyes were on Palmer, whose public struggles once again had silly season tongues wagging.

Taking advantage of a nearly empty track was Romain Grosjean, who used the time to his advantage, rocking up to P6 as his teammate sat in the garage waiting to see if his early time would not only see him through to Q2 but also afford the garage time to reapir his car.

Sainz was the first driver to escape exclusion by going P3, hello Renault reliability update!! Raikkonen out to improve his lot in life displaced Vettel to P3 and with the track up to 40°C times seemed to be tumbling. Palmer to P15 but as time ran out it was Vandoorne who stuck the knife into the struggling Englishman.

All was not lost as with just a few seconds left Jolyon had one more bite at the apple. It was not to be enough, but looking on the bright side Palmer was just 0.2s off Hulkenberg, which is the first time this season he’s been within proper distance of is teammate.

Joining him at the schnitzel table were Massa, Stroll, Ericsson and Wehrlein. A miserable session for Williams after the glories of Baku, and the enigma of erratic performance continued to hang over the head of the team from Grove. Massa was at quick pains to blame the tyres, but as the rest of the field seemed to not be suffering it must be said that the problems with the tyres likely had more to do with the chassis they were attached to than some fundamental flaw. While that fun was being had, the rest repaired to the garage to get set for the next session.

Hamilton led the way for Q2 on SuperSofts and as he was on his outlap the usual warning regarding his race tyres was issued. Whether he paid any attention was debatable as he rocked in a 1.04.8, modestly astonishing given the compound.

Bottas on the UltraSofts surpassed him by only 0.16s and tragically, Magnussen appeared in his civvies being interviewed, meaning his day was done. Vettel and Verstappen filled P3 and whilst Raikkonen did nothing to stop the onslaught of silly season rumours by turning in a rather pedestrian P5.

Grosjean stuck it in between Raikkonen and Ricciardo and the track temps had meanwhile dropped a bit, back to 38C. It was also worth noting that as cars ran wide to the edge of the kerbs, one could clearly hear a sound similar to hitting sleeping policeman or rumble strips, depending upon which side of the pond you reside. Sky were keen to speculate on potential suspension failures to result from this, a question that would have no proper answer until tomorrow.

5 minutes to go and this time it was Hulkenberg, Ocon, Vandoorne, Kvyat and, natch, Magnussen with all the work to do. Ocon had a less than perfect first go round, and some changed settings saw him back out for a last chance.

Grosjean had a nice effort erased with a minute left to go as he ran wide out of the final corner and pretty much all the cars were on track. Vettel rocked up to P2 with his go while Hamilton just headed back to the box.

Ocon took P10 away from Alonso and as the last of the time dripped off the clock, first Kvyat and then Hulkenberg failed to improve on Ocon’s time.

Heading off to the Wurst tent were Hulkenberg, Alonso, Vandoorne, Kvyat and Magnussen. Alonso outdid Vandoorne despite being saddled with an older spec engine (his fancy new one having suffered some issue that required it to be changed) and Kvyat was far, far off the pace of Sainz, so status quo ante there. Hamilton staying on the Supers means his plan was to go for the overcut tomorrow and make up the time when others bail to strap on their second race set. Should make for some entertaining fireworks both for the strategists and fans, as that strategy should see Lewis chasing everyone down with faster tyres at the end of the race.

Q3 started with both Red Bulls waiting nearly a full minute at the red light. Track temps had dropped to 37°C and as the clouds rolled about, speculation was that perhaps someone had seen precipitation on a radar and got a bit worried.

Starting early meant that they were at the top for only the blink of an eye as the Mercedes of first Lewis Hamilton, then Valterri Bottas took P1. Vettel spoiled the party by rocking in between them for P2 and P8 was not where he wanted to wind up, sa starting on the dirty side of the grid with less grippy tyres didn’t augur well for his start.

Raikkonen and Ricciardo took P4 and P5 whilst Verstappen bit off more kerb than he could chew and as a result wound up P6. Into the box they went and it was Verstappen out for an early effort that almost immediately failed in T1 as he had a bit of a moment. This mattered not at all to his fans, but put him under pressure to get the job done with his last shot at the palmares.

2 minutes to go and the track was getting full with all the runners out for their final tilt at glory. Hamilton was off to a less than great start and out came the yellows as Grosjean ground to a halt, stuck in neutral, ending the chance for improvement. Despite the yellows, Max Verstappen managed to spin his car off at T8, miraculously keeping it out of the barrier. But it was 3 strikes and you’re out for the Dutchman, P6 and 3 less than delightful laps to keep his mind occupied.

On the radio, once again Bottas’ almost displayed an emotion as the end of the session was a bit of a nothingburger thanks to the failure of Romain’s HAAS and spin from Verstappen.

The lack of finished 2nd runs throws the pecking order into a bit of doubt, naturlich, but at the end of the day looking at Sainz in P10 just 0.04s off the Force India of Ocon says a lot in favour of not only Renault’s non-upgrade upgrade, but also in terms of the Spaniard being back on form after a couple of less than stellar races.

Look for Magnussen to be a big mover as Grosjean demonstrated the HAAS does have some legs, and from P15 he should still be able to target points, assuming his car doesn’t fall apart during the race. And of course, Lewis starting from P8 will be the story of the race tomorrow (even if it distracts from what promises to be a brutal midfield struggle), and it’s worth remembering that his car will have been optimised for race pace, not qualifying which might be crucial when the lights go out.

Verstappen v Ricciardo at the race start will also be entertaining as Max looked to be less than pleased with his effort and will want to make up for it in the race.

The final piece of the puzzle will be the weather, with a predicted 60% chance of thundershowers in the area bringing the rain lottery firmly into play. All the elements are in place for actual racing tomorrow…


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