Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 16° Track 20° Humidity 88% Wind 2.7 m/s
Turns out Lewis Hamilton will have some competition after all as Ferrari FINALLY saw fit to turn their brand new shiny engine up in FP3 and Vettel rocked up just 0.03s shy of Lewis best time. Of course none of that mattered once the rain arrived with 10 or so minutes left in the session and the course cleared as most runners strapped on the Intermediate tyres to test out the surface. The winner of that had to be Max Verstappen who replied to being told by his radio that there were yellows in T7, “Yeah, that was me”. His sense of humour is probably somewhat more lacking over his astonishing lack of reliability.
AS Sky wound up it’s pre-race coverage the rain began spitting, and the possibility of mixed conditions began to whet the appetite of true race fans. Sainz, Hulkenberg, Ocon all have good reputations in the rain, but Bottas in particular had struggled with the wet when he was at Williams. Not that it mattered for him, or for that matter Ricciardo, as both were staring down 5 spot gearbox penalties. On air, Wolff stated that both were damaged in Baku, but the practical import was that the championship points likely to be reset between he and Hamilton. The curious might wonder as well, whether the practice of using the gearbox to heat up hydraulic rear suspension elements might play some part, but that’s a question without an immediate answer.
Green Light!! And immediate tyre chaos as Mercedes decided to roll the dice with SuperSofts whilst Red Bull chose to not waste time and rock the Inters. Sector times told the story as the Inters floated to the top and it was right back to the pits for the Death Star as the rain began to pick up.
Ricciardo was straight to the top trailed by Verstappen and it was the Ferraris on it with 13 minutes to go. But no love for them as the conditions were getting worse by the minute meaning Red Bull had run their laps with a fairly large advantage.
Mercedes were predicting drying at the end of Q1 and with 11 minutes to go he had yet to set a representative time. At last he got it together after a few entertaining excursions and then it went all pear shaped for Ricciardo who rolled to a halt outside Woodcote with a total loss of power.
RED FLAG!! to recover the car and sitting on a 5 spot penalty it was not looking good for Danny Ric. Improving conditions meant that he was also in danger of losing all the way out, regardless of potential penalties for whatever the issue might be.
Down at Mercedes and Ferrari, no doubt the feeling was opposite as they now had the possibility to set a time in friendlier conditions. Raikkonen, who was in P15 when the red flag fell, no doubt was particularly happy with this development.
One again, the pit exit went green and flying onto the track were the Sauber duo, who hadn’t bothered to take part in the session up till that point. With 3 minutes of rain left, according to the forecast, that left 6 minutes of improving sessions for the field to take potshots at Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, who occupied the top 2 spots thanks to them cleverly setting times early in the session, when conditions were best.
Raikkonen P5 ahead of Vettel, which prophesied improving times and conditions as the leaderboard lit up with purple sectors. Hamilton was a full second faster than Ricciardo with his effort, with Bottas 0.8s back. Force India were resurgent with Perez P2 and Ocon P4.
Not for long though as Vettel who had waited, plunged the knife in and went P1, into the 1:40’s with Grosjean to P4. In the drop zone with 3 minutes left were Stroll, Wehrlein, Kvyat, Palmer and Alonso.
Kvyat wasted no time extricating himself and Vandoorne was the loser as Alonso decided to strap on some dry tyres, but without the time to make it round to the checquers before they fell ending Q1.
Under a minute and Ocon on the Supers was purpling the board and with time running out Alonso just hit the line. P5 Ocon and Ericsson out as a result. The runners on the inters all failed to improve which left just the McLaren of Alonso in with a chance. Which Fernando naturally seized and beat to death with a large hammer, going P1 to make it out of the session.
Not as fortunate were Stroll, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Ericsson and Ricciardo. Off to tea with them as the rest of the field turned it around for Q2. Replays also showed that Alonso had made it across the line with roughly a tenth to spare, so maybe a sliver of good luck for the team from Woking. Ocon had also managed to catch his brakes on fire, likely due to the fact that the brake cooling hadn’t been changed for slick tyre conditions. Entertaining to watch, but not a serious problem.
Q2 kicked off with all but Bottas on the Supersoft tyres as the rain was ending. Bottas on the Soft tyre for strategic purposes as a result of his impending penalty and Verstappen wasted no time demonstrating it was no picnic on the slicks as he wandered off the track on his outlap.
12 minutes to go and the laps were well underway Verstappen, Raikkonen, Bottas, Verstappen were all purple at the same time in different sectors as the times began to fall heavily across the field. Raikkonen ahead of Vettel early days as Bottas backed off his effort. Hamilton bypassed them both and then, the Renault of Hulkenberg rocked top spot away from him as times were down into the 1:31s, easily 10 seconds up on the majority of the Q1 times.
8 minutes left and a second wave of times were on the way, which saw Bottas up to the top, trailed by Verstappen then Hulkenberg and Hamilton. But again it was Hamilton on it as he was purple through the 3rd sector and into the 1:29s. Palmer to P11, just a wee bit off his teammate, but scraping the edge of Q3 for the moment.
6 minutes to go and it was Grosjean out and an incident between Perez and Vettel as Sergio AGAIN managed to spoil the temperamental German’s lap, which he took to the radio to point out.
4 minutes left and Perez, Grosjean, Palmer, Massa and Sainz with all the work to do. Massa’s first go was nowhere and with some twitches it was Grosjean up to P9, putting Alonso into danger.
2 minutes to go and Hamilton decided to rejoin the fun with a new set of Supers, his previous time being set on old tyres. Sainz to P11 with his 1 run strategy not getting the job done, as again purples started to light up the board, times plummeting to the 1:28’s, Vettel leading the way.
With the flag approaching it was Palmer to P10 as the Hulk went P4 with Perez and Alonso still on it. Sergio did the deed, going P8 to deep six the luckless Englishman and it fell to Vandoorne to carry the flag for McLaren as he ended the session P10, a late charge by Grosjean putting Stoffel the Waffle into the last transfer spot.
Off to the showers were Palmer, Kvyat, Alonso, Sainz and Massa as Williams ability to cope with these conditions continues to be wretched. Hats off to Vandoorne for finally besting his teammate and it was Hamilton who wound up at the top of the sheets as the top 10 turned it round to tilt for all the glory.
Q3 and Bottas, Ocon and Hamilton led the way. Perez trailed them a bit and Lewis was early into the purples, hitting upwards of 300 kph as he decided he preferred to not trail the Force India for his first lap. Easily by and across the line went the duo for the first hot laps of the. Hamilton was cracking through S1, besting Bottas. S2 and S3 confirmed the verdict, with Lewis getting the better of it and going P1 as Ferrari were getting ready to throw down.
It was a good lap for Vettel, but not quite enough as Sebastian managed to split the Mercedes, but he was still 0.2s off. Raikkonen and Verstappen rounded out the top 5 with Hulkenberg being the best of the rest. Grosjean was most unhappy with Lewis as he was held up on his effort by the Mercedes getting ready for its lap.
5 minutes to go and it was all in. Ocon and Grosjean both had work to do, with Ocon again trailing his teammate when it mattered most. 3 minutes to go and it was all to play for as the track continued to improve.
AS he hit his outlap it was announced that the incident with Hamilton and Grosjean WAS being investigated, unlike the Vettel/Perez tiff. But for the moment it mattered not as the outlaps were coming to an end and the palmares were just within reach for the favoured few.
It was Bottas first up with a massive lockup and resulting huge loss of time, not what he needed at all. Hamilton was serene in contrast, and was a full half a second up as he hit the last sector. Bottas managed a P2 with his mangled lap. Hamilton absolutely crushed a 1:26.6 which was staggering in the conditions. Raikkonen followed through with a P2 and Vettel looked thoroughly ordinary going P3 and looking rather scruffy through the 3rd sector.
On the radio Vettel said it was all down to the outlap as he found himself stuck in traffic and let the team know in no uncertain terms (though most of them were bleeped) how unhappy he was. Verstappen did the expected and nailed down P5 and it was Hulkenberg retaining the best of the rest title. Grosjean went the wrong way winding up P10 and it was Ocon again unable to best his teammate when it mattered most. Expect epic fireworks when he finally does.
Brilliant driving from Lewis and Vandoorne, with Stoffel besting his teammate for the first time ever and Lewis just on a different planet (in a good way, people). Vettel less than happy and whinging at the team may not be a good career strategy at Ferrari, as well as finishing behind Raikkonen. Hulkenberg as well doing the job nicely after some rather pedestrian results.
Tomorrow’s race looks to be rather interesting, with more than a few drivers starting out of position. Bottas, Ricciardo and both Williams could be looking at making up a lot of spots in the dry. Of course, as in many spots, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes and with a chance of rain tomorrow, the potential for truly epic chaos looms large.
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