Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 24° Track 36° Humidity 55% Wind 1.3 m/s
It was a sunny/rainy/damp/cool/warm day in Spa and that was just the first 15 minutes of FP3. From a brief start on inters it was onto the Supersofts for most teams, where, astonishingly, Raikkonen was fastest, a position he confirmed again when the inevitable switch to Ultrsofts occurred.
Other Unicorns included Palmer outdoing Hulkenberg and once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor for that one, back to earth with Kvyat breaking down, Honda replacing a new engine that didn’t quite work for Vandoorne (65 grid spots, woo hoo!) and then Williams continuing to underperform. On top of that, Massa collected a 5 spot for ignoring the double yellows for Kvyat’s failed Toro Rosso and the FIA have instituted a clever new system that automatically measures whether drivers have cut track limits at Raidillion. Well, OK, it’s been talked about quite a lot but they’ve finally brought it to the track. Foolhardy drivers will lose timed laps in quali and after 3 warnings in the race will face penalties for excessive naughtiness.
Speaking of, turns out that Vettel HAD been flirting with Mercedes this season, but only to make Ferrari jealous. Mercedes realised this and broke it off in June. The really torrid gossip is a compromising photo of Alonso and Paddy Lowe, which has set tongues wagging about a possible elopement from Macca for the Spaniard.
Frankly, if I was Alonso’s manager, I’d ask him what he wanted to do then tell him to do the opposite, as Fernando’s ability to leave teams that are about to win seems rather, well, legendary.
Even more juicy is the implication that Mercedes have violated a gentleman’s agreement with their intro of a new PU before Monza. Apparently, they had agreed with Ferrari not to bring a new PU into the pool until Monza, when the new oil burning regs take effect. Of course, gentleman haven’t really been in the sport since every crash was potentially fatal and the team owners have always been, well, shall we say, colorful.
Green Light!! Hamilton, Perez Bottas were first on track, with Ocon trailing out a bit behind the lead trio. A big chunk of drivers rolled out just the other side of the 17 minute mark and it was a nervous moment for Ferrari as they manuevered their way around the sure to be too slow Williams of Stroll.
15:30 to go and it was Lewis on the loud pedal but it was Bottas taking purple for S1, the Mercedes duo onto the second sector as Ferrari rolled across the start finish for their first effort.
Lewis drew first blood on his teammate but the timing screens were bleeding purple as first Raikkonen and then Vettel completed their laps and as the dust settled it was Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Bottas at the sharp end of the grid, all covered by 0.5s and all rocking the Supersoft tyres.
A radio call by Raikkonen revealed an issue with his rear suspension but thankfully for the team his first time was inside the predicted cutoff and it was off to the box for the phlegmatic Finn.
Several laps later it was Lewis to the top, banging it home on his 5th lap and besting Vettel by 0.1s. As that was going on, Ocon and Perez were setting purples on their laps, claiming P7 and P8 with Perez nearly 0.3s off his teammate.
Or at least he was until Palmer (???!!!) took P8 away from him with Hulkenberg only managing P11. The world feed took advantage of a lull to show Hamilton’s car appearing to shake itself apart in slow mo, standing waves in the tyre clearly visible, a problem that may have contributed to Vettel’s brutal failure in the closing stages of his race .
At the back, Massa, Kvyat, Stroll, Ericsson and Wehrlein were in the drop zone with Sainz sitting on the bubble, as the hit the garage to set up for their last efforts. With the long lap taking it’s toll, it was Stroll into the pits as time dripped off the clock, and it was Vandoorne last across the line as the checkers fell and the final laps unfolded.
Massa was first up and P15 for him. Kvyat stayed P17 and Sainz up to P8! Ericsson managed to best his teammate, but only for P19 and the elevation of Sainz doomed both Williams to be axed in Q1. Vandoorne managed a quite respectable P10, even whilst helping Fernando with a bit of a tow.
Massa, Kvyat, Stroll, Ericsson and Wehrlein were off to the chocolate shop as the rest of the field got ready for Q2.
More slo mo of a Toro Rosso with standing waves in it’s tyres, shaking a bit of it’s bodywork off helped fill up the gap between sessions. Williams reported that Stroll lost an endplate and that’s why he was denied a chance to better his time at the end of the session.
Q2 kicked off with Lewis and Valterri leading the way, and Kimi still complaining of vibrations, almost certainly the same ones being shown on telly. Lewis was on it as the clock ticked over 12 minutes to go. A nasty exit from Stavelot failed to slow him as he went 1:43.539 with Bottas nearly a half second off. Raikkonen split the pair and Vettel went P4, immediately playing the protecting the race tyres card from defenders of the Scuderia.
9 minutes to go and Ocon again claimed a purple S1 only to see it stolen by his teammate, Perez. That won’t have bothered him too much, as he still was up on Sergio at the end of the lap, where it mattered most. Staggeringly, Palmer who had been languishing in P12, hammered home a P7, a result that seemed entirely inexplicable until you realize he did the exact same thing last year to Magnussen.
Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Grosjean, Sainz and Vandoorne had it all to do as the cars headed to the pits to reset for their last tilt at the glory of Q3. Alonso sat on the bubble and drama for Renault, as Palmer had a clutch fail leaving the weighbridge. Some good cardio for the mechanics as they hustled it down the pitlane to retrieve their stricken driver and the rest of the field began to spill out onto the track.
Hamilton and Bottas both rocked out after the interval and with barely enough time to bash it round the track Palmer was sent out to have one more go. Down to 1 minute and Mercedes were well on it, Lewis crushing purples all the way round, into the 1:42’s for the first time with Bottas into P2,
As time ran out it was Perez to P8 then Hulkenberg flashed across the line into P9. Ocon held onto P10 which shoved Alonso out of Q3 and as the Spaniard crossed the line he was shouting “No Power”. Still in P7, Palmer IMPROVED his time, happy days on his side of the garage finally.
Alonso, Grosjean, Magnussen, Sainz and Vandoorne were done like a dinner and crying (or possibly screaming) into their beer as the top 10 reset for all the glory. And it was Hamilton and Mercedes who it turns out had set the fastest ever lap round the circuit on their way to Q3, a 1:42.927. Second effort likely for a better set of race tyres, as Hamilton may even have suffered damage.
Raikkonen led the way onto track for Q3, quelle surprise followed by the Mercedes duo. AS the ran their warm up laps, it was Lewis’ turn to complain of vibrations. As the top of the field made the turn for their fast lap it was Jolyon Palmer off the track at T15 with a smokingt Renault, bringing out the yellows with a loss of gearbox oil pressure. Quick work by the marshals got the car cleared and the track was green by time Lewis and the rest of the sharp end hammered around.
1:42.907 and P1 for Hamilton followed by Raikkonen, Bottas, and then Vettel, who seemed to just be off the pace a touch. Verstappen and Ricciardo complete the puzzle for the first 3 rows. Hulkenberg, Ocon and Perez all chose to wait out the first runs in the garage and with 3:30 left it was a frenzy of activity in the pits to get the cars turned around for their ultimate effort.
Hamilton and Bottas led the way and it was ocon and Hulkenberg dicing it all the way through T10 before ocon clearly established his position behind the Mercedes duo. Vettel and Ricciardo brought up the rear and it was a loss of tyre temp info for Hamilton and the team so it was old school all the way for Lewis.
As Hamilton headed through S1 it was Kimi on the radio with his vibrations back and it was not as fast for Lewis through S1. S2 saw him crushing it, taking the purple palmares away from Ferrari and as he continued into S3 his time continued to drop and it was a 1:42.553 for the Briton. Bottas claimed P2 nearly half a second back.
Raikkonen’s radio told his story, “I #@%@$# that up” in S2 leaving just Vettel, who had been the stealth driver all session, to have a go. Which he promptly did, going P2 and the only other driver in the 1:42’s, 0.2s off Lewis and spoiling Mercedes lock out.
With the demise of Palmer, it was Hulkenberg on form and taking P7 and Perez took it to Ocon yet again claiming P8 from his teammate.
But it was Hamilton with his 68th pole, tying Schumacher’s record and bringing out Ross Brawn to deliver a special message from the Schumacher family to congratulate him. Vettel, it turned out, had a tow from Kimi after he aborted his lap which may have helped Vettel to spoil the lock out for Mercedes.
Slightly more promising for Sunday is the fact that Ferrari appeared to be much quicker on their race sim than Mercedes, so it may yet be a proper battle for the win, hopefully one that makes it past T5 on the first lap. Red Bull have had some blinding starts of late and should either driver get up into the Merc/Ferrari mix the fun could be greatly intensified, though over the course of a race it looks unlikely they can compete on pure pace.
Palmer’s evil twin is apparently going to be driving the second half of the season, as there can be no other explanation for his remarkable improvement in form, and now the focus might have to be a bit more on Renault, as once again his equipment let him down. Williams continue to underperform, and not just in pace terms. Massa’s penalty and a fine for running the wrong tyres in practice reveal that the team from Grove is struggling to get the basics right.
Force India vs each other and Hulkenberg should be the other prime motivator and, of course, there’s always the progress of Vandoorne if all else should fail. Should we get really, really lucky however, the weather will make an appearance and truly shake things up.
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