Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 14° Track 17° Humidity 80% Wind 0.8 m/s
Well, the weather in Belgium made an unexpected appearance in Monza, having apparently booked a ticket for today’s session. As such, it would’ve been disappointed that there was only 15 or so minutes of running in FP3, such was the deluge, which worsened after most of the drivers had a brief go. The greatly abridged session saw Massa at the top and Hamilton at the bottom of the results, with Sainz winning the most laps award.
That will hardly make up for his lack of running yesterday, and if you are beginning to think that Renault is just how one pronounces Honda in French, then you are likely not alone, such has been the remarkable lack of reliability coming from Viry lately. Honda, at least yesterday, surprised the beans out of everyone by being at the top of the midfield, a certainly unexpected result given that 70% or so of the track is at full throttle, not normally its wheelhouse. Of course, the race is where Macca is like to suffer more, as their regen has been the weakest link for them now that Honda seem to have turned the corner on reliability.
Remarkably, the Toro Rosso Honda story refuses to go away, though reports are if they don’t have deal in place by the end of the weekend then it won’t happen for next season, potentially leaving Honda out in the cold if Macca do indeed give them the heave ho for, well, whoever they could talk into it. With Ilien on board at Honda and Red Bull STILL convinced of the need to be a proper works team, the Toro Rosso tryout on the surface makes a lot of sense, especially when you combine it with the rumour that McLaren might yet get into the PU business for the next set of regs. Add in Alonso’s denial of the “me or Honda” ultimatum for next season (which, as one knows, is more often than not a confirmation in F1speak) and it looks that everyone could be a winner.
Not really, of course, for as much as Alonso has impeccable instincts on track, he seems to have terrible ones off track, and if Honda do indeed move to Toro Rosso next year with Macca jumping to Renault, look for the Japanese PU to finally come good. Thing is, Renault is even this year remarkably uncompetitive with Ferrari and Mercedes. And that’s with 4 years to sort it out. Honda, on the other hand, have spent 2 of their 3 years with a poor design choice locked in due to regulations and finally given a free hand, are showing inklings of turning it around. Toss in Ilien and some borrowed Mercedes/ Ferrari knowledge with recent hires, and where is the grass really greener, never mind Macca having to redesign their chassis to accommodate the Renault package.
Despite my interest in the political dealings, the reality that most care about is the actual racing and with a washed out FP3 and a certainly wet quali session to come, loads of entertaining possibilities present themselves. In yesterday’s running, though Ferrari were close in FP2, both drivers were less than happy with the handling of their car, a sharp contrast to the Mercedes feeling. Given that the introduction of the new PU for Ferrari has been delayed as their shiny new piston undergoes further reliability testing, in all likelihood they are running less downforce than Mercedes. And given the lack of dry running today it will be a lot of finger crossing at the Scuderia as tomorrow’s race is forecast to be dry, and there will have been no real world proof of their overnight set up changes. So advantage Mercedes, as more downforce will be a bigger advantage in the wet today.
But it’s Red Bull that could play the real joker in the deck, as with no hope of competing tomorrow, between grid penalties and a lack of power, it’s an easy bet for them to load up on downforce and with 2 drivers who love the wet stuff, a Red Bull pole is not out of the question. Rain makes it all more fun for the true race fan and as the time approached for all the teams to lay their cards on the table, a keen ripple of anticipation rippled through the circuit.
Green Light!! Light rain, but conditions had improved enough that the session began on time with Bottas and Hamilton leading the way on full Wets. Ericsson, Kvyat, Raikkonen, Sainz, Wehrlein and Vettel were all out in the first minute. The reason for that became apparent as the radio call from Bonnington confirmed that the rain was intensifying.
16 minutes to go and as Bottas started his first lap and it was slip and slide through the first corner and it looked like the first lap was going to be THE lap. Hamilton was through cleanly and further back it was Grosjean taking away the purple S1 from him, such was the state of the track.
Kvyat radioed in he couldn’t stop the car and it was Lewis to the top with Bottas 4 seconds behind, having missed T1. Vettel P2. Grosjean P3 and then the red flag as Grosjean, unable to see, smashed it into the wall on the left on his way to Turn 1, pinballing across the track and coming to rest pointed the wrong way round.
Grosjean was on the radio cursing the decision to start, but on replay it was his application of throttle whilst off the dry line that did him in. Still, that was that and qualifying was suspended, temporarily.
Sainz and Raikkonen rounded out the last of the 7 who managed to set a time, and it was Red Bull on a charge with Verstappen having set an S2 nearly a full 0.5s up on the next fastest time. Hamilton’s time of 1:40.128 was remarkable under the circumstances, slightly more than 2 full seconds up on Vettel.
30+ minutes of delay later. OK then, 45+ minutes of delay. Which seemed mental, given the rain had all but stopped and the track appeared to be drying. With telly reporting that there might be more rain on the way, the FIA seemed to have missed a rather large window when the cars might actually have run.
1 hour of delay later, 1 hour 15 minutes of delay later, 1 hours 30 minutes delay later. Helmut Marko in comments to Sky during the interminable wait happily blamed RoGro for his own off, “we shouldn’t stop just because Grosjean falls off. Grosjean falls off quite a lot”, just about the only entertainment thus far outside the initial laps.
While the safety car finally made another trip around, Lewis Hamilton had taken to Instagram and had challenged Bottas to a video game to pass the time. Playstation to be exact. Racing motorcycles and ATV’s on some game I don’t recognise. 20k viewers not bad at all tbh and a fair bit more interesting than watching Jackie Stewart wander about. Bottas’ won the first race by the way.
1 hour 45 minutes delay, 2 hours delay and Palmer says it wasn’t harder than FP3. 2 hours 15 minutes and Danny Ric out to say a few words, tiptoeing through the issue and pointing out it’s the new tarmac that’s doing the damage.
2 hours 30 minutes delay and the leaf blowers and brooms were out. Street Sweepers even as the PS4 marathon between Bottas and Hamilton finally made it on proper telly. Massa playing footie with the rest of the team and his kid showed the desperation that had overtaken Sky for broadcast content.
At last, at the 2 hour 30 minute mark the drivers were given the 10 minute warning that the session would restart at 16:40 local time. Whew. 2 hour 40 minute delay, with 13:31 left in Q1 when the circus kicked back into gear.
Verstappen was first out and it was a proper line of cars waiting to exit when the track went green for the 2nd time. “Better than when we started” was his verdict as warmup laps were being run. Times were definitely dropping even as the drivers were being warned that more rain might be on the way.
To the top for young Max, in a 1:38.557, immediately done by Vettel 0.3s up. Ocon then with a blinder into P5 as Bottas took P1 away from Vettel. It was left to Lewis to crush that, into the 1:36s as times continued to drop with water being cleared now all the cars (save Grosjean) were on track.
Massa came close to Ocon’s time, but was still a tenth slow the first time around, but then came good temporarily into P5 with 7 minutes to go. Raikkonen was struggling in P10 as Bottas and Hamilton continued to trade P1.
5:30 and Vettel was in and out on the Inters and Alonso was finally out, also on Inters. Red Bull took the bet as well, even as the rain began to fall harder. Verstappen’s first go was 1.3s off the top of the leaderboard, still good enough for P3.
Ericsson, Wehrlein, Magnussen and Palmer had it all to do with Sainz on the bubble and all the cars onto Inters. Vettel to P3 ahead of Verstappen and it was magnificently Stroll who had wandered into P5 with just under 2 minutes left in Q1.
Raikkonen was in a fuss, being held to give him clear track had caused his brake to catch fire forcing Ferrari’s hand. Vettel set a purple S1 before a big mistake in S2 cost him his shot.
Seconds left and Hamilton just hit the line. Checquers out and Ericsson and Sainz both set personal bests. Sainz confirmed P15 as Palmer didn’t make the start in time. Hamilton bailed on his lap by diving into the pits at the end but Bottas stayed out and took P1 at the end of the session. Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Stroll rocked out the top 5 and at the sad end of the field it was Magnussen, Palmer, Ericsson, Wehrlein and, of course, Grosjean were off to search for tiramisu at the hospitality tent as the rest turned it around for Q2. Raikkonen had a torrid session, only coming P6 when all was said and done.
Verstappen on full wets led the way from Vandoorne at the start of Q2, Mercedes followed suit, but on the Inters. As the rest of the field trickled out Wets seemed to be the choice for the midfield, with the sharp end going for the Inters.
Onto the flyers, and the field was rocking purples, Verstappen then Vettel then Hamilton and Bottas all seizing Sectors in their turn. At the end of it, Verstappen on the Wets was a full second faster than Hamilton on the first trip through. Vettel on Inters then to the top with 9 minutes left and looking at the sector times, the Inters were coming good as the track dried.
Ricciardo took P3 as Hamilton radioed in the tyres were not working. Bottas with a lurid oversteer as he worked his way around Sainz. Valterri came good, going P3 and then Lewis finally tacked it all together to go P1. 3 minutes left and into the pits went Mercedes and as they did, Vettel retook P1 still on Inters.
At the drop zone, Vandoorne, Kvyat, Sainz, Perez and Alonso had it all to do, with Ocon hanging in the bubble. New Inters for Mercedes as the clock crossed the 5 minute mark. Hulkenberg was up to P7 and Stroll confirmed his form, P6 ahead of Massa.
Verstappen on the full Wets had gone P5 with 3 minutes left in the session as Hamilton lit the board up purple. P1 on the new Inters into the 1:35s with Bottas P3 and Vettel in the Mercedes sandwich. Raikkonen managed to dislodge Stroll from P5 as Verstappen went P3 and Bottas took P2 away from Vettel.
Checquers out and Stroll to P5, ahead of Raikkonen. Perez to P10 as Hamilton into the 1:24’s as Vandoorne was still on it. P9 and out goes Perez with ocon to P10. Hulkenberg only P12 and Kvyat with no improvement ended the session. Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Kvyat and Sainz were off in search of negronis as the rest got ready to go for all the glory.
Mercedes led the way for Q3 as the rain was starting to pelt again, with Vettel, but not Raikkonen, following suit. The rest of the top 10 settled on the Wets as well as they served up the warm up lap. Into the pits for Mercedes and Vettel for the Wets as the rest rocked it round.
Verstappen was crushing it, a full second up through S1 on Stroll, who continued to surprise. 1.5s S2 and then it was Ocon, eclipsing Stroll and going P2 with 8 minutes left as the top 3 attempted to catch up. Ricciardo stuck it in just behind Verstappen.
As the times rolled in, Verstappen continued to improve and Bottas could not improve, going P3. Hamilton across the line for P1, until Ricciardo did him for a tenth, taking P1 away with 5 minutes left in the session.
Hamilton kept in it, and despite being lied to by his steering wheel, managed to retake P1 with 4 minutes. Vettel, on the other hand, was unable to clear P8 as the weather continued to worsen and the news for Raikkonen was even worse, P10. Box Box for Lewis and Bottas with 2 minutes left.
Despite his best efforts, Ricciardo stayed ahead of Verstappen and the question became could Mercedes get their tyres up to temperature before the checquers came down.
Under a minute left and Ricciardo hit the line for his final effort. Ocon meanwhile was screaming around the track, already in P4 and as he hit the line it was P3, then the checquers. Raikkonen P7. Verstappen then to P1 as Stroll took P3 away from Ocon. Bottas ahead bailed into the pits as he was just not on it and as the crowd held it’s breath, Hamilton, who had been fire throughout his lap crushed it, a full second up on Verstappen and taking sole possession of the record for poles and leaving a bunch of jaws collectively on the floor. A stunning display of driving from all of the top 5 in an epic qualifying.
Ocon and Stroll both resplendent and the battle between the Red Bulls and Hamilton was mesmerising. But with the penalties they will line up Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Bottas and you’re forgiven if you didn’t see THAT coming.
Looking at FP2 Ferrari should be able to make some progress tomorrow if the weather predictions hold for a dry race, but getting by Bottas and the other 2 Mercedes powered cars will be a challenge, if they can’t get it done at the start. Top 10 for Vandoorne also not bad for the new spec Honda engine, though the real test for them will be tomorrow during the race.
Of course wet quali means free tyre choice, so the usual strategy pronouncements will just have to wait till the tyre warmers come off tomorrow. Further back, the relentless progress of Red Bull will certainly make this a race to tune in for, but the big story will be the performance of the 2 juniors suddenly thrust up to the sharp end of the grid.
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