Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 28° Track 33° Humidity 70% Wind 1.0 m/s
Singapore sparkles at night, liveries glistening under the harsh glare of the artificial lights as the final, desperate preparations for the qualifying session were made by the teams. Equally dazzling were the bevy of inter and intra team manuevers that preceded the sporting fun.
Honda to Toro Rosso, Renault to McLaren, Sainz to Renault and a 404 page not found for Jolyon Palmer. The latest rumour has it he’s been offered a fair bucket full of cash to vacate his race seat before the end of the season, but apparently true was the fact he learned he was losing his seat from reading it in an article and not from the team. Quelle dommage!!
FP3 saw both RB cars with their issues, Verstappen with a faulty steering wheel that started changing gears on its own and Ricciardo with a self inflicted hit, literally into the wall after he missed an apex. The price for Danny Ric was some bent suspension, which was replaced in a fairly hasty manner.
FP2 saw Ricciardo transcendant, but FP3 ultimately belonged to his younger teammate, with Vettel and Hamilton trailing close behind.
Green Light!! Wehrlein, Raikkonnen, Kvyat and Stroll were first out of the gate, unusually so for Kimi, suggesting ( and born out by his FP3 placement) that he was far from pleased with his car’s balance and would be using part of the session to continue trying to sort his car.
There was also the issue of some slippery spots on the track, all the drivers being warned of T15, where a large amount of cement dust had been laid down to soak up an oil spill.
By the 15 minute mark the track was getting quite crowded as the first runners kicked off on their hot laps.
Raikkonen and Kvyat were first through, with times in the 1:44s, way off the FP2 mark set by Danny Ric, with 13 minutes left in the session.
Grosjean had an off as the telly played lurid slides by a Williams in slo mo. Vettel came through SLOWER than Raikkonen with Sainz momentarily in 3rd. Alonso was on a flyer, sliding it into P2 until Vandoorne pasted one, going P1 with 10:30 left in the session.
Yes, you read that correctly, McLaren with their “horrible” engine was temporarily P1. Very temporarily as the Red Bulls were on track, with Danny Ric besting young Max in their first tilt, top of the charts and into the 1:42s. Perez banged one into P4 as the Mercedes, having played the waiting game, set loose their drivers.
Hamilton was first across the line, going P2 just a 0.1s off Ricciardo whilst Bottas rocked his effort into P4, trailing Verstappen by a similar margin. Game on as the Red Bulls began to respond with just under 7 minutes left.
Massa whacked the wall on his effort, collecting a puncture and potentially some suspension damage as well. The Bulls 2nd effort saw them back to the top, this time with Verstappen ahead of Riccciardo. Hamilton’s response was to go faster, but still P3, this time roughly 0.5s off the pace of Verstappen.
AS the field entered the pits to reset for their last chance at Q2, a massive plume of smoke from Kvyat’s engine perhaps gave McLaren a wince of regret. Ericsson, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Stroll and the puncture afflicted Massa had it all to do.
Grosjean, after 2 consecutive offs early on, finally got a decent time in grabbing P10 as the rest of the field under pressure began to circulate in anticipation of their last, desperate effort to move on.
Under a minute and up to P10 for Magnussen. P4 for Kvyat, P3 for Sainz.
Checquers out and Massa P15 as he crossed the line, Palmer next into P5. Vandoorne then crushed it to go P5 and Alonso, trailing his teammate to P3 with a magnificent effort and only Hulkenberg left to set a time. Across the line, P9 and SLOWER than Palmer as the dust settled. Magnussen, Massa, Stroll, Wehrlein and Ericsson were off to the food stalls as the rest of the field turned it around for Q2.
The oil into T15 still seemed to be bothering the drivers and the pace of track evolution seemed to have caught the top teams out a bit in Q1, not a mistake they were likely to repeat.
Q2 and Raikkonen again led the way, followed by Hamilton and Bottas. No wasted time today, as the circuit filled rapidly with anxious drivers.
Kimi ahead early days, crushing purple sectors with a stunning 1:40.999. Hamilton, a tick slower as Vettel up to P1 1:40.529. In the wings lurked the Red Bulls, Verstappen not quite getting it done through S2 but receiving absolution for his S3, up to P1. Ricciardo with some penance left to do, splitting the Ferraris.
Less happy were Mercedes, suddenly looking seriously adrift for the first time. Vandoorne put it in between the Mercedes, and Palmer into P10, last of the transfer slots available with 7:30 left in the session.
Left with it all to do, were Alonso, Perez, Kvyat, Ocon and Grosjean, with the HAAS driver having not set a time after utterly leaving the circuit with his first effort.
The big drama in the interlude was that Mercedes, in P5 and P7 might yet venture forth to ensure that they were solidly into Q3. Given the pace of track evolution in the first session, it seemed a certainty.
3 minutes left and out they went, the Mercedes giving the field about 15 seconds before joining them. Apparently the evolution also bothered the strategy meisters at the top 3 as everyone was out to protect their spots, such was the uncertainty over times.
Again, Raikkonen was lighting up S1 as Alonso went P8, slower than Vandoorne, who was P6. Sainz P10. Raikkonen P2 just behind Verstappen. Ricciardo P2! 0.05s off Max. No improvement for Palmer, P11 and the Force Indias were nowhere, with Perez bailing on his effort. Kvyat’s try was not good enough either and he exited P13 and cursing his car.
Palmer, Perez, Kvyat, Ocon and Grosjean were done like a dinner, off to the gin bar to share their woes as the top 10 got ready to tilt for all the glory in Q3.
Alonso led the field out, trailed by Sainz and Vandoorne. Vettel and Ricciardo were the last out and the rest trailed around the circuit in groups of 3 as they went through the dizzying array of routines necessary to extract the last thousandth of laptime from their highly strung machines.
9 minutes to go and they were off, purple sectors littering the timing screens, Alonso since he was first and then Raikkonen. Hamilton, struggling with his tyre temp readings and crucially, no purples for him or Bottas as Vettel behind picked up where his teammate left off.
Raikkonen to a 1:40.069, then Verstappen to the the 1:39’s, just trailed by Ricciardo. And then BOOM! Vettel unveiled his true pace and crushed a 1:39.669, 0.15s up on Verstappen and dangerous days for Mercedes, as they seemed to be counting on Red Bull to keep Vettel out of the top spot so as to limit their losses this weekend.
Hamilton in P5 with 0.5s to find to be competitive as the field reset for their last efforts, but it was looking to be down to a contra strategy and a lucky Safety Car being his and Mercedes’ only hope on Sunday.
Alonso was the best of the rest from the first go, and it was Hulkenberg leading the way with 2:30 left in session and it all to play for at the top of the field.
New tyres for all and this time it was Ricciardo trailing Vettel and Hamilton trailing Verstappen with Raikkonen being the canary in the Singapore coal mine as the last tilt at glory got underway.
50 seconds left in the session and Raikkonen hit the line. Purple S1! Verstappen next and couldn’t match it. But Vettel could and did, with Hamilton much closer this time around.
S2 to Vettel again and it was an improvement for him up to 1:39.491, increasing his margin to Verstappen who remained P2. Hamilton got closer to Raikkonen but remained P5 and Ricciardo came even closer to Verstappen, this time just 0.026s slower but still P3. Bottas stayed firmly behind Lewis, with Hulkenberg leading the best of the rest competition home.
Brilliant work from Red Bull, making everyone believe they had pole within their grasp but it was Vettel, just killing it with his last run that made the crowd roar with approval, kissing the wall with sparks flying from his wheel as he careened his way round the circuit.
Brilliant for the driver’s championship, too, as with Mercedes being relegated to row 3 and Red Bull playing the joker, tomorrow’s race could play a crucial role in the outcome of the entire season.
Formula 1 will benefit too, with one of it’s premiere events seeing 3 teams in the mix. For Mercedes, it will be all about managing the damage and looking to strategy, for Red Bull it will be all about throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks and for Ferrari, well, they have it all to lose if they don’t keep their eye on the big prize.
On a personal note, a last shout to my buddy Dave Spier, Requiescat In Pace friend, you were one of the good ones and the world will miss your music…
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