Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 19° Track 28° Humidity 54% Wind 0.6 m/s
IT was a stark contrast of leaden grey sky, black clouds on the horizon and occasional patches of golden sun that lit the track for FP3. Much like the varying fortunes of the 2 teams that now are locked in a fierce battle for both the WDC and WCC, it is Ferrari that appear to be ascendant with Mercedes left shaking their heads. Still, there was less than a hundredth or so between Hamilton and Vettel at the end of it all, but that made Ferrari on top in all 3 practice sessions, which never bodes well for the Silver Arrows, barring rain of course, which was predicted at about an 80% chance for qualifying.
It was a drying track at the start of the last practice session, and the track started off fairly greasy with times improving throughout. The early damp caught out Vettel who had a massive lock up which spoiled his early times, and left Kimi to rule the top of the leaderboard. Hamilton was unhappy with his early set up as Mercedes were on about saving tyres, but he dutifully went about his business once he’d registered his complaint, going P2 and looking strong in the twisty bits (well, relatively speaking) of S1. This does seem to be a bit of a pattern, and both Ferrari’s were ferocious in the latter 2 sectors. In fact, it wasn’t until his final run right before the chequers, that Hamilton was able to get close enough to make it look like a contest for qualifying.
Of the sharp end, both Ricciardo and Bottas seemed a bit nowhere, with Bottas the bigger surprise, struggling to stay within half a second of his teammate. Ricky Danny OTOH a bit of a given now he’s made his bed with a new team, not a surprise to see him wandering further afield as he’s been barred from just about everything but the paddock during the race weekend by RBR. HAAS announced they’d made the suspension breakthrough they needed to get their new floor to work properly, and K-Mag demonstrated it by being best of the rest by nearly two tenths when the dust had settled. Ocon was next in line as RoGro had a very trafficky and fraught effort and then was shut down due to mileage concerns as he was denied one last go by the team. Perez, too had issues, getting wide over the sausage kerbs and breaking some strakes off that gave him a permanent and uncurable case of understeer that did him no favours, but was easily fixable for qualifying.
Other broken things included the FIA tyre tender, of which Michelin (long a favourite of Jean Todt) has apparently decided not to partake of due to the odd timing. The tender runs from 2020, meaning that any new supplier would have to supply 13″ wheels for a sole year, before switching to 18″ wheels when all the rest of the regulations change for 2021 and (at least currently) 18″ wheels will be the new standard. This leaves just Hankook and Pirelli to fight it out, with a bit of an advantage to Pirelli, as at least they won’t have the same spend given they’ve been producing 13″ wheels for the entirety of the time they returned to the sport, as opposed to Hankook, for whom it would all be new.
As time ran short and qualifying drew near, reports of light rain at Parabolica began to circulate, clearly nasty looking clouds hanging about the circuit, changing the calculus for pole position. If the Mercedes could be said to be dominant, it is decidedly so in the hands of Hamilton when it rains. A stark reminder that, as in many other things, success often is down as much to luck in addition to skill…
Green Light!! The cruel gods of racing were in full view as all round the circuit showers were popping up within full view of the circuit, teasing viewers with the possibility of a full chaos event during the session. Hartley was first out, the moment the pits opened, followed at a decent interval by Leclerc. Then the dam burst, and it was Gasly, Sirotkin, Ericsson et al., and at the back of that train Vettel wandered out, roughly a full minute after the start of Q1. Raikkonen and Stroll made it out, then Hartley was off on his first hotlap, guaranteeing at least a few moments at the top of the timing sheets for the plucky Toro Rosso team.
Vettel had managed to get round all the traffic and to a large roar from the crowd set off in pursuit of pole just as Hartley set his first time, going P1 with a 1:23.684 till Leclerc toppled him seconds later with a 1:23.097. AS Vettel completed his S3 with around 13 minutes left, Mercedes were out of the pitlane and in rapid succession it was Vettel with a 1:21.538 then Raikkonen with a 1:20.937 to the top as the both Mercedes were halfway through their outlap.
S1 saw now purples for either Mercedes, but S2 saw that reverse, Hamilton taking the honour there, but S3 did him in, and it was P2, as Vettel, still out, was on another push lap behind and cleaned up his first effort, aided by several laps of fuel burn no doubt, and rocked up to a 1:20.758, cutting very short Hamilton’s time at the top. Raikkonen rubbed a bit of salt into that wound by then dropping Lewis to P3.
8 minutes left and best of the rest was Ocon, just two tenths off the pair of Bottas and Verstappen, who had managed to run an identical to the thousandth 1:21.381, with Bottas ahead as his time was set first. HAAS had just set their first times, and were P8 for Magnussen and P12 for Grosjean and at the interval, as the rest of the teams retired to reset for their final gasp, it was Hulkenberg (already starting at the back due to penalties) Ericsson, Gasly, Hartley and Ricciardo (also with penalties sending him to the back) on the outside looking in as the clock ticked over 4 minutes to go.
Ricciardo was onto it first, past Hamilton as he lazed around on his outlap, a neat and tidy effort that left him P4, as a second effort from RoGro promoted him to P10, before Alonso bounced him to P11. Down to 2 minutes and now it was Stroll, Vandoorne, Hartley, Gasly and Hulkenberg as they were down to their final chances.
Leclerc was leading the train, P13 and hit the line with less than a minute left. Perez was garaged in P12, and in significant danger. KMag chunked his last effort, but in P9 was likely safe as the last seconds dripped off. Ericsson trailed Leclerc (tactics much) but to no avail, with no improvement for Sauber. Alonso led Vandoorne, Gasly led Hartley but it was Stroll to P12 all on his own. Sirotkin to P11 and then Gasly knocked Stroll back to P13 with Alonso and Grosjean the last two to make the transfer.
Done like a dinner were Perez, Leclerc, Hartley, Ericsson and Vandoorne with Force India the big loser, their attempt to save tyres having put Sergio out of qualifying by 0.001 seconds. Ouch!! Even for Vandoorne, dead last, he was just 0.2 seconds off his teammate. Nevertheless, off for some bruschetta they were as the rest readied their chariots for the next go round.
Q2 opened with HAAS leading the way, followed by Gasly and Hamilton. Bottas dutifully sallied forth and then Alonso and Raikkonen followed. AS K-Mag hit Parabolica, Verstappen and Vettel were off and then the it was on. Magnussen took too much speed into della Roggia and was into the gravel and just behind Grosjean rocked by his teammate and was off. Yoicks!! P2 for RoGro and then it was a 1:19.798 for Hamilton. Raikkonen then went P2 with a 1:20.232 and Vettel behind was purpling sectors and went just 0.013 seconds faster but there was some question as to whether track limits were exceeded through Parabolica (argue amongst yourselves over that). Juicy result and the fight was well and truly on. Ocon wound up at the top of the Formula B times and a last minute call to the weighbridge saw Bottas spin on a wet patch as he attempted to comply with the order as his tyres were on a wet patch.
7 minutes to go, and Grosjean Gasly and Sainz were the only runners circulating, finishing their inlaps as the track cleared for last minute adjustments. Alonso, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Sirotkin and Stroll were all in the drop zone, with the latter three having yet to set a time.
4 minutes later and still the track was clear, then finally, Mercedes broke the quiet, Bottas then Hamilton (who’s slipstreaming who) then Vettel, Sirotkin, Gasly, Stroll, well, pretty much everyone but Ricciardo who was done for the day due to his penalties. Bottas hit the line with 45 seconds left and off they went with a bit of dicing at the back, Alonso and one of the HAAS’ alongside into the first turn. Vettel managed to eke up a tenth, no improvement for either Mercedes. At the back, the big mover was Stroll to P8 while K-Mag let down the side. On replay, it was Alonso who rather ruined the HAAS drivers lap, as Fernando tried to overtake him into T1 having grabbed a big slipstream and they wound up hammering into each other through the chicane and out of Q3.
So K-Mag, Sirotkin, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Ricciardo were all done for the day. off for some limoncello as it looked like Steiner and Brown were about to throw down on telly, neither happy with the other’s driver, but HAAS with far more cause…. The top 10 got themselves ready for the ultimate glory of Q3 as Magnussen trashed Alonso on a post tangle interview on BBC.
Ocon was first off in Q3 with nearly a minute run off the clock, followed by Gasly and Grosjean in the final qualifying session. They had the track to themselves, and it was Ocon purpling the track, being chased at about a 20 second interval by the other two. As they turned for home, the big boys came out to play, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas and Sainz, with Stroll looking to just rock home with one run, tyres generally being at a premium in the Williams garage due to their rather poor usage of them. RoGro pipped Ocon by a tenth with Gasly about a half second back.
Early days it was Hamilton with the advantage in S1 as Vettel turned up the pressure in S2. S3 and Vettel was home in a 1:19.497, then Raikkonen was EVEN faster, a 1:19.459 and then Hamilton cruised in with a 1.19.39 despite the Ferrari advantage in the last 2 sectors. Vettel was slower than Hamilton in S3, and that’s where the big difference was made on the first runs.
Verstappen was first out for the final runs, 2 minutes left as the field rolled out on their outlaps. Vettel led Raikkonen, whereas Bottas led Hamilton, the midfield at the tail of the train and Vettel looking like he might want to steal a bit of Hamilton’s slipstream as the rocked down the straight towards their last chance at glory. Raikkonen was fastest in S1, Bottas purpled S2 as they hammered into Parabolica… Hamilton provisional pole, then Vettel took the honours away and then, HOLY I need a contract, Kimi took pole AWAY from Vettel!!!!! Front row lockout for the Scuderia and the gaps were informative indeed, 0.161 seconds between the Ferrari teammates, and then another 0.015 seconds to Hamilton, as the power of the slipstream was undeniable.
Further back it was RoGro confirming HAAS form (at least when Alonso wasn’t driving into them), P6 followed by Sainz, Ocon, Gasly and Stroll. Nice result for both Williams and Toro Rosso while K-Mag will no doubt be looking to settle some scores after being punted by Alonso. Bottas beat out Verstappen for the tweeners (in-between for those not fluent in America speak) and mentioned set up changes that improved corners but robbed him of braking performance, as having made his day difficult. Kudos for Vettel not blaming the slipstream in the interview, and what a thing, first pole for Raikkonen since who knows when (OK, Monaco ’17), at 38 the oldest pole sitter since Mansell in ’94 (can you tell I follow Sean Kelly on twitter?) and the FASTEST LAP in Formula 1. Say what you will, these engines with this aero is a staggering thing and given the gaps tomorrow’s race will be a desperate thing for Mercedes, with no obvious way past for the Silver Arrows. That said, interesting times at Ferrari as the inevitable team orders drama rears its head in advance of tomorrow’s Grand Prix. The start will be a thing as well (as ever!!), and the chase of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg from the back promise to keep the race animated for those who are worried about a procession…
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