Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 20° Track 30° Humidity 60% Wind 3.0 m/s
In stark contrast to the previous day, leaden grey skies hung over the paddock as the preparations for qualifying were underway and the riot of activity began to slowly ratchet up, the screams of airguns punctuating live commentary as increasingly harried team personnel rushed about fulfilling their last minute tasks….
Barcelona traditionally kicks off the first major salvo in the development wars and FP2 seemed to show that Ferrari had made progress on a track within a few tenths of the superb Bottas, who looked implacable relative to his teammate, even though the difference between them was mere hundredths. But oh what a difference a day makes, as unlike the relatively robust track temperature in the low 40’s, FP3 saw falling temperatures in the 20s and suddenly Ferrari was more than half a second off, whilst Bottas beached his car on the first outlap, handing the advantage squarely to his teammate, who ended the session half a second faster than anyone else.
But it was HAAS and in particular Grosjean who ruled the session, their new update slaying the opposition and both HAAS drivers finished ahead of Red Bull, with Romain a mere 0.02 seconds slower then Vettel’s Ferrari. Alexander Albon, too, put in a massive effort, and a Toro Rosso in Q3 looked all but certain as the clock ticked down to the start of the session.
The cooler temps also made the handling of the cars much trickier, as with the rear tyres not being heated to the same temps as the fronts (20C less for those that care) the outlaps became a source of extreme pain for several drives, including not only the aforementioned Bottas, but Vettel as well, who had a lovely spin on used tyres in the last chicane and eventually George Russell, whose backward trip into the wall ended the session early and added an extra bit of uncertainty to the final moments before qualifying (along with a gearbox penalty for him), with temperatures climbing slowly and the clouds parted to reveal cerulean skies….
Green Light!! Kubica was first out, and he was the only runner as the first minutes ticked off the clock…As he rolled onto his first hot lap, the rest of the field was just climbing into their cockpits, Stroll being next onto track, both on the Soft tyre.
Ferrari took to the track next, Leclerc trailing Vettel as Kubica rocked up a fairly slow, even by William’s standards, 1:21.86. Stroll was next up, a 1:19.113 for him, not fast but in the neighborhood at least….During that interlude, both Renaults were out along with the Alfa and it was Hulkenberg who drew unwanted attention as he went off in T4, hitting the wall and dislodging his front wing. This brought out the yellows as he was able to get it going again and dragged his wounded bodywork around the track, broken front wing trapped under his tire.
Temps had skyrocketed with the coming of the sun, and it was Vettel with 1:18.068 and then his teammate to the top, into the 17’s with a 1:17.835. 10 minutes left and the Mercedes were on their outlaps, Bottas having the choice this weekend of order. Verstappen clocked in a 1:17.244 and then it was Bottas, to the tap and 0.069 faster than the Red Bull. Hamilton slotted P3 and that left just the HAAS drivers to set a time. Albon in the Toro Rosso was the best of the rest, his impressive run in FP3 looking to be confirmed.
AS the track cleared off went the HAAS and Kmag was looking imperious early on, troubling Ferrari, and into P6 he went, just 0.2 off the Ferrari of Vettel. Grosjean didn’t have as clean a lap, and it was P9 for him, and a bit of worry as the field reset for the last Q1 runs. Hamilton complained of traffic, as did Perez and probably most of the rest of the drivers…
4 minutes to go and Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Russell, Kubica and, of course, Hulkenberg were on the outside looking in with Perez in the hotseat. AS the clock ticked under 3 minutes, Hulkenberg was across the line after a good effort by the mechanics, and into P15, but that was not going to be enough.
Ricciardo was out, then Kubica, Sainz, Norris, Perez Albon, Russel, Kvyat, Grosjean Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. Ricciardo improved but stayed P13, Raikkonen was up to P11 and then Sainz flashed across the line, up to P7 and then Norris was up to P6, putting Stroll out. Perez to P14 putting Hulkenberg out and that was that, Hulkenberg, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Russel and Kubica going no further, off to the tapas table to commiserate as the rest turned it around for the second session…
At the sharp end, Bottas had improved to a 1:16.979 and at Renault, despite Hulkenberg’s mistake, a bare P15 for Ricciardo had to be rated as shocking, given the large investment Renault had made in climbing up the grid…
35°C and gusty winds as Q2 got underway. Bottas led the way, followed by Hamilton and the Ferraris answered the call immediately, Leclerc leading Vettel. Albon and then Verstappen were next onto the circuit, with the clock down to 11:30 as the hot laps got underway. Bottas purpled S1 until Vettel took that away, but S2 was where the Ferraris had been losing time and it was purple S2 for Bottas till Hamilton took that away. Bottas replied with a purple S3, but it wasn’t enought for the loss in the middle, as he went P2 as Lewis crushed it with a 1:16.038, lap record and P1 in hand. Vettel rocked up a 1:16.667 as Leclerc had a moment in T9 and wound up with 1:17.511 and way off.
The midfield were well into it by that point, with 8 minutes left in the session and it was Grosjean going P5, ahead of Leclerc, with a 1:17.29 whilst his teammate went P7, which became P8 as the Red Bulls turned their times in, Verstappen P4 and Gasly P5, with Sainz and Ricciardo rounding out the top 10. On the outside looking in were Albon, Perez, Norris, Kvyat, and Raikkonen with 5 minutes left and last minute adjustments being made for the final tilt at the glories of Q3…. The big strategic question was whether Leclerc would burn another set of Soft tyres as his P7 time was a bit dubious…
Norris led the way, then Raikkonen, Magnussen and Albon. Sainz, Hamilton and Grosjean were next with Ricciardo tagging along. The last group was Gasly and Kvyat with Perez trailing far behind and then Leclerc, likely to judge whether or not another hot lap would be needed.
Norris was first across the line, improving and up to P7 as Raikkonen only went P12. Albon to P8 and then Kmag smashed it up to P5 whilst Bottas was up to P1 with a rather astonishing 1:15.924. Sainz couldn’t improve then Grosjean improved on Kmag’s show, up to P5 till Gasly took the spot away. Perez up to P15, hah, as Leclerc, in P12 and lap most definietly needed, bagged P4. Ricciardo banged out a P10 and Leclerc’s effort took away a Q3 spot from Norris, dropping him to P11. Joining him, was Albon (with a mistake), Sainz (mistake), Raikkonen, and Perez….. off for some cava at the VIP tent to drown their sorrows as the rest girded themselves for the crucible of Q3… Leclerc looked to have lost some bodywork with his error, the kerbs rattling loose some unidentified part of carbon fibre as he ran too wide on exit…
Hamilton was first off the mark for Q3, Kvyat then and Bottas behind. Vettel was next off as Hamilton got ready to start his hotlap. Verstppen and Gasly, then Kmag, Ricciardo and Grosjean were out then and looking to be in Hamilton’s way on his first run… Indeed, he overtook both Grosjean and Ricciardo, ending with a 1:16.04. But Bottas was quicker, much quicker with a 1:15.406!!!! Just like whatever….Vettel went P3 followed by Verstappen, Gasly Grosjean and Magnussen. Kvyat went P8 then Ricciardo P9 as Leclerc sat out the first run being a set of tires down. Both HAAS were into the 1:16’s and 0.8s back to the Toro Rosso of Kvyat meant they were running in a class of their own. To the pits they retired, last minute tweaks and telemetry to be studied.
Leclerc hit the track with 4 minutes to go, ensuring a clean run on an empty track. Bottas snuck out on his outlap just as the Ferrari hammered down the straight, then one by one all the runners appeared giving Leclerc some traffic to overcome. And it was a 1:16 and P5 for him. Bottas, not improving, Hamilton, not improving, Hamilton not improving. Leclerc, too, couldn’t improve his position at all and that was that for that. No one improved and nothing changed. Sigh….
So it’s off to tomorrow where the biggest question will be whether or not HAAS can preserve their tyres over a full race stint, what happens at the start, and just how far off Ferrari will be…. too far, in any event for a decent race without the stochastic interference of the race gods… The midfield will throw up some interesting options, with different tyre strategies to be fought on either side of P10. Minor carnage in the midfield battles might swing the needle somewhat with a Safety Car to liven things up but frankly that’s clutching at straws on a circuit where overtaking is difficult at best….
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