Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 22° Track 34° Humidity 53% Wind 0.8 m/s
Clear blue skies, sunny, temperatures bordering on the insanely perfect, in other words, a total change from all the data gathered on Friday, which usually promises all sorts of excitement. Of course, with Verstappen
starting at the back, some manner of excitement is likely guaranteed for Sunday regardless of how the qualifying shakes out.
The biggest excitement, though was the fact that in the F3 race, Peroni went wide in parabolica and hit the sausage kerb meant to keep runners from gaining an advantage onto their hotlaps, which then launched him over the tyre barrier and into the fencing. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt but instead the kerb has been removed and for those who trespass, they lose 2 laptimes, the one they’re finishing and the one they’re about to start.
With that bit of info dispensed, it was perhaps useful to know that Mercedes felt that the tow was worth a minimum of 0.2-0.3 seconds, and as a result, and as had already been seen in the F3 qualifying, there was likely to be an epic showdown to see who would blink first as the last dregs of Q3 played out.
Green Light!! Kubica kicked things off, a perennial favorite thanks to his lengthy residence in Italy. 30 seconds later Gasly, Kvyat Stroll Russell Perez Norris Raikkonen and Giovinazzi all lined up for the mega tow and after another 15 seconds, a second string, led by Sainz, followed by Kubica Grosjean and Magnussen. Many complaints about slowness, especially after the fun of Spa and after the debacle of the F3 qualifying (17 penalties? most for shenanigans on the outlap), a minimum time, 1:45 according to Mercedes, had been instituted to keep things from getting too out of hand.
Giovinazzi was the winner of the first string, 0.143 seconds ahead of Sainz, then Raikkonen, Grosjean and Kvyat. While the second string rocked in, the big boys had come out to play, with Vettel, leading Leclerc and Ricciardo and Hulkenberg tagging along. Leclerc complained about how fast Vettel was going, and as a result he failed to gain a tow and with both Ferraris on Mediums they just went 3rd for Leclerc and 6th for Vettel whilst it was Hulkenberg to the top!! A 1:20.155 for him and Ricciardo 2 tenths back in P2.
10 minutes to go and out went the Mercedes, Bottas towing Hamilton around, and nicely positioned but even with that, it was P3 for Bottas and P4 for Hamilton as Leclerc, still on Medium tyres, made it to the top with a 1:20.126. With the clock ticking below 6 minutes, Vettel was on the radio insisting his P6 needed a second run as it was Grosjean, Perez, Russell, Kubica and Verstappen, with no time on the board, on the outside looking in.
4:30 on the clock and just as Vettel was in the midst of his run, out came the red flag for Perez , who had parked it up on the entrance to the Curva Grande as it ground to a halt…More fun for the engineers at Brixworth then, for the second week in a row.
During the red flag delay, the coverage helpfully pointed out that Albon had exceeded track limits and therefore should have his times deleted. Though it turned out to have been his slower lap so his position was safe….With the resumption of hostilities it was Verstappen, first out, followed by, well, pretty much the entire field. Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kubica, Gasly, Kvyat, Norriss, Russell, Sainz and then Stroll.
As the massive pack wound its way round Parabolica Vettel had wandered out on track with a set of Softs on, all by his lonesome as his teammate was far up the road. On the outlap, it was Verstappen with his now plaintive cry of “No Power” causing all sorts of issues as he became a slow moving object on the track, but no real worries as he was already starting at the back anyway.
Magnussen to P8 which rapidly became P10 and then it was very much down to Grosjean v Stroll and quel surprise, it was Stroll, up to P12 whilst Grosjean was unable to crack the top 15. Vettel bailed without setting a time once he saw how the final runs were going and thus it was Grosjean, Perez Russell, Kubica and Verstappen going no further, off in search of solace in the form of bruschetta whilst the rest turned it round for the rigors of Q2.
Kvyat and Magnussen were first out of the gate, with Stroll following not too far behind. Then Mercedes really kicked off the dominoes, and after Bottas and Hamilton were out, it was Vettel behind, then Norriss, Sainz, Leclerc, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.
Kvyat kicked off the fun then, and it was a decent effort, just about a 1:21 but of the openening group it was Kmag to the top. Hamilton outpointed Bottas and then Vettel helpfully inserted himself in between, before Leclerc went to the top, 0.15 seconds up with a 1:19.553. Raikkonen had a big off which brought out the yellows momentarily in the first Lesmos. Albon pulled a P6 but it was Ricciardo, confirming his observation that Renault had indeed made some progress with their power, going P4, ahead of both Bottas and Albon. Kvyat had another go, with just over 8 minutes to go as he was sitting P11, and he crossed the line with just enough time in hand to go P10 as Stroll, on a similar effort, was unable to get over the top of the mountain.
With that done the track cleared and as things stood, it was Stroll, Norris, Giovinazzi, Gasly and Raikkonen on the outside looking in with Kvyat sitting in the hotseat with final runs looming to gain the hallowed grounds of Q3.
2 minutes to go and off they went, Albon leading the way, then Magnussen, Gasly, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Stroll, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Leclerc, Vettel, Kvyat (who had a bit of a duel with Leclerc along the way), Giovinazzi, Bottas and finally Hamilton….
Vettel owned S1, Hamilton S2 and then S3 and to the top he went, followed by Leclerc, less than a tenth off, although neither he nor Vettel completed their full lap, and then it was Stroll, to P8, pushing out Magnussen and then it was Giovinazzi, a painful 0.002 seconds slower than Raikkonen, the first of those done for the day, followed by Magnussen, Kvyat, Norris, and Gasly, off to drown their sorrows with some Negronis as the rest turned it around for the ultimate test of Q3.
The pits opened to a whole lot of nothing, everyone content to loll about and let someone else go first, as the precious seconds of Q3 ticked away, one by one….. The first to no longer be able to take it were Mercedes, who rolled out of the pits, chased by Ferrari, then Mercedes pulled over, Hamilton ahead of Bottas as Ferrari rolled by and had once again effectively been dummied into leading the way.
But Vettel had a trick up his sleeve, and as he approached the first turn he gently locked his fronts and went straight on and Leclerc followed on. Ricciardo saw it coming and backed off so Vettel remained in the lead, but his teammate had more fortune, emerging just behind Hulkenberg.
All that playing but when it got down to it it was Leclerc, once again taking the top spot as it most certainly looked as if Vettel would lose his time as he looked to have gone all four wheels off, and thus his P3. Hamilton was P2 a mere 0.039 seconds back followed by the Renaults of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg. AS they streamed across the line it was Raikkonen, losing the back end in Parabolica, who brought out the Red Flags as he made it into the wall and caused the medical car to deploy. At first it appeared that Bottas, Albon, Raikkonen (natch), and Stroll(who had been chilling in the pits to save tyres) but after replay, Bottas was awarded P3 ahead of Vettel and just 0.047 seconds off, his time virtually identical to Hamilton’s.
On further review, it looked that although all 4 of Vettel’s tyres were indeed off, by time the 4th was off the 1st was back on and as the track finally reopened, it appeared his time was safe…. but Albon and Stroll were going to have but a single shot at glory.
The session restarted with over 6 minutes left and by the time there was 2:30 left all the teams had stationed members to peer into the pitboxes to see who first dared to whip off the tyre blankets and lead the way. At last it was Hulkenberg, who could wait no longer and he led the way. Hulkenberg took the long way round T1 but Stroll hit the brakes and that was when the fun really started. All the cars backed up with Sainz rolling up and Hulkenberg, after his hijinks in T1, still stuck in the lead, as the confused Ferrari drivers began overtaking but were held up by the Sainz/Hulkenberg duel at the front. As the pack bunched up it then ground to a halt and they began to crawl around the track, zipping forward and falling back as everyone jockeyed to be close enough to the front without having to take the lead, no longer in a neat line with more than half the lap to go, suddenly there was less than a minute to go. Apparently someone was paying attention as it beccame a pack run into the Parabolica as they dropped the hammer in a desperate bid to make the start before the checquers. Sainz wound up in front and as they rocked across the line it looked to be ONLY Carlos Sainz who actually made it across the line. And indeed he was…..
Sainz was trying to improve on 7th but he was not able to do so and at the end of the day, it was going to be Mercedes in a Ferrari sandwich, followed by the astonishing Daniel Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Albon, Stroll and of course, the hapless Raikkonen. Rueing the day most, perhaps, was Vettel, who after the session said that they reckoned the margin with tow to have been enough to have gained him pole position… AS it was, a starting grid like that promises a great deal of fun, and that’s before you factor in the weather, which might once again be going sideways, with a promise of rain to bring out the best in everyone. Renault will be looking to take maximum advantage of the unusual starting grid and it will be a test of fire for Albon, who was looking at a P5 but now will be starting in P7, to make up the spots as quickly as possible.
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