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Ambient 22° Track 31° Humidity 71.3% Wind 0.3 m/s
After a thorough shellacking with rain during FP3, the Racing Gods showed their impish sense of humour as large patches of blue sky edged over the track, though shot through with some ominous black clouds hanging about round the edge of the circuit like a gang of feral teenagers. Latifi, yes that’s right, Latifi, was quickest in FP3 with an especially well timed run on a track that had switched from full Wets to Inters mid session. Vettel crunched his car into a wall, but shots of him ripping out of the pitlane and queuing at the exit suggested that Aston had managed to get the job done.
Given the dry track, the intemperate use of Softs yesterday was likely to make it challenging for some teams, with Sainz notably having been reported as using six of his eight sets of Softs during Friday Practice. And with a green track, as usual there was going to be a fight to get out at just the right time on an conditions improved…
Green Light!! Magnussen led the way onto track, Soft tyres the choice as nought but a few patches of damp left any evidence of the downpour that greeted the start of FP3. Stroll, Tsunoda and Gasly were next out then Schumacher, Vettel in his recently restored Aston and Bottas followed on.
Zhou trailed his teammate then a nice gap to Hamilton, Albon Verstappen, Russell Latifi and Perez, who had exited late enough that they posed a serious traffic threat to Magnussen’s lap. A 1:20.368 for Magnussen as he was first to set a time, though Stroll dinked him by a tenth till Bottas, with Alfa’s new floor update, put it into the 1:19’s and went to the top.
Schumacher had his time deleted for track limits before Verstappen took nearly a second off of Bottas’ time. Hamilton edged into P2 and then Russell and Perez both nicked Bottas as well, as only the Ferrari’s remained in the garage with 12 minutes to go. Due to the forecasts, there were lots of Softs used on the Fridays, and it could well have been Ferrari would need to do some managing to get to Q3 with 2 sets of new Softs left.
10 minutes to go and Schumacher and Ricciardo had yet to set a time, with the Ferraris at last out and about. Sainz P4, Leclerc P10 and those on the outside looking in were Ocon, Vettel, Tsunoda, Gasly and Schumacher. Of course, with a drying track it was not just about traffic, but also the track surface itself improving. Ocon, despite catching traffic in Sector 3, went P8 just a touch ahead of Hamilton now as conditions continued to improve. But lo, only for a moment as Hamilton rocked up to P2. 6 minutes to go and it was just Norris, the fly in the top 6 ointment, hanging about in P5 ahead of Russell in P6 and Perez the odd man out.
The cars were absolutely benefitting from running multiple laps to get the tyres completely up to temperatures, making for a session that was a bit harder to track than usual. 5 minutes to go and it was a scramble as the early runners were out and improving. 3 minutes to go and it was Albon, Bottas, Ocon, Ricciardo and Tsunoda all up against the wall as they were on their outlaps and looking at one and done. Full pressure then as they winged their way round for their final shot at the glories of Q2.
Magnussen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Stroll, Ocon were off then Stroll P15, Ocon P8 with Bottas just behind in P9. Tsunoda only P16 and day done, then both Williams failed to escape and then, drama, Gasly had his time deleted and was out as well. Vettel, P18 done like a dinner as well and as the checquers fell in a brutal fashion, it was Tsunoda, Albon, Vettel, Gasly and Latifi, done for the day and off in search of some paprikash to fill the empty void in their souls. The rest turned it around for the challenges of Q2.
Again Magnussen was first off as the track opened for Q2, with Hamilton, Russell, and Schumacher trailing. The Ferraris were next out, with Leclerc leading Sainz, then Norris, Perez and Verstappen out and the rest chilling in the garage. Of the opening quartet it was Russell to the top with Hamilton behind before the Ferrari’s took the lead only to be toppled by Norris!!!! Verstappen was setting purple sectors though and cruised to the top, fresh Softs doing the full business as it looked as if Ferrari were still trying to survive on used tyres for Q2. 10 minutes to go and the rest of the midfield was out P4 for Ocon with Alonso going P2. Ricciardo and Zhou both nicked ahead of Ocon and as the teams retired for the more traditional interval it was going to very much be a tale of who had new tyres to run. Perez had his time dinged by the stewards, though on replay it looked to be an iffy call at best by the stewards, assuming they had the correct replay…
On the outs were Hamilton, Stroll, Magnussen, Schumacher till Hamilton rocked it up to P3, putting Sainz out. Perez went P9 and spots of rain were being reported as Perez had his laptime reinstated. Stroll, Leclerc, Perez, Magnussen, Sainz and Schumacher were all out, then Verstappen, Bottas and Zhou bounced with Ocon last runner out. No improvement for Perez, eeeek! and Stroll was off on his adventure, making improvement in Sector 1. Magnussen wasn’t getting it done, but Bottas and Ocon were both improving with Bottas going P8 before Ocon dinged him and put Perez into the garage for Q3. No improvement for Zhou and that was that for that, Perez, Zhou, Magnussen, Stroll and Schumacher, done for the day, though Perez was complaining of a Magnussen blocking him on his last hotlap. Off in search of some palinka they to soothe their wounded egos while the rest turned it round for the rigours of Q3.
Ocon and Ricciardo were first to grace the track for Q3, with Leclerc out behind and on some new Softs for the fun. Norris, Sainz and Bottas followed on then Alonso and Hamilton. Verstappen was last out but this time with no teammate to keep him company. Ocon outpointed Ricciardo in the midfield battle, before Norris did the both of them, Sainz was nearly half a second quicker than Leclerc, oopsies, and then it was Russell up to P2, Hamilton P4 and Verstappen just P7, though likely on the old tyres with that gap. Alonso nicked P5 and it was a lockup into Turn 2 that did Verstappen’s time on replay. The teams rolled into the pits to turn it round for the final tilt at the ultimate palmares as it was Sainz, winning the battle of the bankers and sitting pretty going into the final runs.
3 minutes to go and out went Ocon, then Alonso, Ricciardo and Leclerc. Bottas trailed the Ferrari out then it was Sainz and Verstappen. Norris popped out next with Hamilton and Russell being last in the queue as Verstappen reported no power on the radio, though with lag who knows if it was an issue. Yep and there it was the rest of the exchange with engineering as it seemed to be unresolved going into his lap… Nothing works and oh dear, Leclerc up on Sainz through Sector 1 but Carlos bringing it back to him and they exchanged blows tenth by tenth by tenth before Leclerc …. took it away but only P2 as Sainz bested him across the line with only Russell behind and oh my, it was Russell, to the top and taking his first pole position, followed by Sainz, Leclerc, Norris and Ocon rounding out the top 5.
Fantastic result for Mercedes, and the cheers could be heard all the way back in Brackley for Russell’s pole, though teammate Hamilton lost out being caught behind an exceptionally slow Verstappen turning it off and on again and then a failed DRS sabotaging his final run and leaving him P7 overall. No matters, though as the points tomorrow are still all in play.
Fascinating turnaround at Ferrari, who will now have the strategic problem of what to do if Sainz gets away ahead of Leclerc on the morrow. Leclerc closest in the WDC but at 70 points (ish) back will they choose to sacrifice Sainz even if he is having the better race. Still, hard to argue that they aren’t having a good day relative to their rivals and even with the juicy HR issues, quiet smiles at Maranello as the reliability bug finally bit Red Bull again, after an unrelenting focus on the Scuderia.
McLaren will be delighted that Norris managed to put it in front of both Alpines, after they lost 4th in the WCC to them last week, but the reality of Ricciardo in P9 puts them in a hard strategic spot. It was a larger than normal gap so the possibility of traffic or tyres existed but regardless it was not a happy day for his side of the garage.
Alpine continued to play the team game, and despite the media plaudits for Alonso it was his teammate who managed to snag P5, with Alonso just 0.041 seconds back and despite being behind Norris, a strong showing in their bid to claim 4th in the WDC. And with Alonso’s starts and Ocon’s steadiness of nerve, a very interesting result potentially looms for the team from Enstone and they certainly won the prize for getting both cars where they belonged.
Bottas P8 was a happy return to form after some torrid results for Alfa Romeo and their updated floor was working the way they had hoped. Even though Zhou didn’t make Q3, he too was delighted with the performance of the car and it seemed that the team from Hinwil had got back a bit of its mojo.
That just leaves Red Bull, stewing in a corner after Perez failed to make Q3 and then Verstappen had a reliability issue with his PU. Given the usage thus far, they are not in a place to take a strategic penalty though Marko was at pains to say the problem was fixable. But worse for them, is the fact that they are starting in the carbon fibre zone on a track that requires a significant delta for overtaking.
Tomorrow’s race has everything that promises for a great deal of strategic fun: Hard overtakes, tyre degradation, big undercut, traffic and high likelihood of alternate strategies from out of place starters. Add to that the complete lack of running at predicted track temperatures and well, a lot could happen. Worth noting that the Mercedes is particularly slow on race pace at starts, or at least Hamilton was last week, nearly a second per lap off Leclerc’s times for the first 5 laps before settling in and going much, much quicker. Whether or not Russell will have the same issue, and regardless if he will be able to defend against the Ferraris, should they avoid taking each other out at the start.
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