Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801J
Ambient 26° Track 27° Humidity 81.3% Wind 0.3 m/s
The Racing Gods sense of humour is sublime and they blessed the first race in Singapore in three years with a massive deluge in FP3 that completely ruined any chance teams had to confirm their learnings from yesterday. Eventually the rains relented to the point that there was a half hour of running, with Ferrari fastest but after yesterday’s, uhhhh, hiccups for Red Bull a drying track and minimal mileage was the last thing that they wanted on a weekend that might indeed see their driver crowned champion.
AS the qualifying session approached, the rains gave way to a slowly drying track and the biggest question rapidly became whether or when it would be dry enough for some brave soul to pop on a pair of slicks and see if they could manage to miss ALL the walls…
Green Light!! Intermediates were the first prescription and it was Mercedes first off the mark, not a surprise as if Inters were the tyre to be on, the more laps the better to get the temperatures properly into them. Mercedes, in particular, had burned themselves more than once in qualifying by getting onto cold tyres late in a session, so no doubt they were keen to avoid that fate. Add to that their current struggles with tyre warmup and no surprise at all. McLaren was out as well, and as the first hotlaps got underway traffic was picking up, with Alpha Tauri, Ferrari, HAAS and Alpine all chucking their drivers out. Norris was on the radio saying it was just a bit too wet for slicks and the track was a particular challenge to manage as at some points it was nearly dry and puddles at other places.
Early days it was Hamilton to the top, with Russell and Tsunoda trailing and with 13 minutes left, only the Alfa Romeos stayed in the garage, perhaps waiting to see if slicks might be possible. But no, off went Bottas and Zhou on the Intermediates and the die seemed cast. Ocon popped up to P3 but Verstapen and Perez were both rocking up purple sectors as Russell bounced to the top. Making life more difficult for the drivers was the need to recharge the batteries between hotlaps without losing the temperatures in the tyres. Ten minutes left and it was Leclerc to the top as a yellow flag scuppered the run of Verstappen, apparently the HAAS of Magnussen.
Eight minutes and at last Verstappen was getting a proper run, the wet a particular boon to Red Bull, as they were losing their tyres in the third sector in Friday’s running. To the top went Max, with Hamilton and Leclerc rounding out the top three. With seven minutes left in the session, the big question now was whether or not to trade tyre temps for fresh rubber and on the outside looking in were Latifi, Bottas, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Schumacher, with Ricciardo, Magnussen and Schumacher all betting that fresh tyres would be the secret to making the glories of Q2.
Albon and Latifi were next up for fresh Inters and oh no!!! Albon was called to the weighbridge and missed his mark, the last thing he needed as he had dropped to P16….
Mercedes were in, and there was no idea what tyre they were on… Riccardo bounced to P12 and with three minutes left the track was packed, and it was Magnussen up to P6 with Schumacher up to P10, and Vettel, Bottas, Tsunoda, Albon and Latifi were now under pressure as the seconds ticked off the clock.
With the checquers out it was Albon, first across the line, and P16 was the best he could do, Gasly to P11, then Vettel to P11 and a yellow did someone no favours and it was Schumacher with the last chance and up to P14 he went, putting Bottas out. Going no further were Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon and Latifi, off to find some Laksa to fill the void in their souls. The rest turned it round for the rigours of Q2. On replay, Vettel had a close encounter with a wall and Ocon said that he lost the brakes in his final run, likely a victim of low temperatures or glazed brake pads.
Gasly led the way into Q2, once again the Intermediates on all the cars. Behind came Norris, Magnussen, Schumacher and then the flood gates opened, with Red Bull waiting longest before rocking onto the circuit. With long outlaps it seemed to take forever before Gasly at last made it to the top of the charts as the first runner, with barely more than ten minutes left in the session. But all the talk was of crossover, as missing that call could be fatal to one’s Q3 chances. As more laps came in it was Leclerc to the top, with Hamilton and Norris behind as Verstappen rounded turn 18…and P2 was the best for the Red Bull on that particular circuit of the track. Perez slotted in behind and it was Sainz up to P4 and with the first shots fired, Schumacher, Magnussen, Russell, Tsunoda and Zhou were all in the drop zone with seven minutes left to go.
Russell was the outlier in that group and he was in and out for a fresh set of tyres, and Ferrari were in for a new set of Intermediates, despite Leclerc asking for some slicks. Down at Aston, however, they were betting it all on red, chucking on a set of Softs to see if either of their drivers could get the job done. This started an absolute cascade as all the runners at risk bailed into the pits to see how the Astons faired. But it was Hamilton with new Intermediates going P2 suggesting that it might not yet be time. P7 for Russell and it was only Zhou to make Soft tyre bet, with the rest making their final tilt for the hallowed grounds of Q3 on fresh Intermediates.
It was looking increasingly like a bad bet on the part of Aston, with neither one able to improve due to a couple of still wet corners robbing them of time, and with the checquers out it was one final chance for them. Tsunoda up to P6, Magnussen up to P8 as the Astons scrabbled for grip. Behind Alonso rocked up to P5 as Russell dropped to P11 and that was it for the Mercedes driver. Stroll, who had nearly matched Alonso’s fastest middle sector, fell away in the third sector, as the Soft tyres were just a bit premature. Not a bad bet for a team with a huge issue with qualifying pace, it must be said but definitely one that didn’t pay out. Gone for the day then were Russell, Stroll, Schumacher, Vettel and Zhou, off in search of some Tiger beers to soothe their bruised egos. The rest were off in search of the last tenths as they approached the hallowed grounds of Q3.
Tsunoda and Magnussen were the only drivers to take the Intermediates into Q3, with all the rest rocking the Softs and the battle of the bankers was set to be le plus intéressant. Verstappen was first to hit the line and off he went, but it was Magnussen behind already setting purple mini sectors. And early days, it was the two Intermediate shod drivers doing best even as the track continued to dry. But Magnussen had an off leaving Tsunoda as the only runner with a shot on the Intermediates. And to the top went Tsunoda, nearly a second up on Verstappen. Behind, Hamilton had lit up the middle sector and oh my, two seconds quicker and winner of the battle of the bankers, with Tsunoda and Leclerc behind. Verstappen was up to P2 with his second effort, but still a second slower than Hamilton, who was in the middle of going even faster.
And across the line he went, 1:51 dead 0.8 seconds up on Leclerc with Alonso behind. Verstappen continued to struggle through the track, massive oversteer on throttle as he wrangled the car up to P2 whilst the times continued to drop. Perez rocked up to P3 and with three minutes left out they stayed…. but both Magnussen and Tsunoda were both in for some Softs.
Leclerc was on a flyer as Hamilton completed a second slow lap and it was Leclerc to the top but behind Verstappen was even quicker, setting purples through the first two sectors as Hamilton got his final toss for the ultimate palmares. Sainz rocked up to P2 as Verstappen made a mistake and had to bail on his lap, which looked set to take him to the top. Behind Hamilton rocked a purple sector 2 but it was not to be enough, as Hamilton crossed the line and went P3. This left Verstappen, who it turns out had had enough in hand to make the checquers for a final go, rocketing through the first sector and again looking like he might take pole but suddenly called into the pits…to his, and frankly everyone’s total disbelief… the immediate explanation being marginal on fuel, though after an expletive laced interrogation, Red Bull cruelly chose to not explain on team radio, leaving the F1 universe to speculate as to the exact cause.
Ferrari will be fairly delighted, regardless of how they got there, to be rocking pole at a track where they have perhaps their best chance of keeping Red Bull out of the winner’s circle. Especially if the race tomorrow is dry, Friday’s runs looked promising for the Scuderia. Red Bull will not be happy to have pulled Max from a potential pole position, but with Perez starting on the front row, and Max in P8, the win is absolutely not out of the question and it’s probably kinda obvious that Max will be one incredibly motivated driver when the lights go out on Sunday.
It was a tale of two drivers for Mercedes, with Hamilton being less than half a tenth off pole a nice shot of confidence for them, but Russell out of the top ten with brake issues is something to be less than pleased with. Oh, and a bit of spice as Hamilton received a summons to the stewards regarding an improperly filled in form regarding clothing, jewelry etc… Never a dull moment with the stewards it must be said.
Alpine will be delighted with Alonso’s P5, but as with Mercedes, Ocon suffered brake issues that saw him out in the first session and that will put a bit of a damper on their day, as the updates they brought should have seen them both easily in the top ten.
McLaren will be equally happy that they managed to sneak Norris in directly behind Alonso, suggesting that perhaps, their upgrade is working equally well. Magnussen’s P8 for HAAS has been a long time coming and maybe they have started to get on top of their upgrade, which seem to baffle them a bit when they first brought it. Alpha Tauri as well will be popping some champers getting both Gasly and Tsunoda into the top ten as they are lingering just one point back of HAAS for P7 in the Constructor’s.
What happens in tomorrow’s race will very much be down to the weather, as overtaking has never been a huge feature of the Grand Prix. If it is wet, well, anything can happen and given the 100% Safety Car record thus far it is also likely that someone might well win that lottery and jump a load of places. But the likely outcome is whatever happens at the start then a long slow grind of tyre management and the smallest of mistakes being brutally punished…. Regardless, that rare day when Red Bull makes a mistake and Ferrari doesn’t has set up an interesting grid indeed.
And Remember, Play Nice in the Comments!