Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801J
Ambient 34.4° Track 47° Humidity 21.0% Wind 3.5 m/s
Brutal sunshine thrashed the paddock in Barcelona, blistering the track and sending temps soaring to nearly 50°C and tyre engineers back to their models. FP3 was full of intrigue, with Mercedes looking to have been successful in solving their issues and suddenly dancing with the Ferraris and Red Bulls.
Equally entertaining was the Formula Flambé, with both Schumacher (rear brakes), and Gasly (exhaust) having blessed the TV with lurid smoke and flames. For both drivers it was bad news, missing out on the incredibly important session.
Green Light!! Zhou was first out of the blocks, with Gasly next up, then Tsunoda. Gasly’s first lap still looked a touch smoky at the start, and as he was on his way Latifi was headed out of the pits, followed by Perez. Zhou was quickest of the starting trio and Verstappen was the next to lazily emerge from the pitlane.
12 minutes to go, and out came the Ferraris, with Sainz ahead of Leclerc as Perez rocked it to the top, with a 1:20.447. Even with that, Verstappen was already purpling the first sector where Red Bull’s straightline speed advantage had been showing off all weekend. Boom! 0.356 seconds up on Perez as the Ferraris got ready to fling it round.
Stroll and Norris almost came to blows in the pits as the vast majority of teams at last rolled out and suddenly the track was full of runners fighting for position on their outlaps. Through the first two sectors Sainz held the advantage, but a mistake into the last sector left him vulnerable and sure enough, Leclerc nicked him by just 0.031 seconds. Both Mercedes split the Red Bulls, with Russell 0.034 seconds to the good and just a tenth back of Verstappen in P3, 0.23 seconds back of Sainz.
Perez was the outlier, P7 on his first run and Bottas the best of the rest, up to P6. On a second go, Perez managed to get some rallycross practice in, getting into the gravel and heading to the pits to get a once over. As the teams rolled in to prepare for the last roll to make the glories of Q2, it was Albon, Stroll, Gasly, Schumacher and Latifi with it all to do and Ricciardo sitting in the hot seat.
Schumacher and Latifi were first out of the gate, with Magnussen, P11 not far behind. Then the floods, Stroll, Zhou, Vettel, Bottas, Gasly and Ricciardo all out to defend their positions while those feeling a bit more comfortable, rolled out on some used tyres to get a feel for Q2 and keep the rhythm. Albon, last out, was a bit late and was told to push or miss the flag…
Schumacher immediately put Ricciardo under pressure and given Norris’ time it was really Vettel under the gun as their was performance left in that McLaren. Schumacher P8! Magnussen P5! Neither Aston improving and out went Alonso with no improvement as Ocon sat out the final runs to save tyres. Gasly rocked up to P13 and that was the end of the session, with Vettel, Alonso, Stroll, Albon, and Latifi all done for the day, off in search of some tapas to fill the empty void in their souls. On replay, sure enough, it was Friday rush hour syndrome, with a huge traffic jam into the final turns that looked to have snuffed out a number of hopes. Whilst the TV showed lurid scenes of traffic, the rest turned it round to get ready for the rigours of Q2.
Schumacher and Hamilton were first to touch the tarmac in Q2, with Gasly and Norris not far behind. Tsunoda, Ocon and Magnussen trundled out next then Ricciardo, Perez and Verstappen. Zhou, Bottas, Sainz and Leclerc brought up the rear as Hamilton got the fun underway with Russell right behind.
Back and forth they went but a moment of lurid oversteer in the last corners tipped it to Russell. Kmag for the moment was up to P3 but a big gap there, with Perez first to get in, just behind Hamilton. The Ferraris were on used Softs, as was Verstappen, looking to the evolution of the track to vault them to safety and prep them for Q3 on their second runs. As the teams retired for the interlude it was Ricciardo, Ocon, Zhou, Tsunoda and Gasly on the outside looking in. Zhou, too, was on used tyres and there was some kind of fuss at Alpine, with Ocon saying there was performance but yielding to the team’s recommendations.
Sainz was first out of the gate, then Ocon, followed by Schumacher, Bottas and Gasly. Tsunoda and Magnussen were next, with Zhou in that mix and then Ricciarod, Norris, Verstappen and Perez as they all bunched up through the final corners. Lots of yellow on the board for Sainz and Ocon, not great though into the second sector the purples started to show. P11 for Ocon as Sainz went to the top. No improvement for Schumacher, no improvement for Zhou, and it was Ricciardo to P9 and then Norris, to P8 and putting Schumacher out…. oh wait, Norris had his laptime deleted, and ZOMG out he went and Schumacher was reinstated to P10.
Done like a dinner then were Norris, Ocon, Tsunoda, Gasly and Zhou, off for some sherry to soothe their wounded egos as the rest turned it round for the hallowed grounds of Q3.
Schumacher and Magnussen were first out in the battle of the bankers, then Hamilton, with Leclerc and Sainz in tow and Russell chasing them. Bottas and Perez rocked out next with Verstappen and Ricciardo the sting the tail.
Magnussen again had the advantage on his teammate and it was Russel just that bit quicker than Hamilton. To the top he went until Sainz rocked by and then, oh no, Leclerc spun it. Verstappen then topped Sainz as Perez rocked in behind. Russell got caught behind the Leclerc spin, but despite that, still outpointed Hamilton. Bottas crushed Ricciardo and both HAAS were on used tyres so it was all going to be down to the final tilt, as the teams rolled into the pits for the final adjustment to chase the ultimate palmares.
Leclerc was first out, with 3 minutes left on the clock, with the two HAAS, now on fresh tyres, following him out. Sainz was out behind, with Hamilton and Bottas in attendance on the pair. Perez and Russell were next out with Verstappen last out as Leclerc got his final chance underway. Purple mini sectors for the Ferrari driver in Sector 1, and full purples for Sector 2 and up on Verstappen as he rocked it into the last sector. Verstappen radioed in he had no power as Leclerc took pole position away. Sainz took P3 as it was into the pits for Verstappen. P4 for Russell as Hamilton was not able to hook up his final sector and wound up just adrift of Perez, who finished P5.
Bottas managed to take best of rest away from Magnussen, by a tenth and Ricciardo had burned his only set of fresh tyres first time round, just eking P9 from Schumacher who rounded out the top 10.
Ferrari will be delighted with first and third (despite Leclerc going out of his way to make it exciting), a perhaps better setup for the long run from the start in any event, but their concern, as was made plain in the post race interviews, was primarily managing the tyres in the race as Red Bull looked to have quite the advantage on that in FP2.
Red Bull can’t complain as Verstappen’s banker was still good for P2, but the fact that they once again had a reliability issue during his final run that robbed him of the chance to defend his provisional pole will no doubt be a bit of concern. Replay showed no DRS on the run down to Turn 1 for Max and maybe that was the explanation. Perez P5 was also, umm, suboptimal, especially with a suddenly resurgent Mercedes ahead.
Mercedes will be over the moon, as Russell’s time demonstrated quite clearly that although they are not completely back to the front, the issues that plagued them thus far have been solved, allowing the door to open to their development path for the zeropod concept. Still some room for improvement for Hamilton though, and the team will be closely focused on finding the combination that unlocks the car for both drivers.
Alfa will be happy for Bottas, after reliability issues being able to just snatch P7 from Magnussen, but the biggest winner in the midfield was clearly HAAS, with no development, getting both cars into the top 10. Of course, the real question for them is can they continue to nail their window which has been what has let them down thus far.
McLaren won’t be the least bit happy about Norris getting his time deleted, as that ruined their chance of getting both cars into the top 10, but Ricciardo was at least there to backstop them.
Tomorrow’s race looks to be a big unknown for all the teams, with FP2 showing Red Bull with decent advantage in race pace, with Mercedes and Ferrari on very similar terms about a half second back. But Barcelona is notorious for making passes difficult and track position counts for rather a lot, so early advantage perhaps to Ferrari, though no one knows exactly how many stops will be needed. So as always, the start will be key, as will the track temperatures, as no doubt more than a few cars will be on the limit for cooling and tyre management (along with saved tyres!), boring as it is, will be key for the race winner. And then, of course, the delightful randomness of the Safety Car along with the fickle favour of the Racing Gods.
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