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Ambient 25° Track 44° Humidity 47.2% Wind 0.7 m/s
The azure skies hung hazy over the distant Catalonian mountains whilst the teams furiously prepped for the vicious whirl of qualifying. This time round though, the race gods decided to favour the teams with an extra 10 minutes to do the business thanks to barrier repair required by a crash in the support series.
With Verstappen putting himself quickest in FP3 and both Ferraris in the best of the rest spots headed towards qualifying, having apparently sorted out their set up woes from the previous week, there was a wide sense of uncertainty awash in the commentariat. This was exacerbated by the usual caveat, however, that track temps were much hotter than the previous session and whoever was best able to manage the tyres through all 3 sectors was likely to be victorious, along with the inevitable traffic woes. Just as the track was about to go green it was noted that Mercedes had preserved an extra set of Medium tyres, to what end having yet to be revealed.
Green Light!! Latifi, Schumacher Mazepin and Russell were first to crack the quiet of the track, all on the Soft tyre as they lazily rolled round on their outlaps. No one else was fussed enough to bother and it was Latifi to the top and Russell back to the pits without putting in a time.
Hamilton and Bottas were on the Medium tyre (mystery solved) trailed Perez and Verstappen, who were next out, rocking some Softs as the track began to get busy. Stroll, Vettel, Tsunoda then hit the track followed by the Alfas, Raikkonen ahead of Tsunoda.
Perez was first off on his hotlap, but it was Bottas purpling the first sector, Verstappen the second and Bottas the last as the Mercedes driver took the top spot, followed by Verstappen, then Hamilton and Perez. Less than a tenth between the top two with Hamilton 0.2 seconds back and Perez a rather woeful 0.6 seconds off, at a track where he has not seemed a happy bunny.
Sainz managed to wedge his Ferrari into P3 with Leclerc putting Hamilton into a Ferrari sandwich on the other side in P5. The rest of best of the rest was Tsunoda for the moment, ahead of Norris as Gasly, Ocon, Alonso and Ricciardo were all on it. As they hit the line, it was Riccardo, just outpointing Ocon, 0.017 seconds up the pair of them putting Leclerc P8. Alonso managed to squeak in front of Perez as it was traffic that did in Norris’ first attempt…
On the outside looking in were Raikkonen, Stroll, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin as Gasly rocked up to P3 and Perez, on his second go, was up to P4 and just a tenth off Verstappen as everyone rolled in to reset for their last chance at the glories of Q2. Gasly got a front wing change as it was Leclerc leading the way out for the final charge…
Also in the bunch were Latifi and Tsunoda, then Schumacher and Tsunoda. Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Alonso, Vettel and Norris were next up, Russell was out last as Ocon had chosen to stay in the garage to save a set of tyres, along with Ricciardo, Sainz and Gasly. Of the sharp end, only Hamilton was out to get a taste of the Soft tyres, the rest firmly parked and waiting to see who would join them…
Leclerc banged it up to P2 and Raikkonen was just able to go P15. Stroll to P7 put him out then Giovinazzi went P11 before Alonso, Vettel and Russell put him right back in P15 as Norris put himself to the top and at the checquers it was Tsunoda, by an agonizing 0.007 seconds done for the day, along with Raikkonen, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin. Latifi looked to have wrecked some bit of his floor riding the kerbs, a big chunk of carbon fibre flying off behind the car in exquisite slow motion, which surely did him no favours as they were off for some tapas to fill the void in their soul whilst the rest turned it round for the rigours of Q2.
Mercedes were first to send their drivers forth, and they were followed by Perez, Gasly, Stroll and Norris. Vettel and Giovinazzi were next to venture past the ramparts, with Giovinazzi on the Medium tyre, presumable to make up for the extra set of Softs he used to get through Q1. As the hotlaps got underway it Bottas being the big purple monster, 0.232 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Norris took P3 away from Stroll, who was momentarily squatting on that pricy real estate. During those laps Verstappen was off on his big adventure and quite frankly, it was putting Bottas to shame. As the Red Bull driver hit the line he owned all the sectors and was into the 1:16s, nearly half a second up on the Mercedes duo. This left Sainz, Alonso, Ricciardo, Ocon and Leclerc to go and it was Sainz, again besting his teammate, in P5 followed by Leclerc and Alonso. Ricciardo notched P10 leaving Ocon, who had an issue in the final sector, as the first of the runners on the outside looking in, along with Perez, Vettel, Russell and Giovinazzi.
As the rest of the drivers rolled in to reset for their final tilt at the hallowed grounds of Q3, Russell emerged onto the quieting track to have his one go at glory, but P14 was the best he could do on the day. Both Ferraris were out, then Gasly, Vettel, Stroll, Ocon, Perez and Alonso, with Ricciardo lanterne rouge on that particular train. Norris then led a second battalion onto the field of battle, followed by Giovinazzi then both Mercedes, no doubt again doing their usual recce lap to taste the change in track evolution before Q3 got underway…
Leclerc was first off the line followed by his teammate, with neither improving, but Vettel and Ocon behind were both on the march. Vettel was unable to maintain his pace and P13 was the best he could do. Ocon just rocked ahead of Alonso, putting Ricciardo out. Perez was up to P5, then Ricciardo bounced up to P8, leaving Alonso P10. As the dust settled, it was Stroll unable to find a place in the top 10, first of those being left behind, followed by Gasly, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell and they were off in search of some Chinchon to soothe their wounded egos. Both Mercedes improved their times, a bit unusually and it was Hamilton, out on a set of tyres that had also done the recce lap at the end of Q1, now technically a lap older than anyone else at the sharp end. Alonso and Norris were both operating at a tyre deficit to the rest in qualifying, having but a single set of new Softs to wreck in their pursuit of the ultimate palmares in the hallowed grounds of Q3…
Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Ocon and Perez were first off, followed by Alonso trailing distantly leading Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen. As the first runners crossed the line it was Ocon to the top followed by Sainz, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Norris. Alonso slotted in behind Ricciardo as Perez had a spin, but was out of the way before the top three came through, though it did seem to slow them a bit… And it was Hamilton to the top, 0.032 seconds ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas 0.132 seconds off his teammate as the battle of the bankers came to a close… On replay Perez dipped his tyre into the gravel approaching Turn 13 to initiate his pirouette and somewhat hilariously, Hamilton thought it was Alonso who’d gone off covering the track in gravel, which he did not seem to appreciate.
AS the drivers retired for the interlude to prepare for their last gasp at the glories tantalisingly hanging at the top of the grid, worth noting that Norris and Alonso both were going to have a new set of tyres for their final chance.
Norris led the two Mercedes onto the track, Hamilton in front of Bottas, then Ocon leading a big train, Sainz, Leclerc, Verstappen, Perez and Alonso with Ricciardo trailing off the back. Both Sainz and Leclerc passed Ocon on the outlap and then it was the inevitable slowing as each driver attempted to leave themselves enough of a gap to get the perfect lap in…
Nothing in it sector 1, but Sector 2 went to Verstappen and through the final sector it was Hamilton, taking an extra 0.004 seconds as few on track seemed able to improve. So it was pole position for Hamilton, followed by Verstappen and Bottas. Leclerc managed to put his Ferrari ahead of Ocon, leaving the Alpine driver in a Scuderia sandwich. Perez could only nab P8 nearly a full second off Verstappen and behind Ricciardo. Norris and Alonso rounded out the top 10.
Glory days for Hamilton and again advantage team Mercedes as even without the front row lockout, they had the 2 to 1 advantage at the sharp end of the grid… Brilliant driving from Verstappen but again Red Bull will be looking for those final margins that they are missing, but not complaining as they will once again be in it come Sunday.
Ferrari confirming they have sorted their setup silliness from Portimao with a strong showing, happy days for the tifosi as their slow climb to the sharp end diligently continued and delight for Alpine with both cars in the top 10 and Ocon’s P5 will be strong confirmation they have recovered from their somewhat wobbly start to the season. McLaren will be looking at limiting the loss and making gains during the race as their pace looked strong in FP2 on Friday but they didn’t seem to have qualifying nailed on. Still it will be a morale boost for Ricciardo to have finished ahead of his teammate for the first time on a Saturday since he moved teams and even though Barcelona is not renowned as a hotbed of wheel to wheel action, there are usually opportunities for those that have the pace.
One of the larger questions will be exactly how many stops teams choose to do and with a fairly quick pit stop, around 23 seconds, the potential to run different strategies does exist. Still, as usual, the teams at the sharp end will prefer the one stopper as long as it is quick enough to keep the midfield clear of their pit window. The long run to Turn 1 also leaves lots of room for entertainment at the start of the race and with the winner of the race most often coming from the front row once again it looks like a Hamilton versus Verstappen showdown to grace the airwaves tomorrow but it may well be Bottas who benefits most with the long tow down to the first turn….
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