After a non-starter on Friday thanks to the weather, FP3 was busier than normal with teams frantically trying to get some data for their set-up. With half a second covering the Ferraris and Mercs at the front, it was all to play for heading into qualifying.
Q1 saw Max reporting engine woes that were not helped by a call to the weigh bridge on the way back to the pits. On his second run he had time for 2 fliers, establishing on the first of those that it was a particular engine mode causing the problem. Having changed mode, he looked good to make it through, but Ferrari youngster Antonio Giovinazzi got onto the Astroturf coming out the final turn, similarly to his flying lap in Melbourne, and stuck it straight into the barrier, wrecking the car and bringing an end to Q1. With that, Verstappen was out. After qualifying, Red Bull clarified that Max had been running on 4 cylinders so there is work to be done there tonight and he starts provisional 19th. Following a precautionary visit to the medical centre, Gio was found to be fine.
The last minute wreckage caught out Ocon who was looking good enough to get through but subsequently came last. He starts from 18th overall. Palmer and Grosjean also felt they were going well enough, but were caught out by the sector 3 yellows, and have subsequently been found not to have lifted enough so each has a 5 place grid penalty. This is where the grey area that is the word “substantial” comes into question. How do you know if you have slowed substantially? De ja vu anyone?
Ironically, the accident meant both Saubers made it into Q2.
Both Mercedes set their Q2 laps on the Supersofts early on then retreated to the garage, comfortably through to Q3, leaving it to the rest to fight it out for the remaining places. Curiously, the Ferrari guys both decided to head out for a second run and managed to take a 1-2 from Q2 as a result, with Kimi’s P1 time a new lap record.
Alonso reported issues on the radio related to charging but was able to qualify in 13th place. He reported after qualifying that he was pushing the limits in all the corners, not caring about the risk but that it paid off and 13th was a surprise for them. Sainz failed to make it through to Q3, finishing just 6 hundredths behind 10th place man, Lance Stroll who is comfortably having a better weekend than he had in Aus. He boldly declared that he found this easier than F3 because of the power steering but that the Gs were very obviously higher.
So through to Q3, along with the top 4 were Ricciardo, Hulk, Massa, Checo, Kvyat and Stroll. With Ricciardo’s P5 time over a second down in Q2, it looked very much like a Merc v Ferrari shoot out for pole and their first run in Q3 confirmed this. 7 tenths covered the top 4 with Ric a further 6 tenths down in 5th. Kimi was reporting a loose rear end and Seb reported being caught off guard by a gust of wind so it was all down to the final run.
Spotless laps were had by the top 4, managing to iron out the problems of the previous runs and keep it planted when it mattered. Hamilton and Vettel line up on the front row with Bottas leading Räikkönen. Exactly the same as in Melbourne! Niki Lauda revealed after quali that he had put 10€ on Vettel taking pole but it was 10€ he was glad to lose! Hamilton takes his 63rd pole in F1 and makes that the teams 75th. Bottas was just 1 thousandth behind Vettel in third, with Toto having helpfully calculated that to be 5.9cm! Bottas was keen to point out that this is almost exactly half the gap he had in Aus, such are the margins this season!
Ricciardo came home in 5th and believes this was the best there was today. Looking ahead to tomorrow, he is keen to see what the wet conditions can throw up. Massa came in 6th, out qualifying his rookie team mate by 8 tenths. Hülkenberg managed to qualify in 7th, a stand out performance I’d say given their MGU-K troubles and that car really does look a handful from the on boards. Kvyat came in 9th behind Checo in 8th who has clarified that the only thing they know about their car in the wet is that “it will still be pink”. Whether that helps tomorrow remains to be seen!
There is a 90% chance of rain on raceday and with the new regulations come standing safety car restarts. There is a chance, therefore, that we could see turn 1 action a few times throughout the race. With nobody having done any proper running on the full wets, the run to turn one will be unpredictable and could shake it up and cost a few front wings. A step into the unknown, not to be missed!