Monday, September 28, 2020

Barcelona Qualifying Notes: Pole 92 for Lewis, Seb struggles again

Lewis Hamilton claimed his 92nd pole position in yet another Mercedes front-row lockout after this weekend’s qualifying session at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. He beat his Finnish teammate by less than 0.063s for the second week in a row, in extremely hot conditions. That is due to the race being in August rather than March.

Those conditions could come into play tomorrow, as they did with the past two Grand Prix at Silverstone in the British heatwave. Tyre wear has been dramatic these past few races in the summer heat, something that has helped Max Verstappen move up to second in the drivers’ championship and has been a thorn in the almost perfect Mercedes outfit.

The first Silverstone race was a bit of a snooze fest that came to life in the final few laps after multiple tyre delaminations that brought drama right up to the checkered flag.

Lewis Hamilton won the damn race on three wheels as his tyre burst on the final lap and had a 33 second lead over Max Verstappen. Valterri Bottas and Carlos Sainz also had the same problem, which ruined a pretty decent race for the two of them.

And then last week, we had the genius decision by Ross Brawn and Pirelli of choosing a softer set of tyre compounds to make the race a strategy based affair, in which we saw one, two, and three-stop races. Max Verstappen qualified on the hard tyre, which helped him go longer into the race before stopping.

Max Verstappen after winning last weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

Heading into qualifying this afternoon, there were new power units for Carlos Sainz, Romain Grosjean and Danil Kvyat. The Spaniard also had a new chassis, as did Sebastian Vettel, whilst Alexander Albon added a third MGU-H and Turbo.

Kvyat got his new PU a week after the other Honda-powered drivers, as they needed to expand the pool, as no PU upgrades are allowed, It’s Alex’s third turbo and MGU-H putting him right on the limit of three parts without penalty in a season.

There were no penalties for any of those above, as they were all still within the limits for the year. Albon became the first to use a third Turbo Charger and MGU-H, whilst both Ferrari and Alpha Tauri’s, Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Russell have had two.

There was also a little bit of beef between two team principal/CEO’s. Last weekend Racing Point TP Otmar Szafnauer slated McLaren CEO Zak Brown, who intended to appeal against the small sanction the Silverstone team were given after copying the design of the Mercedes brake duct.

Otmar hit out at Brown’s non-engineer background with “he has no idea what he’s talking about” and “it seems to me he knows more about historic racing than he does about F1”. Whilst Zak responded with “In my time here leading McLaren I’ve never been fined a dollar, let alone 400,000. I’ve never been docked points. I think Otmar thought it was 7.5 points until Sky television pointed out it was 15 points.”

He continued with, “As far as historic racing, I think people that know me know I enjoy historic racing and I’d invite Otmar to come and join me because he’s got a historic car that he’s currently racing.”

HOW IT HAPPENED – QUALIFYING – SPAIN

QUALIFYING 1

Just like last weekend, the teams spent most of the 3 free practice sessions experimenting with the soft tyre compound, checking if it’s the best of the three for both qualifying and the race. Haas had been quicker than expected, with Romain Grosjean among the top 6 in both of Friday’s sessions.

Qualifying 1 started with both Williams cars out on track, Nicholas Latifi lapped quicker than George Russell in his first run. Both Mercedes cars and Max Verstappen followed to avoid traffic. Latifi was 0.3s quicker than George, who has a 26-0 quali win rate over his teammates in F1.

The two Williams drivers went out for a second run when other teams were still on their first, this time GR was above the elimination zone in 15th and Nicky was provisionally in 19th.

Racing Point benefited from the early runners, with Sergio Perez in P2 and Lance Stroll just behind him in 3rd after their first run.

In Mercedes first qualifying run Bottas was only 0.02 faster than Max Verstappen, losing time in sector 3. The Dutchman has never started in the top 3 in Spain.

Other than that, the first run in Q1 went pretty much as expected. Alfa Romeo, Williams, and sadly Haas were fighting at the back of the field. That continued into the second run, with Giovinazzi and Latifi failing to get into Q2 again, whilst Russell, Kevin Magnussen, Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen fought it out for the final spot in the next qualifying session.

The winner of that particular battle was Kimi, who for the first time this year reached Qualifying 2. The former world champion lapped nine tenths faster than his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. George Russell’s Q2 streak sadly ended in a difficult Saturday for Williams, I can’t wait for him to eventually make that move up to Mercedes.

The other Q1 casualties were both Haas drivers, an elimination they weren’t preparing for. Romain Grosjean apologised on team radio, telling his engineers, “Sorry guys I wanted to pay you back for last night.” They broke the curfew last night adding the new parts to his car.

Speaking to Rachel Brookes, K-Mag revealed that, “The car felt back to normal, but I kept making mistakes on new tyres. He also complained of traffic on both runs.

Finally, Sergio Perez remained in second place to close Qualifying 1. Racing Point are looking quicker than expected, Otmar Szafnauer thought they’d struggle.

QUALIFYING 2

Now, Q2 is where the whole qualifying session always starts to get interesting as you can see what strategy each team intends to run for their drivers, as the tyres you set the fastest lap on are your race tyres. I, like many others, would have put money on Red Bull going for the alternate strategy.

They are always willing to go on a different route to Mercedes, in an effort to try and destabilise them and hopefully shrink time in the race. Alex Albon hasn’t had the quail pace all year to make that strategy pay off, Max Verstappen, on the other hand, does, as we saw last weekend.

Trying to reach Q3 on a more durable set of tyres isn’t easy whatsoever, but could do a whole world of good on Sunday. Take last weekend, Max was 9th in Q2 on hard tyres, making the top 10 by the skin of his teeth. That strategy call from Hannah Schmitz turned out to be a masterclass, earning Red Bull their first race win of the season.

That’s what we were expecting, most of the field to qualify on the soft tyre, with a few outliers hoping to start the race on the mediums for a strategic advantage. I mean, after all, it’s what Sky have been talking about all week…

In a bit of a culture shock, every single lap was on soft tyres, bar Kimi’s last run on Mediums. Setting up a predicted soft to medium strategy as hards are a poor race tire at this circuit. Due to it being extremely hot on Sunday, we may get pushed to a two-stop. Please, God!

Bar the two Mercedes drivers, and Verstappen, everyone in the qualifying session is vulnerable to Q2 elimination, meaning one mistake can cost you. After the first run of laps, Esteban Ocon, Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly and Danil Kvyat joined Kimi Raikkonen in the elimination zone. 4 have a Formula 1 podium under their belt, 3 have a race win, showing off the vast amount of talent we have in F1 nowadays.

There were a few things to note from the early stages of Q2, Charles Leclerc wasn’t happy with his “Really horrible lap” but still was 4th fastest. That’s a decent effort when compared to Seb being in provisional P12.

Sergio Perez however was on for a good lap before getting a touch of oversteer at Turn 11. He was sitting at P6 heading into the team’s final attempt at reaching Qualifying 3.

Pierre Gasly would’ve also been disappointed by his first lap, the Frenchman has had a great year in his Alpha Tauri constantly getting into Q3. He was provisionally in 13th place, whilst Danil Kvuat was in 14th. As would the two Renault’s who seem to have some of the best race pace on the grid, but aren’t the strongest in qualifying.

The second runs were plagued with yellow sectors, as the track didn’t evolve as expected. Four of the original five were eliminated, with Pierre Gasly pulling off the great escape. It was one hell of a lap, propelling himself up to P5 in Q2.

As for Danil Kvyat, well its now 10 races in a row that Gasly has out-qualified him. His seat is 100% under threat, particularly with the emergence of Yuki Tsunoda in F2. The Russian told Sky Sports, “I was quite happy with my lap, in the race I always feel quite good, so I hope we can put a race together.”

It’s been a poor weekend for Renault, especially with the company CEO Luca De Meo in the paddock. These rumours about the French constructor leaving the sport in a few years time aren’t going away. That got worse when their superstar driver Daniel Ricciardo fell into the drop zone.

Qualifying 3 without Sebastian Vettel is becoming a regular disappointment for fans of the sport Post qualifying, the four-time world champion told Sky Sports, “The first sector was okay, but in the middle sector the car started to be more and more nervous. I struggle in particular at turn 7, also turn 5 was very tricky for me this afternoon, it was one of the better sessions, but still not good enough.”

Finally, Kimi Raikonnen managed to somehow get P14 on medium tyres, lapping faster on the harder compound. Whilst Esteban Ocon fell to 15th place.

QUALIFYING 3

Ah, crunchtime! Qualifying 3, the most important 12 minutes of any F1 race weekend. The free for all shootout that decides the order of the top 10 on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Lewis Hamilton could get his 5th Barcelona pole, beating Ayrton Senna’s 4. Michael Schumacher holds the record at 7. Yet again we were in for a two-horse-race for pole position between the two Mercedes cars.

Unlike in Q2, we were expecting all laps to be on the red-striped soft compound tyre, as it has no implications on the race.

After the first run, the timesheet read as follows; Lewis Hamilton was on provisional pole, this time it was looking like it could be number 92 for the six-time world champion. Behind him was obviously his teammate Valterri Bottas in front of Max Verstappen.

That was the front three we expected, with 0.059s separating the two Mercs. Max, on the other hand, was 0.7s off Lewis Hamilton in third. True dominance. The two Racing Point’s followed in 4th and 5th, whilst not much separated Lando Norris in 6th, and Gasly in 10th.

Onto the second run of laps, it was much of the same as most drivers set yellow sectors. Valterri Bottas set a slower lap on his second run, solidifying P2, whilst Lewis extended his advantage by a couple of hundredths to claim pole position. Max Verstappen was in a world of his own behind, remaining in 3rd, as did Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll.

Alex Albon claimed 6th, which is a good result for the Thai-British driver considering his recent qualifying woes, let’s hope he has a decent shot at his first podium. Carlos Sainz was behind him in 7th, what a stellar weekend the Spaniard is having, hopefully they’ve fixed the cooling issue. His teammate Lando Norris was 8th, Charles Leclerc 9th, and Pierre Gasly 10th.

Let’s get into some driver quotes, starting with the two Mercedes drivers. Lewis Hamilton told Johnny Herbert after the race, “It’s so fast around here, the fastest we’ve ever been.” Before adding, “It’s the tyres we’ll struggle with.” And, “It’s such a long way down to turn 1, so the jobs not done.” Bottas told Johnny, “I think the start will be the best opportunity for me, I’ll try to get there first, trust me.”

As for Red Bull, Max Verstappen stated post quali that, “It’s the maximum we can do at the moment, Yesterday in the long runs, we were pretty good, so we’ll have to see.” Alex, however, looked disappointed yet again, telling Rachel Brookes it was, “Okay, not great.” He went on to reveal that actually he felt better on the used tyres in the first run, “so we’ll have to have a look at that.”

Lance Stroll did seem happy with his laps, as did Checo Perez. The Canadian told Sky, “I think it was a great qualifying for us, it looked like the Red Bull had the upper hand on us, so I’m happy with 5th.” Before revealing, “I had a little mistake on my best lap into turn 10,” And finishing with, “I expect Alex to have great pace tomorrow.”

Checo was pleased with his comeback, post coronavirus. He didn’t hold back when criticising the Pirelli tyres though with, “The lap felt good, but you have to do so much tyre management even in qualifying. The amount of saving and the management were going to have to do tomorrow will be insane.”

Carlos Sainz joined Karun Chandok at the Sky Pad to talk through his lap, he started with, “It wasn’t a clean lap, the tyres don’t like the last bit of stress you put on them in sector 3.” After his lap review, Carlos told Karun he expects it to be a difficult race tomorrow with Renault looking quick in the long runs.

Finally, Charles Leclerc wasn’t a happy man either, exclaiming, “I’m just not happy with the car, I didn’t have enough front end to rotate the car, It’s something we regularly struggle on with this car, and today there wasn’t any solution.”

For more on the Spanish GP and all things F1, visit our dedicated F1 page here. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook for more opinions and analysis right to your timeline.

The full Qualifying Classification is available below.

PosDriverCarQ1Q2Q3
1Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES1:16.8721:16.0131:15.584
2Valtteri BottasMERCEDES1:17.2431:16.1521:15.643
3Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA1:17.2131:16.5181:16.292
4Sergio PerezRACING POINT BWT MERCEDES1:17.1171:16.9361:16.482
5Lance StrollRACING POINT BWT MERCEDES1:17.3161:16.6661:16.589
6Alexander AlbonRED BULL RACING HONDA1:17.4191:17.1631:17.029
7Carlos SainzMCLAREN RENAULT1:17.4381:16.8761:17.044
8Lando NorrisMCLAREN RENAULT1:17.5771:17.1661:17.084
9Charles LeclercFERRARI1:17.2561:16.9531:17.087
10Pierre GaslyALPHATAURI HONDA1:17.3561:16.8001:17.136
11Sebastian VettelFERRARI1:17.5731:17.168
12Daniil KvyatALPHATAURI HONDA1:17.6761:17.192
13Daniel RicciardoRENAULT1:17.6671:17.198
14Kimi RäikkönenALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI1:17.7971:17.386
15Esteban OconRENAULT1:17.7651:17.567
16Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI1:17.908
17Romain GrosjeanHAAS FERRARI1:18.089
18George RussellWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:18.099
19Nicholas LatifiWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:18.532
20Antonio GiovinazziALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI1:18.697

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