2014 Austrian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Massa’s ‘Mojo’ Returns

Truly remarkable. Just when you thought 2014 could not throw up any further drama to follow the Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying in Austria provides incredible excitement. It was another front row lockout, but on this occasion, the Mercedes were trumped by Williams, with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas edging out Nico Rosberg to claim the team’s first lockout since 2003. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton will start from P9 after a disastrous end to the day saw the Brit end up pointing in the wrong direction at Turn Two. The stage is set for another classic race tomorrow.

FP3

An intriguing and action packed FP3 session was topped by an unlikely candidate, as Valtteri Bottas highlighted Williams’ short run strength by posting the fastest time, edging out the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton by 0.05 seconds. In close company, Felipe Massa claimed P3. With the field appearing to be relatively evenly matched, the question is, have Mercedes been sandbagging, or does the Red Bull Ring bring their rivals into play.
The qualifying simulation runs were nothing short of fascinating for this very reason. While fuel loads are undisclosed and timesheets have to be analysed with caution, the field seems super competitive. Williams are undoubtedly harsh on their tyres and degradation could be a serious issue for them in  the race, but they do seem to have maximised short run performance in the FW36 this weekend. Meanwhile, Red Bull may have finished P7 and P10 on the timesheet, but this was perhaps influenced by several factors. It is anticipated that Red Bull were running a heavier fuel load throughout the session and the characteristics of both cars on turn in to the high speed corners in the middle sector supports this suggestion. In addition, Sebastian Vettel’s final attempt to improve on the super-soft compound was scuppered when Kamui Kobayashi practised his ballet routine on the exit of the final corner – Not quite as dramatically as Sebastian’s excursion yesterday, but it nonetheless prompted a yellow flag. All things being equal, Red Bull could well challenge Williams in a similar manner to their battle on Saturday in Canada. 
While this season looks as though Mercedes are cruising towards both titles, Red Bull are continuing to develop the RB10. Adrian Newey was seen in the garage early on in the session, seemingly evaluating the results of a flow-vis paint experiment on the new barge-board. Its still too early to determine how successful this particular upgrade package is.
Meanwhile, McLaren had a dismal morning, with Jenson Button in particular suffering significant issues which resigned him to the garage for almost the entire session. The Brit reported a loss of engine braking, as the MGU-K failed early on. With the rear brakes being overworked as a result, they overheated and the right rear calliper caught fire when he entered the pitlane. With significant damage done to the right rear corner in general, including the floor, the number 22 failed to post a competitive time and the lack of super-soft running will surly hinder Jenson later on today. What is even more concerning is the fact that the team did not detect any signs of the imminent failure, as they reported to Button via team radio. Perhaps a sensor malfunctioned as well, or just a glitch in the telemetry. I doubt McLaren have looked into that yet, considering their pile of problems prior to qualifying. Certainly far from ideal preparation.   
One final point to consider was Daniil Kvyat’s late charge to finish P4 on the timesheet. A stunning lap time from the Russian in a Toro Rosso which has been somewhat caught out in the development race and fallen back in recent times. While it is likely that he was on the lowest of low fuel runs, it will still give the team a much needed boost heading into qualifying. Q3 is undoubtedly reasonable aim.
FP3 Timesheet

1 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:09.848

2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:09.898 
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:09.901 
4 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:09.927 
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:09.999 
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:10.054 
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:10.392 
8 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:10.449 
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:10.488 
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:10.562 
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:10.683 
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:10.776 
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:11.043 
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:11.103 
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:11.235
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:11.294 
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:11.558
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:11.848 
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:12.320
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:12.892 
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:12.915  
22 Jenson Button McLaren 1:14.237

Qualifying

Brazil may be hosting a World Cup, but Brazilian attention turned to Formula One this afternoon, as their hero, Felipe Massa, claimed his 16th career pole position and his first since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008. He edged out Valtteri Bottas, who held top spot for the majority of Q3, with Nico Rosberg in P3. While third will disappoint Nico, the blow has been softened with his arch rival Lewis Hamilton only managing P9, after failing to post a time in Q3 – a suspected MGU-K issue led to a bizarre spin at Turn Two. With his first attempt disallowed due to track extending at Turn Eight, Hamilton was left without a time.
Williams’ success has been welcomed by most fans, as the perennial underdogs are perhaps the most popular in the paddock – If their not your favourite team, they are your second. A similar popularity always gravitates towards Felipe Massa and after the recent turbulence following his accident with Sergio Perez, his first pole in six years is just the tonic that he was looking for. However, it could have easily been Valtteri Bottas starting from the front tomorrow, as he held top spot for the majority of the final session. The Finn carried his impressive FP3 performance into the afternoon, yet a mistake on his second run meant that Massa was given the opportunity to seize the moment. Consequently, a slightly reserved Valtteri, (even more than usual) was understandably a touch disappointed in the post session presser. The young Finn is nothing if not ambitious and quite rightly so.
Meanwhile, Mercedes faltered. The Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had their stranglehold over pole position lost with a culmination of issues. Firstly, the team looked familiarly impeccable on the soft compound and even Williams had no answer to the pace of the Mercedes team in Q1. However, inexplicably, the team were unable to perform on the super-soft rubber and could only gain 0.2 seconds, when the delta between the compounds is typically around a second. In addition, Hamilton looked out of character in Q3. His initial run was discounted as an early apex at Turn Eight led to a wide exit and significant track extending. Then, on his final attempt, the Brit locked the rear brakes heading into Turn Two and spun into the run-off area. Ironically, this brought out yellow flags which scuppered Nico Rosberg’s final lap, (however, in slightly different circumstances to a similar incident in Monte-Carlo.) Hamilton’s excursion was unquestionably strange. It will be intriguing to see if an MGU-K fault contributed to the spin as it was extraordinary.
Meanwhile, home favourites Red Bull were caught out on the Red Bull Ring, as Daniel Ricciardo could only manage P5, while Sebastian Vettel fell out of qualifying at the Q2 stage, with a disappointing P13 ending a far from positive day. In all honesty, Vettel has struggled since he left the garage on Friday morning. It is suspected that the team have suffered due to the track surface not allowing the RB10 to bring its tyres into the appropriate operating range. Daniel Ricciardo’s P5 will supply Red Bull with hope that this weekend is not a total write-off, but the best of the rest crown looks like it will be heading to a new location this weekend.
Meanwhile, Button fortunately avoided any recurrence of FP3 gremlins, but instead suffered what he regarded as blocking on his fastest lap by a Lotus. The incident was not caught by the FOM cameras, so it is impossible to pass a judgement. Regardless, the subsequent result of P12 is perhaps a blessing in disguise for Jenson, who will now be the first driver to have a choice of tyre compound on the grid following Sergio Perez’s five-place demotion from P11. Sunday has the potential to be a far more positive day for Button and Kevin Magnussen’s promising performance today suggests that this weekend is far from a lost cause for McLaren. The Dane will start in P6.
Qualifying Result
1 Felipe Massa Williams 1:08.759
2 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:08.846 
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:08.944
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:09.285
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:09.466 
6 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:09.515
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:09.619 
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:10.795
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India No time
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:09.754
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:09.780
13 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:09.801
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:09.939
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:10.073
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:10.642
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:10.825
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:11.349
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:11.412
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:11.67
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:11.775
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:12.560
         
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