In 14 years of watching Formula One, I cannot recall a Qualifying session that was quite as frantic as today’s was. As the traditional British weather of sunshine and showers rolled in over the Silverstone wing, the session was turned on its head, not once, not twice, but in all three parts of qualifying. It was in these circumstances that Lewis Hamilton failed to read the changing conditions and made yet another mistake which could define his season. Starting in P6, the Brit has plenty of work to do if he wants to catch his teammate Rosberg, who will start from Pole Position. Meanwhile, with both Ferrari and Williams biting the dust in Q1 and both Sauber’s ending their day in the wall, Hamilton was not the only man to be disappointed by the end of the hour.
After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, this morning was more about pack-a-macks rather than shirt sleeves and shorts, and it was not just the fans who had to brave the conditions. Drivers suffered a difficult session with even the experienced names such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel making uncharacteristic excursions. As a result of the shower dodging, the timesheet was rather unrepresentative, with neither Mercedes man recording a time, which allowed Vettel and Ricciardo to finish on top of the pile. Regardless, it is likely that in similar conditions in Qualifying, the Red Bull’s can take the fight to the Silver Arrows.
This topsy-turvey timesheet saw Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean take P3 and P4, but Lotus’ morning was far from straight-forward. Neither was last night for the Enstone based team, as they broke the curfew on Maldonado’s side of the garage. Meanwhile, Grosjean has had a scheduled gearbox change, but nearly gave his mechanics some additional work to complete, when he came perilously close to the pit wall after spinning at Turn 18. The painted kerb on the exit of the corner proved problematic for a number of drivers this morning, yet Romain certainly exaggerated the issue. Running off the track at Turn 18 was a dangerous game for the drivers to play this morning, and in dry conditions, the stewards have confirmed that running wide at this particular corner will result in the lap being discounted. However, if its wet, I doubt any drivers will run wide deliberately as their session could be over in an instant.
Meanwhile, McLaren had a dreadful start to their Saturday, with the cool conditions highlighting the deficiencies of the MP4-29. Both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen’s mileage was significantly limited by these issues which meant that the drivers could not get the car up to the required temperatures. It appears that the team will tape up the brake cooling ducts ahead of Qualifying, in order to counteract this.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:52.522 6 laps
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:52.631 6 laps
3 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:53.044 10 laps
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:53.566 6 laps
5 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:53.585 12 laps
6 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:53.654 15 laps
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:53.911 5 laps
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1:54.041 6 laps
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:54.217 4 laps
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:54.558 5 laps
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:54.602 6 laps
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:54.761 13 laps
13 Felipe Massa Williams 1:55.003 4 laps
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:55.688 6 laps
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:56.918 7 laps
16 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:57.091 10 laps
17 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:57.566 6 laps
18 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:57.914 10 laps
19 Max Chilton Marussia No time 1 laps
20 Fernando Alonso Ferrari No time 4 laps
21 Nico Rosberg Mercedes No time 4 laps
22 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time 5 lap
If ever the current Qualifying format was under scrutiny, today’s session answered all of the questions. The rain started, then stopped, then started again, and the pattern continued. Those teams who were caught radar watching were the biggest loosers today, as Ferrari and Williams were both caught out by an unpredicted rain shower which came right at the end of Q1. Then, in the closing stages of Q3, Lewis Hamilton was caught out by a quickly drying sector three and will start from down in P6 after aborting his final run. Yet another mistake from Hamilton, as Rosberg takes another huge advantage in the psychological battle between the two halves of Mercedes.
This most recent chapter of the intra-team Mercedes duel is unquestionably an intriguing one. I may be reading into it a little too much, but today’s events seem significant. Lewis and Nico crossed the line to start their final run, nose to tail, with the German following the Brit. The difference between the two was that upon struggling through sector one, Hamilton aborted his lap, allowing Rosberg through. While Hamilton had seemingly given up, his teammate’s resilience meant that when he arrived at the driest part of the circuit, he was rewarded. Hamilton had evidently not considered the possibility of conditions improving later on in the lap and ultimately, this may have cost him Pole today – You would expect he could have reached P2 at least. This incident could effect Hamilton’s mindset ahead of tomorrow’s race, as Nico has once again capitalised on a Hamilton mistake. Having not finished outside of the top two positions so far this season, Rosberg is fast becoming a points vacuum and Hamilton now needs to respond tomorrow if he is to break the German’s momentum.
Hamilton’s provisional Pole Position earned after the first run became P6 as everyone who took the gamble in the closing stages of Q3 were rewarded. This included Sebastian Vettel, who had to abort his first run and so entered the stage at the end of Q3 with nothing to loose. After taking provisional Pole, he eventually fell to P2. Meanwhile, the British fans could at least cheer one man in the top three, as Jenson Button made an unexpected return to the post-qualifying press conference, as he hauled the MP4-29 up to P3. It was a great day for McLaren in general as Kevin Magnussen qualified in a more than respectable P5. This performance from McLaren may have been aided by external circumstances, but considering the team’s issues in the cool temperatures, it was impressive. The duct-tape on the brake ducts seemingly proved effective! Nico Hulkenberg was another of the beneficiaries from the circumstances, popping into provisional Pole before falling to P4.
However, the team who optimised their strategy in response to the showers was undoubtedly Marussia. With their best qualifying performance ever, Jules Bianchi will start from P12 tomorrow, with Max Chilton starting in P18 after accounting for his five place grid-drop. The team opted for the bold strategy in Q1, switching onto the slick tyre at the earliest possible time, which ultimately proved to be the right time. Ferrari and Williams demonstrated what happened when the switch was made too late and conservative decisions proved costly. One aspect of today’s qualifying which proved to be highly confusing was Caterham’s decision to take this same conservative approach. For a team who were not set for a Q2 appearance in normal circumstances, it made perfect sense to follow Marussia’s lead and make the bold decisions. Marcus Ericsson’s numerous adventures summed up not just Caterham’s session, but their season in general. The new owner’s, (whoever they are), have certainly purchased a project.
The eventual grid is a tantalising prospect for tomorrow’s race. Two Ferrari’s and two Williams, out of position at the back of the field, will be looking to make significant progress in the early stages. I would expect them to start on the prime compound tyre in order to jump as many competitors in the opening stint as possible. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton both have work to do after disappointing Saturday’s, (with the latter surly having to be particularly bold in the opening laps), which will make for fascinating viewing. AND, after stating that he wants a British victory this weekend, Jenson Button is right at the heart of the battle and could influence the outcome of the race. Absolutely fascinating.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.766
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.386 +1.620
3 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.200 +2.434
4 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:38.329 +2.563
5 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:38.417 +2.651
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:39.232 +3.466
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:40.457 +4.691
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:40.606 +4.840
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:40.707 +4.941
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:40.855 +5.089
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:38.496
12 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.709
13 Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.800
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:40.912
15 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:44.018
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber No time
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:45.318
18 Felipe Massa Williams 1:45.695
19 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.935
20 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:46.684
21 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:49.625
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:49.421