Saturday in Barcelona saw early problems for Valtteri Bottas and a close fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for pole. Read about all the action from Qualifying day at Catalunya in our Saturday Report!
Ahead of Saturday’s action, the FIA announced that the DRS zone would be extended by 100 metres to aid overtaking in Sunday’s Grand Prix. The DRS zone formerly began 157 metres after the exit of Turn Sixteen. It now begins just 57 metres after the final turn.
Saturday didn’t start smoothly for Valtteri Bottas. An electrical fault caused the Mercedes mechanics to break the curfew in order to fix the car, but found a water leak while putting the engine back together. He finally headed out on track with eight minutes of the final practice session remaining. For the remainder of the weekend, Bottas will use the power unit he has used for the first four races of the season.
Mercedes also added larger, more visible, driver numbers to the shark fins of their cars overnight.
Fernando Alonso was first to set a time – a slow 1:29.225. Alonso was able to get plenty more laps this morning. He completed 16 laps in the hour long session compared to the 22 total laps he completed in total yesterday.
Ferrari set the initial pace – Kimi Raikkonen, on soft tyres, set the fastest time of the weekend so far, while Sebastian Vettel was two tenths of a second slower than the Finn. Raikkonen’s time remained the fastest of the session. In a reverse of yesterday, Ferrari were on top with Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes three tenths of a second off the pace. Bottas, who only completed two flying laps as a result of his earlier issues, set the fourth fastest time and was six tenths off the leading time.
For the second day in a row, Vettel stopped in the pit-lane. An issue was detected on the telemetry and the car was pushed back to the garage by the Ferrari mechanics, bringing an early end to his session.
Six different teams occupied the positions between sixth and elventh, highlighting how close the midfield is and just how much of a difference the driver will make in Qualifying.
Full Result from Free Practice Three:
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.811|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+1.035|
|9||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+1.621|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India||+2.023|
|14||Esteban Ocon||Force India||+2.083|
|15||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||+2.177|
Vettel’s earlier issue was revealed to be a water leak ahead of qualifying. As Ferrari couldn’t identify the exact cause of the problem, the entire engine was changed as a precaution. Changing an engine is usually a four hour job but the mechanics impressively managed to change the engine in under two hours.
As the green flag was waved to signal the start of Q1, Vettel emerged from his garage and thanked his mechanics for their hard work. There was an issue though. The team told Vettel to stop the car on his installation lap. The German reluctantly replied ‘are you sure?’ before being told to coast to the pits and pull into the garage instead. Sebastian obliged, followed the team’s instructions to change settings on his steering wheel, and in the end didn’t revisit the garage before setting the fastest time so far in the session. His time ended up being the third fastest of Q1.
Romain Grosjean had an early off in the session and spun at the final chicane while Williams and Renault looked to lack the pace they had shown in Practice. Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg scraped through to Q2, but their team-mates failed to. Lance Stroll was frustrated to qualify as low as eighteenth given the progress he feels he’s made over the past few qualifying sessions.
“It has just been tough for us today and all weekend to get the tyre working properly. The low grip situation is hard for us. But I was actually not too disappointed by my lap. I was three tenths off Felipe and for me at this stage that is not too bad, but it has definitely been tough to get our car where it should be and working the way it normally does. We can only focus on tomorrow now, as today was not what we were hoping for. The pitstop strategy will be a tricky call as it’s difficult to overtake here, but we will look into that tonight and see which way we go.”
Jolyon Palmer qualified a lowly seventeenth after an encouraging Friday afternoon session which saw him set the eighth fastest time.
“This afternoon was very disappointing, certainly compared to yesterday when we were seventh and eighth. We were definitely missing performance and we need to understand why that has happened. The wind was very strong which certainly affects the cars, so we have to understand why our car seemed more susceptible to this. Now it’s time to work with the engineers in preparation for the best race possible tomorrow.”
Five drivers from five different teams occupied the five places in the drop zone in Q1. Pascal Wehrlein advanced to Q2, but Marcus Ericsson failed to. He missed out by just five thousandths of a second.
“Overall it has been a positive weekend – bearing in mind that we did not try all the aerodynamic parts on the car yet. We had a good feeling in FP3 and we could underline that as well in qualifying. We are closer to the midfield here in Barcelona, which is a good sign. My aim was to qualify for Q2 today, so I am disappointed to have missed it by only five thousandths. Overall I am satisfied with the progress we have made from a team perspective, but personally it is a pity that I was eliminated in Q1.”
Stoffel Vandoorne was eliminated in Q1 for the fifth time this season. He was left perplexed by how different the car felt today compared to yesterday.
“I don’t really know what happened today. Yesterday I was feeling quite comfortable and confident in the car, happy with the performance, and everything was moving in the right direction to do a bit better today. It’s a shame we weren’t able to translate that in qualifying, because I think the potential was definitely there to get into Q2. It seems like we lost a bit of performance compared to yesterday, and at the moment there’s no real explanation why. But it’s been a difficult start to the season altogether, so hopefully tomorrow we can do something better.
While Carlos Sainz set the ninth fastest time in Q1, Daniil Kvyat could only manage the twentieth and slowest time. He too found that his car felt different in the Qualifying session compared to how it had in the previous sessions. This will be the first time in his career that he has lined up at the very back of the grid.
“The car just wasn’t driveable today. It was very hard to get my… to get the car around. Something was wrong with it I’m sure – 100 percent. Many things have to be changed. The wind didn’t help but that’s the same for everyone, it was just a very hard car to drive. You can’t be that far off on a track you know quite well. I don’t think it will be much better tomorrow, but we will try to see what we can learn from today. Maybe tomorrow it will [improve] because the Friday long pace didn’t seem too bad. We need to try and pick up anything we can.”
Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time in Q1 and Kimi Raikkonen was his closest challenger at just two tenths of a second slower.
On their first runs in Q2, both Mercedes drivers made mistakes. Bottas went too deep into Turn One and abandoned his lap, while Hamilton went wide at Turn Five but still was able to set the fastest lap. Vettel split the Mercedes pair and went 0.085 seconds slower than Hamilton. Raikkonen set a comparatively slow lap for fourth, but the team were certain there would have been pace in his car to challenge the front-runners.
For most of the session, Fernando Alonso managed to cling on to a top ten position. He was 0.007 quicker than Grosjean’s eleventh placed Haas in the early stages. Alonso managed to improve his time and somewhat unbelievably stayed in the top ten. McLaren celebrated as though they’d won the championship, as did Fernando’s home crowd with cheers audible above the sound of the V6 engines. Alonso acknowledged the partisan crowd by waving to them on his in-lap. It’s the first time he’s been in Q3 since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Grosjean struggled again in Q2, mimicking his Q1 incident by going off once again at the final turn. He failed to progress to Q3 after abandoning his final lap as a result of his wide moment. He qualified fourteenth and was left disappointed.
“I was hoping for more than P14. Without that last spin on the last lap, perhaps we could have done better. Anyway, the car balance has been very tricky and the wind makes it very unpredictable. We struggled with that, so there are a few things we need to work on because I don’t think we’re operating as we should be in some areas. The problem right now is that if I push it to the limit, one corner’s going to be fine but the next it goes away. That’s a big problem for me as I’m struggling to drive it when it’s like this. The car is not reacting as I would like and the grip is very low. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow in the race.”
Both Haas cars were eliminated in Q2. Kevin Magnussen out-qualified his team-mate and just missed out on Q3 in eleventh. He was frustrated to be so close to getting into Q3.
“It’s always frustrating when you miss out on Q3 by a small amount. You can always say that you had it in there, but you know we’ll get there. Q3 is not far away. I think I nearly maximized everything. There’s always a little bit more you can do, but so can everyone. I don’t think this is our track, really. It’s good to see that the upgrades have worked a little bit. It hasn’t been negative. We just need to build on it and get into Q3. We only need to get one car tomorrow then we’re in the points. Of course, we would like more than one point, but even that would be satisfying to get out of here with something. I’ll cross my fingers for a good start. Hopefully, the temperature will drop and the wind will die down and it’ll make it a bit easier for us.”
Sainz qualified twelfth and surprised himself slightly by qualifying as far up the grid as he did, having been braced for a difficult afternoon.
“We knew it was going to be very tough to get into Q3, but we were close! It’s a shame, because I think we had the right balance on the car and I felt comfortable. For tomorrow, I hope we can have a good race. I always try my best and I will do just that once again, in front of my home crowd. I will try and be aggressive at the start in order to gain positions and strategy can always be an important factor here in Spain, so I think we can put on a good show; I’m looking forward to it. I can also count on all the support from the fans to give me that extra boost!”
Hulkenberg qualified in thirteenth citing the afternoon’s windy conditions as the reason for Renault’s lack of pace in Qualifying. It is his lowest grid slot of the season so far.
“The conditions in qualifying didn’t play in our favour this afternoon. It was very windy and together with the higher temperatures, it has had an impact on our aero performance. We didn’t change a great deal on the car from this morning as it was pretty decent, so the main difference from FP3 was the ambient conditions. I didn’t feel as happy with the car as earlier today, but that said, I’m very happy with the laps I put in, especially the last one in Q2 which was pretty sweet, but that was it for today. We will put our heads down, push hard and aim for a good race tomorrow.”
Pascal Wehrlein predictably finished slowest in the second qualifying session. Given that Sauber have brought minimal upgrades here, it is impressive that Wehrlein was able to get the C36 into Q2 at all.
“I am pleased with Q2. After the practice sessions on Friday, we could not have expected such a result. We had some issues with the car yesterday as well as today in FP3 so I was not sure how qualifying would be. The most important was to get the maximum out of the car – which I have done. The team also did a good job considering that we do not have the full update package on the car yet.”
Just over one second covered the top ten in Q2. As the twelve minutes of the final qualifying session began, Hamilton and Vettel were the first cars out of the pits. The pair were closely matched on their first laps. In the first sector there was nothing to choose between them and similarly by the end of the second sector, both drivers had set a time of 51.5 seconds. Vettel lost half a second in the final sector though. Hamilton’s time was a 1:19.149, good enough for provisional pole, as Bottas set a 1:19.390. Raikkonen was quicker than his team mate and was 0.290 seconds away from Hamilton’s time. It was an impressive leap of pace from Hamilton, whose time was a full second quicker than his previous time in Q2.
As the drivers all headed out for their last runs on fresh soft tyres, Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon and Felipe Massa set about their only flying lap in the session.
Force India qualified in eighth and tenth with Perez and Ocon. Perez was surprised after having difficulties in the practice sessions. He’s hopeful that a fresh set of tyres will play to his advantage in the Grand Prix.
“This result comes as a bit of a surprise after some difficult practice sessions, but I think the team did everything right this afternoon. I think the key to our performance was the way we approached our warm-up lap because we got the tyres in the correct window and found the grip when it mattered. The race is going to be long, but I have a new set of tyres, which we managed to save in Q1, and that should make a difference tomorrow. Overtaking is difficult here, so I hope I can make up some ground at the start: we have some very quick cars behind us who will give us a challenge, but I think we’re on course for a good race.”
Ocon was pleased to get through to Q3 but a DRS failure hampered his chance of getting any further up the grid than ninth.
“It’s great to make Q3 again, but I am disappointed not to be higher up the grid. My lap in Q3 was heavily compromised because I didn’t get the DRS to work – I pressed the button too early and the DRS didn’t open. So I missed out on some performance – maybe three tenths, which would have made a big difference. On the other hand, as a team we have both cars inside the top ten and we’ve shown that when it matters we are strong and consistent. That’s encouraging for tomorrow and for the races to come. A good start and strong first lap will be important tomorrow and I’m confident we have the speed to get a good result.”
Massa had a quiet session. He thought that the Williams was good enough to qualify seventh today, so was disappointed to line up only ninth.
“It wasn’t a fantastic qualifying, because we knew the best we could achieve today was seventh, and we’re ninth. I struggled with overheating on the tyres throughout qualifying, especially in sector three. It was quite difficult even to get into Q2, and Q3, because the tyres were getting too hot. I was really slow on all of my out-laps, slower than all the other cars, but it just wasn’t working. I then decided to go even slower to see if the tyres could survive for the last sector. It helped, because I picked up some pace, maybe four tenths, and I managed to make it through to Q2. In Q3 I was the slowest car on my out-lap again, but the tyres were too hot in sector three and I lost a bit of time and maybe a couple of positions because of the issue. But, the race is tomorrow. We will try to do the best we can and fight with the teams around us, even the McLaren is in the mix. Fernando did a great job today.”
Alonso also only made one appearance in Q3, but his lap time was good enough for an unlikely seventh on the grid.
“Today is one of those days where everything goes right and everything is meeting and exceeding expectations. I’m definitely happy, surprisingly happy, after how our weekend started yesterday, and our qualifying results so far this season. P7 was not something we were even thinking about. Even if yesterday we didn’t do much running, the car performed quite well and the upgrades were working fine. Today we put everything together, I felt confident in the car – in spite of quite windy and tricky conditions – and I need that confidence to push and gain those couple of tenths in quali. All the support I get from the people here in Spain always gives me extra motivation, so the extra tenths today were because of them.”
Red Bull were in their own battle today as fifth and sixth looked to be their ultimate pace. Max Verstappen out-qualified Daniel Ricciardo for the second time this year.
“That was a very good qualifying, it went very smoothly and we had no issues and I think the lap was spot on. The car was definitely the best I have had all season and I was very pleased with the balance today. To be just under six tenths back from pole position is a good achievement and we should be very happy with that compared to one and a half seconds back in Sochi. The team has worked really hard to get the updates ready for the car so a massive thank you to them. We have been studying the upgrades all week to understand the package and how they would work, once we got the setup sorted and I was able to get comfortable it resulted in a good combination and successful Qualifying. It is a good step forward and has given us a solid platform to build on for the rest of the season. As always we will keep pushing and try to close the gap even more. It is always nice to come back to Barcelona, I have driven a lot of laps here and it has been kind to me. Like we saw last year, you never know what can happen on race day here, our long run pace looks ok so let’s wait and see.”
Ricciardo was pleased to see progress from the team as a result of the upgrades that they’ve brought to Barcelona, but lamented his own struggles in the final sector of the lap.
“Even with the upgrades we didn’t expect to come here and get pole today and I’m still about a second off the leaders in qualifying, but Max was a bit closer which is good for the team. Personally I was struggling in the last sector, especially at the last two corners. I just wasn’t able to carry enough speed through the chicane which is where I lost most of the time. For the rest of the lap I felt we did all we could and now we have a pretty good balance in the high speed corners. There is more potential in the car which we need to unlock but we have definitely found something this weekend and the gap to the leaders looks to be closing a bit. In the race it would be nice to get on terms with Ferrari and Mercedes but I think the main battle will be between Max and myself. Maybe we will even look at trying something different and splitting the strategy across both cars to put a bit of pressure on the top two teams. It should be an interesting race.”
Between the top four, it was tight. Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel all improved in the first sector on their final run, and it was Vettel who made the biggest improvement compared to his first lap. It was a similar story in the second sector, with Vettel going considerably faster than the Mercedes drivers. Things fell apart for him in the last sector though and he lost around half a second navigating the final turns. Vettel improved his time to qualify on the front row, but ultimately didn’t have the pace to challenge Hamilton’s benchmark. It was nevertheless a good recovery from the German considering it looked like his Qualifying would be over just moments into the session.
“I don’t know how the mechanics did it. It’s a lot of work to put together. I want to say a big thanks to the team. This morning we couldn’t do what we wanted to. We know the track and the car, and I know that it is working. In the end we could have got pole position, but I missed the apex at the chicane. I was a bit late and lost a bit of time there. But, overall, putting the car on the front row is a massive success. I think we worked really well. We realized that there was an issue and that we could fix it. Tomorrow, with the race rhythm, it will be fine, because when you get into the pace it is easier. A good start looks always good, so we’ll see, but I am confident for tomorrow and I always try to keep a smile”.
Raikkonen couldn’t quite keep on the pace of the top three and qualified fourth. He claims he didn’t put a fully clean lap together in Q3.
“The car has been working well the whole weekend and I’m happy with that, but I’m disappointed with the qualifying result . Track conditions were a bit tricky today, better than yesterday though. Although I felt I had a lot of speed I struggled here and there, making small mistakes, hitting the kerb, running wide, so I did not put a good lap together. Tomorrow we’ll try again. We can make hundreds of different plans for the race, but there’s no guarantee things will run as we wish. We know the strategies of our two cars, but we don’t know what the others will do. We’ll try to react in the right time and take the right decisions. The length of the DRS area has been increased: we don’t know if it will make a big difference, but it’s probably going to help a little bit.”
“For most of the weekend we’ve had the edge on Ferrari but in Q3 they raised their game. For me starting the day with the engine change and moving back to the old engine, I was always going to be on the back foot. I really struggled through qualifying with the rear stability of the car, so it was difficult to find a good rhythm. It wasn’t one of my best qualifying sessions but I’m happy with the job that the team has done. You could see Lewis was very strong and quick today. It’s a shorter run down to Turn 1 than in Sochi, but we’ve seen in the past that you can make positions from the second row. I’ve done some good things from P3 before. Everything is still wide open. We’re happy with the race pace and upbeat for tomorrow.”
Though Hamilton ultimately couldn’t improve on his final lap, he didn’t actually need to as he’d had already done enough for pole on his first run. He starts Sunday at Catalunya from the 64th pole position of his career.
“That was a really intense qualifying. We had to pull out every millisecond we could to take pole. We made some changes ahead of qualifying and the car felt great, so I was very happy with it. The race pace is looking good and the team has done an incredible job this weekend, as always. I don’t know if the guys back at the factory get tired of hearing this, but they’ve done an incredible job. To make this step forward and bring a great package for this weekend to keep us in the fight with the Ferrari, I’m so grateful to them. We’ll work as hard as we can on Sunday so that effort doesn’t go to waste.”
For the first time, the top three drivers were interviewed on the grid immediately after the Qualifying session. Alonso also made a guest appearance, much to the delight of his home crowd.
The crowd are set to be given a great battle between the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers tomorrow. Lewis Hamilton certainly looks to have the pace to take the win tomorrow, barring any repeats of last year’s Spanish calamity. Don’t expect Sebastian Vettel to not defend his championship lead as hard as he can though and Valtteri Bottas will certainly be looking to solidify his place as genuine title contender by taking back-to-back victories.
Full Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying Result:
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:19.706|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:20.175|
|8||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:21.070|
|10||Esteban Ocon||Force India||1:21.272|
|12||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1:21.371|
|20||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:22.746|
Nicky Haldenby is a 24 year old Formula One blogger from Scarborough, England. Having grown up with F1 often on the TV on Sunday afternoons, Nicky has been following the sport avidly since 2006. He graduated from the University of Hull in 2015 with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature and founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in March 2016. Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and can be heard regularly as a guest on the Last Lap Podcast. He previously wrote for Badger GP.