I didn’t actually getting around to watching the practice sessions for this weeks race; my dad decided to get rid of Sky Sports last weekend, only to decide to put it back on on Saturday morning just in time for qualifying. So I’m just going to do a bit of a summary on practice and qualifying and go into more detail for the race.
In a word, not a lot happened throughout the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning. Many of the drivers were testing the braking limits of their car, with a number of spins throughout the practice sessions.
Lewis Hamilton was the one setting the pace on Friday’s session, clocking a 1:05:975 in P1 and a 1:05:483 in P2. Max Verstappen gave the huge Dutch contingent that were present at the race weekend hope as he set the second fastest time in P1, while Sebastian Vettel set a time 2 tenths slower than Lewis in P2. He did however set the fastest time in P3, with a time of 1:05:092, when teams focused on low fuel, quali-sim runs.
The big talking point however for the weekend was whether or not it would be round 2 between Sebastian and Lewis after they came together in Baku. Unfortunately, we were deprived of such a battle after Mercedes announced Lewis needed a gearbox change, resulting in the Brit receiving a 5 place grid penalty after qualifying. It was a huge shame for the 3 time World Champion as he aimed to claw back the current deficit to Sebastian on a track where Mercedes hold a slight pace advantage over the Ferrari.
Q1 saw a surprise drop for the two Williams, a strange one given that Felipe Massa took pole position here in 2014. Felipe could only manage P17, just one place ahead of his team-mate, Lance Stroll. The two Saubers’ of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson brought up the rear, with Jolyon Palmer making up the rest of the drop zone.
It’s fair to say that the two Mclaren’s saw a step forward on a power sensitive circuit, which should’ve exposed the Hondas’ horse power even with a spec 3 engine upgrade. It is not always the case that updates are successful, as was the case for Fernando Alonso, who had to revert back to the spec 2 engine used in Baku. Alarmingly for Stoffel, even with a more advanced engine, he qualified 2 tenths off of Alonsos’ time, resulting in a starting place of P13 for the Belgian. Kevin Magnussen was disppointed to build on his initial pace after suffering suspesnion problems with his Haas car. Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hulkenberg qualified in P14 and P11 respectively.
In the end, it was Valteri Bottas who secured pole position, qualifying less than half a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton described his Q3 session as ‘scruffy’, only securing P3 which would eventually turn into P8 after his penalty was applied. Roman Grosjean secured an impressive 7th place ahead of the 2 Force Indias.
An almost perfect start saw Valteri Bottas fly toward turn one in the lead. Seb and Daniel Ricciardo were adamant the Finn had made a jumpstart, but an investigation revealed that Valteri didn’t make an anticipated start, timing his launch to perfection.
The Dutch fans in attendance for their star driver, Max Verstappen were left disappointed after he suffered his 5th DNF in 7 races, although this time it wasn’t the fault of his own car. After his Red Bull kicked into anti-stall, Max found himself in the busy midfield pack and was unfortunately taken out after Daniil Kvyat got a little too hot into turn one, banged into Fernando Alonso who then careered into the side of the Red Bull car.
Up to 5th and on the Supersofts, Hamilton hoped to go long into the race in order to switch onto the Ultrasofts and give himself a tyre advantage toward the end of the race. Unfortunately, the turbulent air coming from the back of Kimi Raikkonens’ Ferrari madeit hugely difficult for him to stick to plan A. With tyre degradation relatively low, Lewis switched to the Ultras earlier than planned to attempt the undercut on Kimi Raikkonen, which was successful.
A relatively low key race came to life in the closing stages, with Sebastian Vettel pressurising Valteri and Lewis Hamilton chasing P3 from Daniel Ricciardo. On the penultimate lap, Hamilton made an attempt at Daniel going into turn 3 (or turn 4, whichever way you want to interpret it) but to no avail. The Honey Badger was told to get his elbows out, of which he obliged, defending the inside of turn 4 and giving Lewis no way to the 3rd step of the podium. Daniel is in scintillating form at the moment; he is currently on his longest podium streak of 5 races, his longest in F1 resulting in the Aussie now leapfrogging Kimi Raikkonen into 4th place. One would be mad to bet against him to continue this streak at Silverstone.
Upfront, Valteri was able to keep Vettel at bay, but only just. The Finn was able to take his second F1 win by only 0.6 seconds, an almost identical finish to the race back in Sochi. Seb joked afterwards that he only needed another lap and the race result could well and truly have been different.
The result extended Vettel’s gap at the top of the Drivers standings to 20 points. Intriguingly, the win for Bottas now means he is closer to his team-mate than Hamilton is to the 4 time World Champion at the top of the standings. After a run of good results over the previous handful of races, does Valteri need to be considered as a title contender? Mathematically yes, he is in the fight. Form wise yes, he has outscored both Hamilton and Vettel in the previous 3 races. Can he handle the pressure? We will have to see; I get the impression that Lewis and Seb will step it up a gear during the latter stages of the season and I’m not sure if he will be able to keep up.
The races come thick and fast now; the summer break is not too far away and with Silverstone right around the corner, you would suspect a fightback from Lewis to begin to narrow that gap to Sebastian.