F1 – 2020 Austrian GP – Qualifying
Hallo, MiniFans! Almost four months after it should have started, the F1 season finally kicked off in Austria. There are things we need to get used to: everyone wearing masks, no mingling around in the paddock, no fans filling the grandstands and dyeing them in bright colours, driver rooms taking over the former hospitality spaces. Although it will probably take a while until we see this as the new normal environment, as soon as the cars were out on the track, everyone forgot how or why we’ve waited so long and just focused on enjoying the sport.
Most things, however, haven’t really changed. Q1 started with the cars that probably wouldn’t make it through to Q2, the Williams and the Alfa Romeo. Drivers who were on the rooster to be chosen as the last eliminated car soon followed, as well as the rest of the midfield, and even the favourites, Mercedes. Renault surprised watchers by being the last out on track when half the session’s time was gone, worrying fans and journalists alike due to not having had the best weekend. Stroll managed to up first place close to the end, but it was a short-lived happiness, as Verstappen climbed back on top. Albon risked it a bit more than his teammate, using only one set of softs, but it was enough for the Red Bull to make the cut. Another surprise was Russell, who did not only do the expected of him and finish in front of his new teammate, the rookie Latifi, but also both Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Magnussen (P16), Russell (P17), Giovinazzi (P18), Raikkonen (P19) and Latifi (P20).
Last year’s Q2 strategy saw Mercedes and Red Bull both trying and managing to get through to Q3 with medium tyres, in order to achieve a better strategy for Sunday. This time around, no one was in a rush to get out, to save fresh tyres and allow for the track to heat up slightly more. Mercedes surprisingly started the train of cars out of the pits, using soft tyres, like everyone else did in their first run, with the exception of Max Verstappen, who chose the same medium tyres as last year yet still managing a lap time similar to Leclerc and three tenths faster than Vettel, both on softs, in his first try. Doing better than Mercedes in qualifying was seen almost an impossible deed, so there was no harm done in giving a different strategy a try. In order not to risk it fully, Verstappen was the last one out of the pits for the second run, in order to save himself in case his lap time with the medium tyre wasn’t enough to go through to Q3, but this was shown not to be necessary and he aborted his lap. Ferrari, however, wasn’t as lucky: both were on the brink of elimination, sitting in 9th and 10th place, and Vettel was eventually dropped at the last second, while his teammate Leclerc was saved by the bell and went on to Q3 in 10th place. Racing Point kept on the appearances of being a great midfield car, both cars easily making the cut, along with McLaren. Ricciardo took advantage of the free spot left by Vettel. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Vettel (P11), Gasly (P12), Kvyat (P13), Ocon (P14) and Grosjean (P15).
The third and last qualifying session didn’t take nearly as much time to get started and more than half the cars were soon out on track, led by Mercedes yet again. In just the first attempt, Bottas broke Leclerc’s pole record from last year, a sad sight when seeing Leclerc last out of the seven cars who had scored a time. Stroll managed to score a clean track to put his lap in right before everyone came back out for one last try. One quick yellow flag worried everyone, but it turned out to be Bottas in the gravel in a small incident that didn’t prevent him from easily going back into the track, but it did anger Ricciardo, who could only get a P10, aborting his lap as soon as he saw the yellow waved flag. Leclerc managed to save Ferrari from slander ever so slightly, but a P7 doesn’t taste as good as it could when you’re driving the most well-known car on the grid and managed to score pole position a year ago.
Pole was snatched yet again by a Mercedes car, albeit not the one everyone expected. Bottas out-qualified his teammate, the six-time world champion, with a spectacular last sector. Verstappen joined them in the first post-qualifying interview, carrying a different strategy for Sunday’s race. We shall wait and see how the risk they’re taking turns out tomorrow.