F1 – STYRIAN GP – QUALIFYING
Hallo, MiniFans! It’s the second race of the season, the first back to back and the first time we’ll be experiencing two consecutive racing weekends in the same circuit. However, the circumstances are very different: With rain scheduled for a big chunk of the weekend, we are deviating from the heat that was last weekend’s main character.
Rain had already suspended FP3 when it was announced that qualifying would be postponed. Drivers knew they’d have to drive on a wet track for the first time in the season, so, with absolutely no reference whatsoever, the drivers who adapt more easily would have an advantage over their rivals. After 45 minutes of waiting for the rain to calm down a bit, cars were finally allowed to queue up on the pit lane on extreme rain tyres for a chance at scoring the pole position.
Vettel kicked off qualifying, ridding himself of spray from other cars, with Giovinazzi closely following him and Leclerc allowing himself a nice space for his first lap. Drivers were urged to get at least one lap in, as teams weren’t sure whether rain would come back or not and the rest of the sessions could get compromised or even suspended. In a bizarre succession of events, both Russell and Giovinazzi managed to top the timing sheet for a few corners, until Leclerc scored his next lap. Managing a clean lap and avoiding traffic (and, therefore, the spray from other cars) was soon clearly regarded as the best strategy, while the track seemed to get better with every passing minute.
Almost everything was going according to plan, except for Pérez, who went from being the favourite from the middle field to sneak up into the front rows of the grid to need to fight his way into Q2, an endeavour that proved itself unsuccessful, while his teammate sat comfortably within the group who would go on. The McLaren drivers, however, kept grasping onto their need to show the team improvement and stayed within the top five when they started to push out consistent laps. A small accident involving Giovinazzi, who had fallen down almost to the very bottom of the timing tower, was the only notable incident that ended up granting a red flag due to him stopping right outside turn 4, at the end of the back straight. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Raikkonen (P16), Pérez (P17), Latifi (P18), Giovinazzi (P19) and Grosjean (P20).
Queues were once again present at the start of Q2, with no one wanting to be caught off guard in case the rain came back. With less cars on track, it became easier to avoid water spray from others but needing to find the perfect lap at the perfect time was still a game of skill. The session wasn’t as crazy as the first one was, with the natural order somehow returning. The concern of not getting both Ferraris in the run for pole grew exponentially at the end of Q2, as heavier rain was reported and neither of the red cars seemed to be in a great position to improve their times as lightning was seen in the distance. Only Vettel managed to squeeze through, three tenths off Ricciardo and less than a tenth faster than his teammate. Gasly proved again that he’s more suited to the Alpha Tauri than the Red Bull, scoring a surprising fifth place while his teammate was eliminated. The drivers that didn’t make it through to Q3 were Leclerc (P11), Russell (P12), Stroll (P13), Kvyat (P14) and Magnussen (P15).
Verstappen snagged the first place of the queue in order not to have any cars in front of him, eager to set a time that could give him pole position. On the other hand, Hamilton also had his eye set on the prize and lowered the Red Bull driver’s time by almost three tenths. Drivers kept climbing up and dropping places as the track quickly improved and the last two minutes were hectic, with both Hamilton and Verstappen fighting neck to neck for pole position, the Dutch driver almost seemingly driving a rally car up until he skidded a bit too far, killing his chances at first but keeping his second place.
Vettel, unsurprisingly, ended tenth with no real chance at improving his position. Sainz snagged P3, his teammate Norris getting P6, clearly showing both their talent and how the car has been steadily improving over the last couple of seasons. Rain has given us a somehow unpredictable qualifying and a chance at the papaya orange cars having a go at another podium. We will need to wait until tomorrow to see whether they can materialize the very real possibility of spraying champagne for the third time in four races.