F1 – Tuscan GP – Qualifying
Ciao, MiniFans! New week, new race weekend and new circuit in the championship. We’ve remained in Italy, but moved slightly south east to visit Mugello, a well-known track for those who like bike racing but a little more of a stranger for car racing fans. It allows for a quick lap time, thanks to its very fast corners, a lot of them allowing drivers to push their cars to their limit. Drivers seem to be loving the track, but traffic could prove to be a problem in qualifying, as the tarmac is not particularly wide while the time taken to score a lap isn’t much. It’s also given Ferrari the opportunity to celebrate its 1000th GP on home soil in Italy, with a special livery to celebrate the milestone.
The first cars to come out in Q1 to set laps were the Williams, only keeping the top spots while they were the only ones on track. Once everyone settled, it surprised to see Norris being the driver at risk after the magnificent performance by McLaren in Monza. Most drivers went out for a second lap, due to most drivers being within half a second, while the fears of traffic during qualifying didn’t materialise. The combination of an improved track surface and soft tyres granted many faster laps, including to a very confused Vettel who wasn’t sure if they’d made it through to Q2 with his latest time. In a show of just how cruel this sport can be, the winner of the last GP, Pierre Gasly, was the first of the drivers who wouldn’t make it, unlike his teammate Kvyat, who did so comfortably. The drivers who got eliminated in Q1 were Gasly (P16), GIovinazzi (P17), Russell (P18), Latifi (P19) and Magnussen (P20).
Soft tyres were the norm across all cars in the kick-off to Q2. Both Mercedes and Verstappen could have likely used mediums without risk, but making sure to have a good start with the tyres that stick to the most to the tarmac might have been their reason behind the choice, after realising that overtaking with their cars’ set-up isn’t their forte, as shown in Monza. After one stint, just one Ferrari and one McLaren were in Q3 positions, something both worrying and hopeful. The top five – both Mercedes, both Red Bulls and Ricciardo – deemed it unnecessary to go for a second lap, trusting their times to be enough to go through and remaining the only ones with two new sets of soft tyres for the next session. Sainz barely made it in, while Leclerc had managed a slightly better lap and sat comfortably in Q3 times for the whole run. Their teammates, however, weren’t that lucky and couldn’t score one of the coveted spaces to fight for pole. The drivers eliminated in Q2 were Norris (P11), Kvyat (P12), Raikkonen (P13), Vettel (P14) and Grosjean (P15).
The only times when Bottas sometimes seems capable of fighting head to head with Hamilton is qualifying, but the pace set by the British driver in the other sessions made others think it would be almost impossible to steal the top spot from him. The first run mostly set the drivers in the expected order. The traffic that wasn’t an issue in Q1 almost caused issues in the second run, as no one wanted overheated tyres or cars in front. A yellow flag caused by Ocon in the first sector messed up may drivers’ laps, but it allowed Leclerc to score a fifth place he would have never been able to do otherwise and Hamilton to keep hoarding pole positions.
Ferrari’s 1000th GP doesn’t seem to have future as a happy celebration for them, as the best thing so far is a 5th for Leclerc that can’t really be attributed just to him, as many drivers were forced to abort their last lap. Mercedes still dominates a field that lost what could have been a great ending to qualifying with everyone improving times and maybe changing the order. The two top teams are still up there in a foreign circuit to them, proving layouts don’t really matter to them. Tomorrow’s race will probably prove itself to be at least a bit exciting, even if only for it being new to fans and drivers alike.