F1 – Eifel GP – Qualifying
Hallo, MiniFans! We’ve landed in Nürburgring for the first time since 2013, making it so that less than half the grid has driven an F1 around this circuit before. This might get to be important, because Friday as a whole got called off due to the helicopter not being able to take off, impeded by the heavy rain. Hulkenberg is part of this select group. The German driver will step in for Stroll, who claimed to be feeling ill. Just an hour of FP3 evened the field for him and will show whether the want for shorter weekends, an idea that was to be tried out only in Imola, will be worth it or not.
Nico Hulkenberg was obviously among the first ones to hit the track, using the Q1 time almost as his own free practice, in order to get the feeling back. He spent most of his time at the bottom of the timing tower, but he was slowly improving his time lap by lap. The hard compounds that Pirelli had chosen for this racing weekend aided him in allowing him to stay out on the soft tyres. One very quick lap by Latifi, which placed him above his teammate and in 13th, was the proof everyone needed to see that the track was improving very quickly. Only the top four remained in their boxes, while everyone else fought tooth and nail to escape the elimination zone. With just a handful of laps under his belt, Hulkenberg ended last, but barely 1.7 away from Verstappen, when he had stated off four seconds away from the best time. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Grosjean (P16), Russell (P17), Latifi (P18), Raikkonen (P19) and Hulkenberg (P20).
Merdeces were the first out in Q2, with shiny medium tyres in order to try and get a fastest lap with it yet still having time to do one with softs if necessary. Some other brave souls were Ricciardo, Vettel and Leclerc, all of whom should made it easily into Q3 if using softs, so the risk in the first stint seemed to be worth it. Verstappen was flying on softs and proved the only one who might be able to get away with yellow tyres was Hamilton, quicker than everyone else except for the Red Bull driver. Even the British driver gave in and used red tyres, not willing to be the only driver with a different tyre strategy. Both Ferrari cars, unlike what had been seen in FP3, were in and out of the safe zone until the checkered flag was waved and Leclerc kicked his teammate off. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Vettel (P11), Gasly (P12), Kvyat (P13), Giovinazzi (P14) and Magnussen (P15).
Q3 seemed as if who’d snatch pole should be a fight between both Mercedes, but Verstappen slid in once again. The only driver who’s shared a front row with the silver arrows this season would put up a fight and be less than one tenth faster than Bottas in their first stint. The track had worsened since the end of Q2, so it remained to see whether it would be better for the second stint. An extremely close fight in the last lap gave the privilege of starting from the first spot of the grid to Bottas, relegating his teammate to second and Verstappen to third. Leclerc repeated the good vibes he had given in FP3, as he divided the Red Bulls, and Ricciardo was the best of the rest, if we do not include Ferrari in this group.
It’s been an unusual weekend so far. With predicted rain for the whole weekend, it seemed as if all of it fell down on Friday, forcing the organizers to shut down all activities for the day due to safety reasons. This didn’t repeat itself on Saturday, but we got other news in the name of Hulkenberg coming back to step into Stroll’s car. As expected, he didn’t make it to Q2, but the circumstances helped him in being somewhat close to the other cars. Bottas scored pole position with a brilliant lap in his second stint of Q3 and Mercedes saw its drivers blocking the front row again. With the lack of three whole hours of free practice, tomorrow is almost a mystery: No one really knows how long stints work or how the predicted cold will affect cars and tyres. It does feel like Verstappen can start fighting head to head with Mercedes, as he always gets closer in race day.