F1 – Portuguese GP – Qualifying
Olá, MiniFans! We’ve landed in Portugal, more specifically in a track that around half the grid knows, although not well, as most know it from either lower classes, a long time ago or both at the same time. With Red Bull on the uphill, the time has come to see whether they, or rather just Verstappen, are up to steal pole positions from Mercedes. Meanwhile, the fight for the third place in the constructor’s championship is hotter than ever and a good qualifying will be key in a circuit no one’s sure where or even if overtaking will be an easy task to accomplish. The other key point for qualifying would be track limits, used and abused during the free practices by drivers, which would get their lap times erased were they to leave the red and white kerbs in a couple specific corners.
A drain cover coming undone after Sebastian Vettel ran over it in FP3 delayed qualifying by half an hour while it got fixed and marshals checked virtually every single other one in the whole circuit, making sure to secure all the loose ones they could find. As soon as the timer started ticking, everyone except the predicted top 3 filed out of the pits. With enough fuel for more than one fast lap due to the hard nature of the tyres (out of five different hardness levels, Pirelly chose to bring the three hardest ones), laps got continuous improvements. It wasn’t surprising to see a whole field of red tyres. There weren’t many surprises as to whom made it through to the rest, but it was quite down to the line, as Russell achieved the lap time that got him into 15th place in his last try, once the checkered flag had started to be waved. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Raikkonen (P16), Giovinazzi (P17), Grosjean (P18), Magnussen (P19) and Latifi (P20).
Q2 already started in a different way to Q1, as a few cars dared to use mediums rather than softs for their first try. With a couple lap times erased in Q1, drivers tried to be more careful with track limits than they had been previously during the free practices. The drivers dropped in Q1 were pretty much set in stone, but those that would eventually be in Q3 weren’t as crystal clear. Renault was struggling with their drivers, Ricciardo even spinning out and barely caressing the wall only to make it through by a tenth, while Ocon was the first of the ones who wouldn’t make an appearance in Q3. Leclerc managed to make it to the following session, unlike his teammate, both of whom used medium tyres. McLaren seemed to have lost the problems they had been suffering lately from the upgrades done to their car. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ocon (P11), Stroll (P12), Kvyat (P13), Russell (P14) and Vettel (P15).
Q3 started with Renault working on Ricciardo’s rear wing, which had been the part of the car to graze the wall when he spun out, as Mercedes led the field out for those with more than one set of new soft tyres and Albon, who had mediums on. Bottas set the first fastest lap and Leclerc was momentarily third, contrasting greatly with Vettel’s 15th place, until Verstappen settled in his usual hunting grounds. Ricciardo was sitting pretty in his box, waiting to see whether his team would be able to fix his rear wing, something that would not happen in time for him to set a time and relegating him to tenth on the grid. The showdown came down to an internal battle between the Mercedes drivers for pole as, even though Verstappen was closer than ever, it still wasn’t enough for him to break the silver arrows apart from first place.
Qualifying didn’t bring many great surprises. Russell is back to managing to make it into Q2 with his Williams, Ferrari keeps on having just one car in Q3. Red Bull, despite their improvements, still didn’t manage to beat the reigning world champions, McLaren as a whole is consistent and steady. Mercedes is still not letting the front row get away from them and laughed in everyone’s faces as they got pole and second place with medium tyres rather than softs. We’re back in a country that last hosted an F1 race twenty-four years ago, despite it being in a completely different track, and we’re yet to see whether the race can change the qualifying positions in a substantial way. There’s only just one thing to do to find out: Watch tomorrow’s race and enjoy the 73rd circuit to host a Grand Prix for this sport.