F1 – Turkish GP – Qualifying

Merhaba, MiniFans! Turkey is upon us and so is rain. After a very dry Friday, FP3 was undertaken under the rain, but qualifying was expected to be dry. As Formula 1 fans know, once can never trust the weather forecast, which added to the fact that the track still wasn’t quite dry from the previous rain, prompted a bit of uneasiness in the paddock and drivers were lining up even before the clock started ticking down. In the penalties department, both Sainz and Hamilton are taking one each: The Ferrari got pushed to the back of the grid for changing five elements of his engine and the Mercedes just 10, trying to play its cards well and still have a chance at the first places on Sunday.

As the prediction was to get rain just a handful of minutes into Q1, everyone went out to try and score at least one lap in the dry-ish and cold track, which proved difficult enough due to the surface conditions and the twenty cars on it without even adding the looming threat of rain. Spins and off-track trips became commonplace, but rain didn’t seem to come at the rate the teams were shouting at their drivers and the track, instead of getting worse, was getting better with the cars constantly speeding on it. This meant a second set of fresh soft tyres, as the times kept coming down and the rain remained in the clouds. The rain still did not come down and all the jumps over kerbs and spins had mechanics checking floors and all kinds of flaps on the cars for damage as soon as they could ger their hands on them.  In surprising news, Schumacher managed to get into Q2 with his Haas, while Ricciardo could not make the cut. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Ricciardo (P16), Latifi (P17), Giovinazzi (P18), Raikkonen (P19) and Mazepin (P20).

In Q2, the track was a bit more settled and drivers made their bets on the medium tyres, to try and start with them on Sunday, as softs have shown graining. Mistakes were still apparent but not as plentiful as in the previous session, as it was calmer than Q1 and drivers were taking their time instead of panicking about possible incoming rain. Meanwhile, Alonso slingshot himself into third, only behind Hamilton and Verstappen, and would eventually repeat this position. His compatriot, Sainz, only went out at the very end to fulfil his team duty and give Leclerc a slipstream so that he could make it into Q3.  All cars that qualified for the fight for pole used medium tyres, excepting Tsunoda. The drivers eliminated in Q2 were Vettel (P11), Ocon (P12), Russell (P13), Schumacher (P14) and Sainz (P15, will start last due to penalties).

Hamilton was the first one out in Q3, accompanied by Bottas, while Verstappen went out on his own after everyone else had left the pit lane. In the first go, Bottas managed to get in front of his teammate and Verstappen, but no one had done a perfect lap, thus things were due to change in the second stint. Hamilton was yet again first on track, but this time he was fully on his own, wanting to avoid other drivers’ mistakes and possible flags that could come out thanks to those. His plan seemed to pay off, as he did improve his time and got provisional pole while waiting for the rest to do their laps, as it wasn’t the best lap he could put in. The fight went down to the Mercedes teammates, as Verstappen could not beat the time set by his championship rival, but Bottas couldn’t improve it as well. Despite his pole position, Hamilton will need to start eleventh, due to his engine change penalty.

Turkey didn’t need to do much to improve last year’s experience, which, according to drivers, was horribly slippery. To solve this, they took out the top layer of the track, which made it difficult to keep a car in its place, and drivers seem to be happier about it. As for qualifying, it mostly went the expected way, with Mercedes and Verstappen fighting it out for pole position in three sessions where the threat of rain wasn’t truly real at any point, despite the teams’ anxiety about it. Hamilton did as much as he could, getting a pole that will translate into an eleventh place. All that remains to see tomorrow is whether Mercedes’ strategy of taking engine penalties one by one instead of all at once will work out for them.