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30 Jun 2018

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale points us in the right direction, as he masterfully guides us through the happenings of qualifying for the 2018 Austrian GP.
Ambient 24° Track 35° Humidity 48% Wind 1.1 m/s


The Styrian hills echoed with the guttural howls of thoroughly unhinged power units being unwound as dollops of angry grey clouds bounced off the tops of the mountains surrounding the Red Bull Ring. Down with a 5 spot penalty were Sauber and Charles Leclerc, with a fresh new gearbox in the back of his car. Verstappen, too, was out of FP3 with a suspected electrical problem, as yet unresolved with just 20 minutes remaining before the start of qualifying. Also not helping was the fact that he managed to break his floor yesterday, compromising his and RBR's FP2 data collection and long runs on a day when neither driver felt they really had the balance of the car correct. .

In fact, the home race, despite sporting 3 DRS zones, was looking to be very much a tilt between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Red Bull very much looking to be in its own race, the better part of a second off one lap pace, but still well ahead of the midfield. When the cars are working, of course...

HAAS again looked strong through FP2 and FP3, with Toro Rosso and their new upgrades working well and making them look to have another surprising underdog performance. Well, Gasly at any rate. Renault and it's new MGU-K upgrade struggled more than a bit, as did McLaren, where Alonso took the last of his penalty free turbos in preparation for qualifying.

Lots of traffic will add some fun to the first 2 sessions, as will the unfortunate habit of the Ultrasoft tyre to grain and be difficult to maintain in the window, thanks to the long stretches of straights that bracket the middle sector, Ferrari with the slight edge there. The biggest joker, might be the kerbs outside of T9, which have broken a fair number of cars this weekend when they went wide on exit. AS the session approached, Red Bull announced that Verstappen's issue was indeed resolved, penalty-free.


Green Light!! Hartley rocked it out the moment the pitlane opened, then Sirotkin Leclerc and Ericsson followed suit. Force India weren't far behind and with 16 minutes left the first of the fast laps were underway. Sirotkin, Stroll, Leclerc, Ericsson and Hartley was the early order as the top teams shambled out of the pitlane and lazily began to get their systems up to temperatures on their outlaps.

Hamilton radioed in a worry with his seat during his warm up and with 13 minutes to go they were on it, as Ocon went to the top of the midfield roster. Clean laps all around and first blood to Hamilton and Mercedes, followed by Vettel, Bottas, and Raikkonen, Red Bull having waited to get their first efforts underway. Stroll had an off that briefly brought out the yellows as Leclerc had a more serious attempt and went P5 as all eyes went to the timing screens to see how the Bulls would do at their home circuit.

The reset midfield order, with 10 minutes left, was Grosjean, Magnussen Hulkenberg, Sainz Leclerc and Gasly, with Grosjean less than a tenth astern of Raikkonen. The early times for Red Bull were not encouraging, Ricciardo going P8 as Leclerc ran wide and broke something off his car on the viciously unforgiving yellow kerbs on the exit of T9.

Bottas opened up and took the candy away from his teammate, but on his turn, Lewis got the job done and took it right back. Verstappen put in a rather more representative time, going P4 and as the times shuffled the sharp end was now Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Vettel, and Grosjean, with Ricciardo adrift of the HAAS and 5 minutes left in the session.

On the outside looking in were Vandoorne, Stroll, Alonso, Perez, and Ericsson, with Perez and Gasly having the biggest gap to their teammates, in P11 and P12 respectively. 3 minutes to go, and the traffic was building, including the well placed HAAS and Renault, who were sporting their brand new party mode. Finally....

Alonso was on a good lap, and as he crossed the line he jumped up to P10, just ahead of Leclerc who also had a good go. Vandoorne also made it out of the fire, albeit to P15 and firmly planted in the hot seat.
Under a minute to go and Perez, Sirotkin, Hartley Stroll and Ericsson were on the outside. Perez was the first to burn his chance and he did NOT get the job done. Checquers out and Hartley was next to register no improvement with just the Williams and Ericsson remaining to wreak havoc. Stroll managed to improve to P15, putting Vandoorne out but a plethora of yellow flags put paid to the efforts of the rest. Vandoorne, Perez, Sirotkin, Hartley, Ericsson were off in search of some currywurst as the rest turned it around for the struggle of Q2.

Tick tock, as it was over a minute before any of the cars hit the circuit after the pitlane opened, Leclerc leading the way on the Ultras, but a wild mix of compounds behind him. Ferrari sticking to the Ultras and Mercedes rocking the Supers with Alonso on the Softs, because, why not I guess...

Hamilton set a 1:03.577 to bypass his teammate, who briefly had gone P1, benefitting from being the first of the sharp end across the line. Vettel and Raikkonen slotted in P3 and P4 and with the absence of Red Bull, it was Grosjean going just a tenth shy of Raikkonen on the same compound that made everyone sit up and take notice.

Supers for Red Bull and it was Verstappen P5, but just 0.05s ahead of Grosjean, but a shocker for Ricciardo who wound up P11, behind Alonso who completed his run on the Soft tyres. Baffling turn of form indeed for the home team. AS the clock dipped below 7 minutes the midfield looked to be Grosjean, Magnussen, Sainz, Gasly with Ricciardo awkwardly sandwiched in P9, between Sainz and Gasly.

In the deep stuff were Hulkenberg, Ocon, Leclerc, Alonso and Stroll. Stroll in particular was 0.7 seconds off the pace, unused to the heady air of Q2 presumably. The field retired to the pits to reset for their last runs and Ricciardo blamed his time on a total lack of front grip, which seemed not to surprise his engineer. In addition, the track temps were dropping, down 3C as the first runners emerged from the pitlane.

Ocon, then Raikkonen were first out of the gate with 2:30 left in the session. Vettel, Alonso, Bottas were next and within the next 45 seconds the track was full, Mercedes on the Ultras this time around as an insurance policy.

Leclerc hit the line with 45 seconds to go, kicking off the train while Alonso set a time just before the chequers, no improvement and breaking his front wing in the last corner and generally making a hash of the last 2 turns. Ricciardo was through, P8 the best he could do, and it was Hulkenberg, reaching up and claiming P10. Both Mercedes failed to complete their laps, but Vettel kept his foot in and managed to take P1 away from Mercedes, by a stunningly tiny 0.033 seconds, on the softer compound. But giveth with one hand and taketh with another, and he was dinged as being under investigation for impeding Sainz on his final run.

Off in search of some weissbiers were Ocon, Gasly, Leclerc, Alonso and Stroll, who at least had managed a more respectable P15 effort. The continuing struggles of Ricciardo were holding out the prospect of a promotion for HAAS in Q3. Replays showed at least some of Ricky Danny's problems were down to getting stuck behind Stroll on his first run.

Ricciardo and Verstappen were first out, but Ricciardo immediately allowed his teammate by before continuing on their was, as the leaders got ready to tilt for all the marbles. This was confusing for everyone and shortly the positions re reversed, and Danny Ricky led the way into the hot laps.

It was not good news for the Red Bull Runners, with Ricciardo a full half second off in the first sector alone and Verstappen 3 tenths back. Raikkonen shot to the top as Bottas was all over it. Hamilton, trailing, made a mess of T3 and behind him, Vettel did the same for T4 and as the dust settled, it was Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Vettel.

With 7 minutes left, Raikkonen was on it again as HAAS went for their first runs. Kimi just killed it, going P2 and Grosjean took P4, yes, P freakin' 4... In a HAAS!!! Kmag could only answer with a P8 and suddenly, the order that seemed so clear through the first 2 sessions was looking decidedly less obvious.

Wow, 5 minutes to go, and Ricciardo complained about being sent out as a rabbit for Verstappen, essentially giving him a slipstream and sacrificing his own chances. P5 for Verstappen, and neither could bypass the stunning lap from Grosjean, even with the team tactics. Perhaps the first effects of ditching the Renault PU being seen at their home race...

2 minutes to go, Hulkenberg led the way with Hamilton dead last guaranteeing maximum tension, at least until T3 which had very much been his nemesis throughout the weekend. 1 minute to go and off went Vettel, followed by Bottas who again set a purple sector Sector 1 . This time, though, Hamilton just about matched him and it was thousandths between them as they hit the last Sector. Purple for Bottas and not Hamilton made it pole position for Valterri with just 0.019 seconds the final margin between them.

P3 for Vettel, meanwhile, nearly 0.3 seconds back followed by Raikkonen, Verstappen and Grosjean. The real story of course, aside from the fact that Grosjean was so quick, was the open internecine warfare at Red Bull, with Ricciardo uncharacteristically, exceedingly, unhappy, for reasons as yet unknown. Related to his unsettled contract? About to relate to his unsettled contract?? Impossible to say, but what WAS clear was the fact he felt he was being treated unfairly by the team, not something we've heard directly from him during his tenure at Milton Keynes.

Most impressive, though, was the fact that Bottas trimmed a full tenth off his lap on the second go, not something that has happened with regularity for the provisional pole sitters this season. Carlos Sainz, too, finally managed to outqualify Hulkenberg when they've both reached Q3 so more kudos in order. In a post race interview, some clarification of the issues at Red Bull, as Ricciardo basically admitted that he felt the team sent them out in a manner that was unfair, never giving him the opportunity to grab a slipstream in Q3. No smiles at all from the Aussie, as he finds the limit of teamwork with his Dutch teammate, who refused to take the lead after the team asked him to ... Certainly not a problem we've ever seen at Red Bull before *coff* Mult-21 *coff*. No words from the team yet, though in the normal course of things it was Ricciardo's turn to go first. And with a late update, it was Christian Horner coming down firmly on the side of Verstappen in a post session interview, stating that it was the agreement that they take turns and it was Max's turn. Which, if it was so cut and dried, doesn't really address why Ricciardo thought it might be otherwise. Curiouser and curiouser...

Tomorrow's race features the top teams starting on different compounds, which, well if we think about the last time that happened could promise some T1 chaos and destruction, but with not much between the compounds in terms of degradation, it's very much on Ferrari to get the job done into T1 as otherwise, it's looking to be another lockout party for the Silver Arrows. Warmer temperatures might also play a part, but only in forcing Ferrari into an earlier stop as higher temps should But the real intrigue will be the dance between Red Bull and HAAS, as without the slipstream, both Red Bulls look slower than Grosjean and, potentially, Kmag, who admitted some minor errors were behind the tenth of second he wound up behind his teammate. If the top 4 rock off into the distance, the Bulls look mighty vulnerable on this track with this DRS configuration...


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