Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale trundles through the puddles to explain how qualifying unfolded for the Turkish GP.
Ambient 13.5° Track 11.9° Humidity 90.2% Wind 1.7 m/s
A sullen grey sky hung over the icy cold track, remnants of a massive rainstorm that upset FP3 to the point that Hamilton was at the bottom of the timesheets and Verstappen at the top in a short session that saw more spins than the Olympic finals in ice skating.
The immediate threat of rain had been replaced by actual rain, the racing gods having decided that as the session began they had teased us enough this season and they delivered on their promise with a torrential downpour as the last seconds ticked off before the session opened...
Green Light!! Verstappen led the way as the field was split as to whether the Intermediate or Full Wet was the best choice for the moment. Notably Renault were on the full Wets. Verstappen managed to have a full spin on his outlap no less and the crazy was in full force as the first laps got underway, with just Ferrari staying in the pits.
Both the Ferrari drivers crawled out on track as the early runners were about halfway through their first well, not so much hot lap as frigid given the conditions. Bottas, Ocon to the top early days on the full Wets, 2:07s for both. Perez snaked up to 3rd before his teammate jumped him.
Hamilton was bogged down with traffic and wound up 5th but unlike normal quali, the hotlaps continue unabated so an improvement likely as he continued to thrash round the track. Ocon took the top position with his second go round as Bottas had his second time deleted, which was faster than the Renault driver's.
The rain which wasn't supposed to be continued to pound down, and the advantage was ever more clear for those who chose the full Wets and into the pits those running the Inters came, but with conditions getting worse improving was going to be a tricky business indeed.
In fact, those on the outs were calling for Red Flags and with 7 minutes left, Leclerc, Grosjean, Gasly, Russell and Latifi were all on the outs looking in, crawling around the track. And just like that Race Control decided that it was in fact too much for the drivers and out came the Red Flag, stopping the session until conditions improved.
Given the decent interval afforded by the stoppage, worth noting that Ocon, Bottas, Stroll, Hamilton and Perez were the top 5 and Norris, Magnussen, Albon, Kvyat and Raikkonen rounded out the top 10, with Perez alone setting his time on the Inters. Of course, the real question would be whether or not conditions would improve soon enough for anyone to improve once cars were set loose on the track. If the laptimes continued to stay in the 2 minute range once they go back out at best an outlap and 2 hot laps would be possible which means that everything would be bet on tyre choice coming out of the pits.
With the Safety Car out and the sky brightening, odds looked good for a restart and sure enough as the Safety Car came round the final bend the 10 minute warning was sounded. OR not. This was accompanied by a clearing in the distance and there was a decided amount of fun coming in the near future, kicked off by the appearance of an ancient sweeper, creeping round the track and trying to clear a bit of water off the apexes before the pit exits opened once again.
Welp, as 10 minutes turned into 35, it began to look as if Race Control was waiting for some Mediterranean beach weather rather than an actually drivable track. Still, out went the Safety Car once again as hope sprang eternal and it was officially the two minute warning.
Albon headed the queue on full wets, followed by Verstappen, Raikkonen and Leclerc. Next up were Vettel, Ocon and Latifi as Raikkonen got properly sideways on his outlap and just about took Leclerc out as he got it back in hand. Sainz and Ricciardo were out in their own little bubble, then Grosjean, Magnussen and Giovinazzi and at the end of the line, Russell, Bottas and Hamilton. Perez, Norris, Gasly, Stroll and Kvyat rolled out as the hot lappers were onto their first efforts and it was all for nought as Grosjean went wide and beached himself in the gravel bringing out yet another red flag. To be fair to the much maligned HAAS driver he was just following Leclerc's line through the corner...
That left 3 minutes on the clock once the session restarted after the latest red flag, meaning it was going to be a one and done and this time Red Bull led the way, Verstappen in front of Albon. Raikkonen and Vettel next, then Leclerc, Kvyat, Giovinazzi and Ocon. Bit of a gap to Latifi Russell, Sainz and Ricciardo. Gasly, Bottas, Magnussen Stroll and Perez were the next group up and Norris and Hamilton were the sting in the tail this time round as Verstappen drifted it round the final corners and got his lap under way...
Purples and greens interspersed with some yellows as Max got it going. Vettel and Albon looked to be on it as well as the driver's could smell improvement in the air. A yellow flag in sector one decidedly messed with a large number of laptimes, Kvyat responsible for that. Wowzers, Verstappen and Albon to the top, and another yellow, for Latifi in the gravel in Sector 2 certainly caught out a large number of drivers. The race gods are cruel indeed and those yellows had the effect of giving us an almost normal exclusion list, with Magnussen, Kvyat, Russell, Grosjean and Latifi all done for the day, off in search of some baklava to lift their spirits as the rest turned it round for the glories of Q2. And given those yellows, all the improved times were going to be investigated AFTER the session, though worth pointing out anyone ahead of Kvyat would be keeping their gains. Ricciardo and Norris were mentioned on air, both of them behind the two yellow flag offenders at the start of their outlap.
Norris led the way onto track for Q2 and he and his teammate were both sporting the Inters, and there were double yellows out for Turn 8 because there was a crane on track removing Latifi's car... And if you are asking why the session was restarted prior to clearing the car, you would not be the only one.
Norris rocked across the line with a 2 minute dead, but his time was deleted and as the runners came across the line it was Albon to the top, matching Norris' time, before Verstappen put it P1 3 seconds up on his teammate. Raikkonen, Perez, Stroll, Bottas and Hamilton slotted in behind them, all save Hamilton in the 57s, dropping Albon to P6. Ocon split the Mercedes and then it was Albon, with his second go round, to the top as the track was improving quite rapidly.
7:30 to go and Vettel, Giovinazzi, Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were all on the outs as Stroll jumped to the top, into the 55s as the choice as to go for fresh tyres or stay out was the everything with time running out. Verstappen to the 53s and worth noting that fresh tyres need to be brought back up to temperature and in the past we have indeed seen Ferrari get that dead wrong and miss out on Q3 as a result.
Nonetheless both McLaren's were in for fresh Wets as their Inter gamble had failed. 3 minutes to go and Vettel Leclerc, Norris, Gasly and Sainz were now looking at missing the party as desperation began to sink in.
As the last seconds ticked off the clock Sainz, Vettel, Norris, Leclerc and Gasly were all out with Sainz the first done and out, with those behind still on laps. Ocon up to P6 as Bottas dropped to P7 and Giovinazzi to P5! At the back no one was able to get it done and off the stage went Norris, Vettel, Sainz, Leclerc and Gasly, knocking back some shots of raki to kill the pain, as the rest turned it round for the hallowed grounds of Q3.
During the interval it emerged that Kmag was furious as it wasn't single yellows, but double waved yellows during the first session and he complained it was an utter joke to investigate it afterwards, which, well, kinda seems like he might have a point.
Verstappen was first off the mark for the ultimate palmares, followed by his teammate, then Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Ocon, with just the Renault driver on the Inters. Bottas and Hamilton were next, then Ricciardo and a long gap. Stroll and Perez emerged last, with Perez also on the Inters as the serious work got underway.
AT the top, Verstappen just crushed the opposition, nearly 2 seconds up on Stroll, at least until Perez hit the line, his Inters taking him to the top by nearly 0.3 seconds. Fascinating as Ocon was at the other end of the field, unable to get the tyres up to temps. This brought several drivers in, most notably Verstappen and with under 5 minutes left, it was a wholesale change in strategy, with just Albon, Ricciardo and Raikkonen remaining on them. And Ocon, in for a set of full Wets, as the Renault proved completely unable to get the temperature properly into the Intermediates.
Perez, Verstappen, Albon, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo were the top 5 with Stroll, Bottas, Hamilton Giovinazzi and Ocon at the bottom of the ladder. Verstappen was not happy with the Inters, saying there was no grip and oh my, the session was now officially amazeballs as it looked as if those with new tyres were unable to get them up to proper temps....
Gasp, Ocon up to P6 with his only chances as Perez took it to the 49s and then it was Stroll, 1.5 seconds up on his teammate and pole position with Bottas and Hamilton still on it. Hamilton took Ocon down a peg, knocking him back to P7 and only Albon left to go....P4 for the Red Bull driver and pole position to Stroll, as the Racing Point absolutely embarrassed the senior team. Stroll, Verstappen, Perez and Albon the first two rows on the grid as conditions for the race tomorrow were still decidedly unpredictable. Looking at the data, Stroll pitted very early for the Inters and benefitted as a result, having had enough laps to get them up to temperature and also a bit more grip than his teammate who ran the whole session on them.
Looking at Albon improving to P4 it may be that Red Bull bet Verstappen on the wrong tyre, but there will be no complaining that the third row will be Ricciardo and Hamilton, as Renault as well showing that there was no single correct tyre for this session given that Danny Ric was on the full Wets for the whole session, whereas Hamilton, like Verstappen, bailed for the Inters after Perez went to the top.
Ocon did the absolute business, getting the Wets going and having a single lap to get it done, less than a tenth off Hamilton and as a reward he will be paired with Raikkonen at the start, with Bottas behind him and Giovinazzi next door to the Merc.
Well, aside from the excessively long Red Flag in Q1 hard to complain about the return to Turkey, at least as a spectator. Fairly sure there are more than a few grumbles as the pieces were being picked up in the paddock however.
An amazing day for Racing Point as they become the first this season to knock Mercedes off their pole position perch. Red Bull feel like they must have thrown pole away with their tyre gambit, but with Max on the first row and the Red Bull looking, well, much faster in all conditions save those they encountered at the end of qualifying, it was a rosy forecast for them, especially if the rains come again tomorrow. Renault will feel like they wasted a chance with Ocon, not pulling him off the Inters sooner and leaving him a single lap to set a decent time, but starting P5 and P7 is a decent shout and in line with their expectations. Alfa Romeo will be utterly delighted to rock both cars into Q3 and they will be quite the obstacle for those behind and it was unusually Mercedes, who massively underperformed, unable to get either tyre working well, possibly because they guessed wrong at the start of Q3.
Regardless, with a rare chance to see the driver's really earn their money it was a delightful qualifying and hey, don't forget there is still an open investigation into the double-waved yellows to be completed. Congratulations to Stroll for his first ever poll, and boy howdy with a non-zero chance of rain tomorrow it will be worth getting up early for (or staying up late for), at least on this side of the pond where early sunset and winter hours are giving us some interesting start times....