Update: Lewis Hamilton given three place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags after Red Bull protest. Max Verstappen up to 2nd, Lando Norris starts 3rd and Alexander Albon up to 4th
Valtteri Bottas pipped the first pole of the season by the skin of his teeth from his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile, Lando Norris had the best qualifying of his career, lining up fourth and ahead of Albon’s Red Bull.
The “flying Finn” followed his compatriot Kimi Räikkönen into rallying, although F1 cars aren’t really built for where he tried to take it. He went on a detour of his last lap of Q3. He was lucky he didn’t slide into the barriers and undo all his hard work.
Tomorrow will be a battle to behold with Max Verstappen lining up just behind the Mercedes in third.
The talk before qualifying started involved the FIA deeming the innovative DAS system as legal after an overnight protest. The device allows the drivers to change the toe (angle of attack of the front wheels) on the fly throughout a lap.
This was the first time we got to see these cars run in anger this year. Verstappen was straight on the pace, setting the benchmark early on, while Hamilton eased himself in before popping up in third by the end of the session.
At the other end of the grid, Young Russell beat both the Alpha Romeo’s and was less than a tenth off of Q2. Williams, although both cars were put out as expected in the first session, has the realistic target of getting off the back of the grid this year.
Lance Stroll threatened to spoil the front runners’ fun as he put the “Pink Mercedes” of Racing Point on pole for a few moments. Meanwhile, anyone looking for the Ferarri to bring the fight to the Mercedes this year may have felt just a little disheartened with fifth and eighth.
The big shock of the session. Sebastian Vettel was eliminated, with his teammate just squeaking into Q3 in tenth. A free choice of tyres for tomorrow is the only consolation, but those Ferrari cars just don’t seem to have the pace needed this year.
With the Racing Point drivers comfortably up in fifth and sixth, the battle to recovery for the four-time champion will be all uphill at lights out on Sunday.
0.012 was all that seperated the two Mercedes’ at the end of the session, with Bottas taking the fight to his record-chasing teammate in what could be his last shot at the title, if Mercedes opt to go for youth next year.
It didn’t get much better for Ferrari with Charles Leclerc, who only dragged his steed up to seventh, a full second off the pole time. The next couple of seasons could really hurt the once all-conquering Italians.
Mclaren are looking good with their young gun Norris starting on the second row, ahead of a Red Bull and the already infamous “Pink Mercedes”.
Tomorrow’s race looks to be a spicy one. Verstappen on an alternative strategy could put the champions under pressure, while Leclerc and Vettel, very much in the midfield at the start, could throw some fireworks into the mix as they try to wrest a respectable result out of the next two weekends.