The Saturday in F1 Spanish GP saw the normal Top 3, but a close fight in the midfield and some controversy as well.
Much like how it was in F1 Portuguese GP, the end to qualifying in Spanish GP was similar with none improving on their second run apart from the ones who set their first lap on the used set of soft. It was Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
In doing so, Hamilton had his career’s 100th pole – the first F1 driver to do so. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was third, while Red Bull’s Sergio Perez could only manage eighth due to health reasons. The Mexican had shoulder pain which hurt his qualifying session.
Interestingly, none of the drivers opted for medium tyres, which was due to the fact that the straight towards Turn 1 is a long one and they will need to be on softest tyre to not allow their rivals to gain by being on different compounds as track position is king.
“It’s 600m down to Turn One, so 6m difference between the tyres,” said Hamilton on why the soft choice in Q2. “There’s no advantage, especially if you do happen to get the Medium in position and the car behind is on a Soft, for example, and they box, they pull you in anyway, so you don’t have the benefit and you’ve just given up extra opportunities, so that’s generally why.
“Regarding my extra lap on the soft tyre, there’s no real logic to it. It’s simply that I didn’t do a good enough job in Q1 on the medium tyre. They said that I was on the edge, so I had to go out on the soft tyre which I wasn’t planning to do. I think we did an out lap and came in and then we started on a new tyre for the first run and then went onto the one lap scrubbed second tyre and it was quicker so I just finished the lap and that’s the tyre I was on. So it’s basically got a lap more than everyone else.”
Teammate Bottas noted about a snap at Turn 10 on his first run which was decisive as none could improve on their second run. For Verstappen, second was the best he could have done in the circumstances, but he is looking forward to the race certainly.
“It’s of course difficult to predict at the moment,” said Verstappen. “I think we were quite decent in the long runs but they also of course looked strong. So, we know that it’s hard to overtake around here and to be following closely, so we’ll have to wait and see – but I’m always optimistic and positive that we can do a good job and have a good race, and I hope, of course, that it’s going to be as close.”
Teammate Perez rued the spin and his shoulder pain for ending up eighth. “It was a tough qualifying out there and just a bad day in general,” he said. “I didn’t get a good lap throughout and I was not feeling 100% in qualifying with some shoulder pain so we did well to progress to Q3 which shows what a good car we have.
“In terms of pace, we have a very good race car so it’s a shame we are starting out of position as it’s a difficult place to overtake but I’m confident we will be able to fight for a very strong result. I’ll be aggressive as I need to come through the field and catch up to the leaders as early as possible,” summed up Perez.
While the Mexican F1 driver had a rough time, it was joy for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, after they ended up fourth and fifth. Their teammates also made it in the Top 10 with Carlos Sainz in sixth and Fernando Alonso in 10th.
“It was a good qualifying and I’m very happy with the result,” said Leclerc. “Looking at the gap between us and the top three, P4 is a solid result. My Q2 lap was very clean and that’s good for the tyres that I will use for the start. I am concentrating on this a lot because it will be important to start on a tyre with little degradation.
“As a team, we start from P4 and P6, which is positive. Our race pace has been competitive and if we manage our tyres in the same way as we did yesterday, it should look good. Our target is to bring home as many points as possible. Overall it has been a good weekend so far and I hope that we finish it on a high.”
At the same time, Ocon added: “It feels very good and I’m happy with how we managed today’s qualifying session. I think this is the confirmation we were looking for, as we’ve repeated the speed we had in Portimao at this track, which is good. The car has been great this weekend and I’m feeling very good at the wheel with the team around me.
“The factories are working hard to keep finding improvements and their hard work is paying off,” he summed up, as their teammates Sainz and Alonso felt good with the progress in the Top 10. It was also a return for Daniel Ricciardo in seventh.
In fact, he beat McLaren F1 teammate Lando Norris, who was only ninth. For Ricciardo, it was a good breakthrough after Portugal and troubled Friday. “It was probably the set-up, which then allowed me to drive better and more confidently,” he said. “The car was tricky, I just didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in the high-speed stuff, to be honest.
“So, I think that showed in qualifying. I think in sector one we were pretty quick, I went purple a few times. Once you get into one, you pretty much just jump on the throttle and hold on. And so I certainly had the confidence to hold on to it. And we brought some updates. And I think basically, we improved the set-up to make the updates work.”
Much like how the others couldn’t improve, Norris too found gravel at Turn 13 where Perez spun which hampered his final Q3 run. His qualifying, though, was ruined in Q1 when he had to use an extra set after running into Haas’ Nikita Mazepin.
The Russian was starting his fast lap when Kimi Raikkonen and Yuki Tsunoda passed him in the sequence of corners. Mazepin re-passed them but held up Norris in the process, despite knowing that the British F1 driver was arriving at the scene.
The stewards felt that Mazepin could have waited until Norris passed but considering he didn’t do so, he was handed a three-place drop. The Russian noted that for the two F1 drivers to pass him shows that ‘gentlemen agreement’ doesn’t work.
“If I’m not mistaken somebody asked about the drivers’ gentlemen agreement into the last corner in Bahrain,” said Mazepin to media including FormulaRapida.net. “I think [this] was a very prime example of that not working in F1. I was really trying to obey it as I was ever since I took note of it. It’s very difficult when two cars overtake you going into a last corner which is very slow and tight, where a length of a car, which is [five]-and-a-half metres, you just cannot put a third car there and especially if the fourth car is arriving at full speed.
“So I didn’t feel that boxing up behind was an option because that would have left my rear end on the racing line. The only option was to go, which I did. Unfortunately it’s just all these things coming together. I’m not upset about it because there’s really not much I could have done apart from disappear which unfortunately I’m not able to do.”
For Aston Martin and AlphaTauri, meanwhile, it wasn’t the F1 qualifying they had hoped for as both did not make it into Q3. The former had both cars in Q2, where both faced some traffic which hampered their improvement and a tight field cost them, with Lance Stroll missing out by a mere 0.008s. It was also limited Sebastian Vettel’s good run so far.
As for AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly did whatever he could but still missed. He reckons the car has lost pace since the start of the F1 season. At the same time, teammate Tsunoda landed into a controversy after getting knocked out in Q1 itself, for hims comments on TV.
Immediately after Q1, Tsunoda said: “I wasn’t pushing too hard on the outlap, I just like do normal. The tyre temperature is quite spot on before the lap. I think the team, we set up, we set up the tyre, but I don’t know. It’s not the place I want to fight. The performance in this car, it’s easy to go to Q2. I really struggled to even go to Q2.
“Its always different feedback compared to my teammate [that I give to the team], even when we try the opposite. I have a little bit question mark if it is the same car – of course it’s the same car, but just the character of the car is just too different. Maybe, of course, it’s a different driving style. But yeah, I don’t know, I don’t understand what happened, why I’m struggling this much.”
Post-qualifying, Tsunoda took to social media to apologise. “I am very fortunate to have a group of such talented and hardworking people working on my car and wanted to apologise to the team for my comments today. I couldn’t maximise the potential of the car and was frustrated with myself. I will analyse the data with my engineers and make sure to improve for tomorrow,” he wrote.
As for the remaining F1 teams, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi managed to do well in 14th but teammate Kimi Raikkonen was just 17th after he got too close to a car in the final sector, which hampered his quick lap. Williams had George Russell in Q2 again as Nicholas Latifi struggled all-through, where a kerb moment, even cracked his mirrors. Among the Haas duo, Mick Schumacher was pretty chuffed to have beaten the Canadian.
Here’s how F1 Spanish GP qualifying panned out