British Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

‘Allo, and welcome to the British Grand Prix. The unofficial home of Formula 1, takes place at Silverstone. The 5.891km circuit is fast flowing, but puts a lot of pressure on the tyres. The mix of slow corners through turns 6 and 7, and high speed corners through 10,11,12,13, and 14 requires a balance of aerodynamics and grip. The stewards are continuing their strict attitude to exceeding disallowing lap times, focusing on exceeding the track limits at turns 9 (Copse) and 18 (Club). Saturday delivered a drizzly qualifying (but could we really expect anything different from an English summer). The grid headed out on intermediates, but  some swapped to the medium compound tyres with a dry line emerging, before more rain forced strategies back to the inters. The variety of conditions played Russian roulette with tyre strategies and scrambled the starting grid. Adding to the confusion of the session, double yellows caused by Sutil kept the Ferraris and Williams in the drop zone and pushed both Marussias into Q2, leaving a “what on earth happened?” feeling for many of the teams. In the final flurry of times in Q3, Nico Rosberg snatched pole from Sebastian Vettel by 0.294s. Jensen Button achieved his best qualifying result since Brazil 2012 starting from P3.

Mercedes were once again consistently quick at the circuit, though the team didn’t manage a front row lock out for the second year running. Lewis Hamilton, feeling comfortable with 1:39.232 (for provisional pole) backed off as the session ended so Rosberg could have a final flying lap. Unfortunately for the ‘crowd favourite’, not only did his team mate lap quicker, but so did half of the field who were also on their final lap. A, no doubt confused and unhappy Hamilton has to accept starting from P6. Though, as Austria showed us, don’t count on Hamilton staying behind for long.

The pressure was on the reigning world champion in Q2 after his 1:44.085 (putting him at the very top of the time sheets) was deleted for exceeding the track limits at turn 9. By the time the decision had been made, Vettel had already pit for slick tyres. In Q3, Vettel aborted his first flying lap on the medium tyres as the track became wetter. At the two minute warning, Vettel went out on the medium tyres for his only timed lap, he pulled it out of the bag taking provisional pole with 1:37.386, until Rosberg crossed the line, pushing him down to P2. Ricciardo suffered from a poor strategy as the team chose not to send him back out at the two minute warning of Q3. The Australian was sitting P4 with his 1:40.606, but was bumped down P8 as both the Force Indias and McLarens tried for one more lap.

It’s been a while since McLaren looked competitive, but the MP4-29 thrived during qualifying as a result of good strategy and good grip. Button was lucky to make it through to the second session after having his lap time disallowed in the final minutes of Q1. The Brit had it all on the line with one last attempt for the session, which was enough to comfortably get him back out of the drop zone. At the two minute warning of Q3, Button ventured back out on the medium tyres, it was a risk, but it paid off for the Brit. Button crossed the line with 1:38.200 securing P3. Magnussen, though having a quiet qualifying, also benefited from the sudden competitive nature of the McLaren, qualifying a strong P5.

Both Force India drivers made their first appearance in Q3 at Silverstone after a strong qualifying for both drivers. Hulkenberg was  quickest of the two VJM07s, taking the honours of bumping Hamilton’s provisional pole with 1:38.329. As Vettel and Button crossed the line, Hulkenberg’s time was shuffled down to P4, which is still a really strong result for the team in tricky conditions. Perez on the medium compound tyres was early out in Q3, to get quick lap in on the dry tyres. Similarly to Hulkenberg, Perez’s laps were clean, with the VJM07 coping well in the varying track conditions. Perez was the quickest of the 1:40s, with 1:40.457s for P7.

Toro Rosso have always been competitive on a wet track, and today was no different. The team sent their drivers out early in Q3 on the medium tyres, while the track was still dry (that’s a relative term btw…). Kvyat set the pace in Q3 with a 1:40.707 ahead of Vergne’s 1:40.855. It was just the one attempt for Toro Rosso in the final session, with Kvyat finishing up with a P9 and Vergne marking the middle of the grid with P10.

It was a bittersweet qualifying for Lotus. The E22 looked more competitive than in recent rounds, as Grosjean was unlucky not to take part in the top ten shoot out, while Maldonado starts from the back end of the grid. Grosjean had his lap time in Q2 deleted for exceeding track limits, and unfortunately couldn’t improve on his time at the end of the session, leaving the Lotus to start P11. Maldonado was asked to stop track side after a fuel pressure issue at the end of Q2. While Maldonado obeyed the team’s request, I hardly think they intended him to drive slowly though the bumpy gravel trap to do so… In any case, the Venezuelan’s P15 was disqualified due to the fuel infringement, meaning the E22 will start P20.

Marussia both made it through to the second qualifying session… Yes, even Chilton. The second session was dryer, which played an advantage for Marussia who were amongst the first drivers to head out on the medium compound tyres. It was a risk, but paid off with both drivers cracking less than the 1:40s. As the second session drew to a close, both the Marussias were still out of the dropzone, sitting P6 and P7. It was only really due to Gutierrez’s yellow flags that caught out Bianchi and Chilton on their final flying lap, shuffling the time sheets once more. Bianchi was quicker by 1.09s with 1:38.709 for P12, ahead of Chilton’s 1:39.800 for P13. Chilton however drops 5 places due to an unscheduled gearbox change over the weekend.

Sauber caused havoc during qualifying, first with Sutil’s double yellows in Q1, and then again with Gutierrez in Q2. Gutierrez got on to the white line on the exit of turn 6, sending him straight off onto the grass and into the barrier. The Sauber qualified P14, but holds his ten place grid penalty for unsafe release from Austria. Sutil beached himself in the gravel at turn 6, with only a few seconds left of Q1. The team risked sending Sutil out on the medium compound tyres at the end of the session after a dry line was emerging. The Sauber however appeared to be unable to get the heat into the tyres, and had no grip going into Brooklands, running straight off the track. Despite not finishing the session, Sutil’s time of  1:42.603 was good enough for P16.

Williams were late arrivals in Q1, eventually heading out on the inters both Bottas and Massa only managed to get a few timed laps in before double yellows at the end of the session ruined any chance of another flying lap. It was a bit of an anti climax for the Williams team, coming from such a positive result from Austria. Neither Bottas or Massa looked particularly quick in the FW36. Bottas’ 1:45.318 was good enough only to qualify P17. Massa had a few slippy moments on track which he collected quite nicely*, but could only put in 1:45.695 to qualify P18. Admittedly, the Williams should have been able to qualify higher if it weren’t for Sutil’s incident at the end of the session.

Both the Ferraris were caught out at the end of the session, and would be rounding out the back of the grid if it weren’t for Maldonado and Gutierrez’s penalties. The Ferraris just weren’t there in qualifying sitting in the drop zone for most of the session. It’s been a terrible season for the team, but the F14 T really had no grip whatever in the tricky and wet conditions. Alonso span at turn 6 on a flying lap with only 35 seconds left in the session, leaving him not enough time to get back around for a final attempt. Raikkonen’s first attempt of a flying lap was deleted in accordance with article 12.3.1 of the Sporting Code (exceeding track limits). Crossing the line just before the end of the session, Raikkonen had one last attempt while Sutil was beached. But in the confusion, Alonso got in the way of his team mate and the Finn’s first sector was slow. Bizarrely, Ferrari were the slowest qualifying team with Alonso P19, and Raikkonen P20.

Ericsson had an off moment at the end of Q1, drifting and going sideways through the gravel trap disabling DRS momentarily. Kobayashi took to the track cautiously, but dived back into the pits before setting a lap time. Both Caterhams exceeded the 107% qualifying requirement, and will therefore race at the stewards discretion.

It was one of the strangest qualifying sessions when you look at the grid order. Marussia mid field, and Ferrari and Williams at the back of the grid sounds like some kind of April Fools. Hopefully, the random shuffle of experience and competitiveness throughout the starting grid will give way to some good driving. Alonso will have to work hard to make his way through the field, and Kimi, well, who knows what he will do really. Marussia may be able to hold their position for a while, but whether they can make the race distance keeping Williams and Ferrari behind then is rather unlikely. It’s set to rain again for the race, which again shuffles the grid. Let’s see what happens in the race, a wet race is a good race.

– Alex

* Just stay away from Stowe please.


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