Qualifying for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix produced mixed results throughout the field. From Lewis…
Lewis Hamilton produced yet another new flawless lap to record his 99th pole position at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
“Today has been great, obviously. I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of the two Red Bulls. I think they’ve been so quick this weekend. There were times when they were six tenths ahead,” Hamilton said to Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “We didn’t really know where they would be, but the car was already feeling a lot better from the beginning of this weekend, so you know, mad respect to the Team for the hard work to really narrow down the window. This track is all medium and high speed corners, so I think that’s why we’ve closed the gap. Temperatures are much lower which has brought us closer to the Red Bulls. But they are so strong – it’s going to take absolutely perfect laps to stay ahead of them if we are going to have a chance of the win tomorrow.”
The black #44 Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 W12 E Performance/06 will be joined on the front row by a Red Bull Honda, but it won’t be Max Verstappen.
Sergio Perez became the first Red Bull driver to out-qualify Verstappen in the dry since Daniel Ricciardo. Perez took two runs to record his best time, just 3/100ths behind Hamilton’s best. Verstappen finished 3rd a further 5/100ths in arrears.
“What a massive result for us, knowing that I could win the race tomorrow is definitely a good feeling. There are a lot of positives to take out of today but I made a little mistake at the final turn, I was so close to pole,” Perez reported to Red Bull Media. “I can’t believe this is my first Red Bull start on the grid, as I started from the pit lane in Bahrain and it’s from the front of the grid! It just shows the amount of work we have put into this as a Team is paying off. Looking to the race tomorrow, Max and I are of course on different strategies, I am starting on the softs and Max is on the mediums so I think we have a good race ahead of us, especially as we’ve been able to apply the pressure to Mercedes.
Verstappen was left to rue an error in his final qualifying run at turn 3 which cost him precious time.
“It was not a clean lap in Q3. I made some mistakes and when you go off on a qualifying lap it is never going to be good,” Verstappen told Red Bull Media. “The first sector of the first lap wasn’t good in the wake of another car so I knew there was a lot of time there and I pushed a bit more on the second lap but I ran wide on the exit of Turn 3 and cut the grass a bit which wasn’t very lovely for the lap time. Sometimes these things happen and you can’t do a perfect or near perfect lap all the time. There are always things you can do better even when you say it’s a perfect lap but today was far from that. I shocked myself that I had a lap like that as it’s been a long time since I felt this way after qualifying.
Lando Norris experienced the highs and lows of qualifying after having a potential second row start extinguished when his best lap was deleted for a track limit violation. Despite a review of track limits after half the field were penalised on Friday, there were still those who suffered the same fate across P3 and Qualifying, with Norris and Stroll both losing their best time.
“A disappointing end to qualifying. I think the whole thing went very well and I was very happy with my laps all the way through,” Norris said to McLaren Media. “We only did one run in Q1 and Q2, which I think is the first time I’ve ever done that. So things were looking hopeful, but I just overdid it slightly on my final lap, which was a very good lap but just a little bit wide and the lap was taken away. Pretty disappointed, because we could’ve been a lot higher up and in a much better position for tomorrow.
After we struggled yesterday, we’ve done a lot of work and the feeling in the car was much better today. The team both here and at the factory has done a great job overnight to work on improvements and give us a car that felt quick and was capable of fighting right up there and maybe even for pole. I’m gutted.”
The penalty saw Norris drop to seventh, one place behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was much happier with the result after taking a more cautious approach to his lap having his own problems with track limits on Friday.
“I think on paper it’s not a bad result, P6. It’s really tight at the front,” said Ricciardo to McLaren Media. “I think the weekend has been a bit slow for me to get going. We got a bit closer in quali and I certainly made some improvements, but I still think (and I hate to say it) it’s just going to take time to keep finding the limits. I’m getting there. I obviously wish I could be there from lap one, but I think it’s been a weekend of progress so far and there are definitely positives to take after qualifying. We’ve worked well as a team to recover from a difficult Friday, so thanks to the team here and in the factory for their hard work. I wouldn’t say I’m ecstatic, but I’m certainly content with our progress.”
Charles Leclerc had a new floor on his Ferrari and continued the team’s positive start to 2021 with the 4th fastest time in Q3, marginally ahead of Pierre Gasly. Next came the two McLarens followed by Valtteri Bottas, who was at odds to explain his lack of pace after strong results in the earlier phase of qualifying.
“Today was a little bit confusing and I don’t understand the Q3 performance yet,” Bottas told Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “On the first run of Q3 I had oversteer and then the second run, the rear end was not so good. Not what I was aiming for today, especially with the feeling I had at the start of qualifying.Q3 first run, I went into turn two and had a really sudden snap from the rear end and I lost a lot of time. The same in run two, I couldn’t trust the rear end. That isn’t something I felt in Q1 or Q2 so it’s difficult to understand – we will have to investigate.”
Esteban Ocon finished ninth, while Lane Stroll was tenth. The Aston Martin showed some improvement after the protestations from the team the preceding day.
“I am pretty happy with the session, but it is a shame that my best lap was deleted in Q3,” Stroll told Aston Martin Cognizant Media. “We were in ninth so that knocked me down a place. The margins for track limits are very fine and a few drivers were caught out today. I said yesterday how much I enjoy this track and the car felt really good today – as though it has really come alive this weekend. That is encouraging, but it is a very tight grid and we want to be closer to the front. We are all working hard to do that. We are not miles off and we know where we can improve.”
Carlos Sainz just missed a place in Q3, while George Russell and Nicholas Latifi both showed good pace in the Williams to finish 12th and 14th respectively. Sebastian Vettel was happier in 13th, while Fernando Alonso ended the session in 15th.
After a dream start to his Formula 1 career in Bahrain, Yuki Tsunoda came crashing back to Earth with a hefty crash at the Variante Altain in the Alpha Tauri Honda during Q1. The rear end impact with the wall tore both driveshafts from the rear of the car, with suspension, floor and gearbox damage the least of the potential issues for the team to address prior to Sunday’s race.
“First of all, the body feels OK – no issues,” Tsunoda said to F1.com. “Just pushing too much in entry. I had massive instability in entry, massive slap and couldn’t control that car and just spun into the barrier. I think until that, I think the pace was really good. I saw the sectors, it was quite good, potentially.”
Tsunoda was eliminated at the end of Q1 as were both Alfa Romeos and Haas entries.
Mercedes Back On Top At Imola – Friday Report
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas returned to their accustomed places at the top of the time sheets on day 1 of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. Bottas headed Hamilton in both practice sessions in a car that Bottas had declared ‘undriveable’ just weeks before. While satisfied with the day’s effort, Bottas conceded that the two sessions did not favour rivals Red Bull Honda and he fully expects them to be battling for pole position come qualifying.
“The car is feeling much better than on the first day in Bahrain,” Bottas told Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “As I said yesterday, it is a different track and type of circuit with different grip levels and surface. The weekend has started in a positive way, I’m much happier with the balance of the car. The car feels better, we still have the same type of issues as in Bahrain but less so. Still not perfect but we are only on event two out of 23 this season so hopefully we have time to fix it. I feel like we’ve made steps forward so that’s really good. The whole grid from midfield to the front looks very close. We didn’t see the best from Red Bull today but we’ll see that in Q3 tomorrow. No doubt they are going to be fast. We still don’t think we are the fastest car and we really need to improve on that on Saturday.”
It was a challenging day for many of the teams and drivers, made all the more difficult by a data issue during the morning session that saw drivers on track with no data channels available which meant no live timing, or race control messages.
“Until you lose that kind of data you don’t realise how much you rely on it,” Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer explained to the media afterwards.
The lack of communication was blamed by Sergio Perez in part for an incident with Esteban Ocon in FP1 which brought out the red flag.
“With the incident this morning, we didn’t have radio so I think there was a miscommunication through there and I think it was just bad timing,” Perez told Red Bull Racing Media.
Perez was not alone in suffering an on track incident. Charles Leclerc brought FP2 to a premature end when he found the outside wall, damaging the front right suspension. Nikita Mazepin likened his Haas to ‘driving on ice’ before he crashed in the final moments of FP1, while Max Verstappen broke a driveshaft during the early stages of FP2. Daniel Ricciardo ended FP2 in 18th after having his best time scrapped for track limit violations.
The scene is set for what many suspect will be a different pecking order on day 2 as teams prepare for qualifying at a track which is notoriously difficult for overtaking.
“The team worked very hard to understand what happened in the last race where we were weak and to see if we can try to tweak the car for a better set-up,” Lewis Hamilton said to Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “I also think the track has come a little bit more in our direction. We started off with a really good set-up today, a few tweaks here and there but no major issues. So far, good pace from us this weekend. We haven’t seen the best from the Red Bulls yet. It looks like they had messy sessions with traffic but it will be interesting to see just how quick they are tomorrow. Positioning is important here – it’s hard to follow around this track so nailing the set-up and maximising tomorrow is going to be so important.
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