Given that pace at Barcelona is seen as an indication of progress for the rest of the year, it looks like Red Bull are still officially the No. 2 team behind Mercedes with Williams and Lotus looking to displace Ferrari in the queue. McLaren’s much-promised resurgence failed to materialise.
Sebastian Vettel is beginning to get his fair share of technical glitches. He brought Q3 to a halt with a failure of second gear that turned into a complete loss of gears seconds later and he had to park the car at Turn 2. In the past it was almost always former team-mate Mark Webber who suffered the Red Bull Racing gremlins. Despite this, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had already proved himself to be 0.4 quicker, a distinct margin around a circuit the drivers all know.
Romain Grosjean’s capture of 5th place on the grid was the performance of the day. The Frenchman put his Lotus E22 ahead of both Ferraris showing the massive improvement the team had made. Even then there were aspects of the cars handling that Grosjean said weren’t 100%.
It also showed that Pastor Maldonado wasted a golden opportunity by losing it at Turn 3 in Q1. Maldonado’s mistake looked like a rookie error, not the work of someone who achieved a heroic victory for the Williams team in 2012. Lotus could have had both cars in the top 10, such was Grosjean’s margin, but instead of letting the car spin, Maldonado decided to steer into the slide and steered his car towards a terminal meeting with the inside barrier.
Felipe Massa will also be kicking himself by having a very poor final sector to his Q3 lap. He was the only driver not to improve between Q2 and Q3 – his Q2 time would have been good enough for P7 on the grid but he should have been alongside Valtteri Bottas who managed another brilliant second row start in P4, having lagged behind Massa all the way up to the final run.
Lewis Hamilton’s pole was the 35th of his career and it puts him just 10 behind Vettel. Hamilton also endured a Maldonado-type-moment in the middle sector of his first lap in Q1 and ran onto the grass after losing the W05 under acceleration. After Q1 he described his car as a “nightmare – we’ve made it worse” Something that was rapidly solved. Rosberg was faster than him in Q2 but in Q3 he was quicker on both runs. The body language between the two of them afterwards looked decidedly strained.
Kimi Raikkonen has finally got to grips with the braking and turn-in issues that has made his first four races less than convincing. He outqualified Fernando Alonso at his home race. However both Ferraris will have to watch out for the fast-starting Felipe Massa when the red light goes out tomorrow. The distance between the startline and the run down to the first turn is one of the longest in F1.
Nico Hulkenberg was fed up that with ‘upgrades’ and ‘steps’ and ‘new parts’ flooding onto the other teams on the grid, the only thing that the Force India had got for Barcelona was a new floor. Thus he and Perez both missed out on Q3 an exception in 2014. In contrast, the Sauber C33 had a new lightweight chassis, new aero, new engine management and still Adrian Sutil finished Q1 in P17.
Max Chilton produced the performance of the day after Romain Grosjean. Barcelona is the default F1 circuit with the widest variety of corners and some tricky high-speed turns. To outqualify your Ferrari-contracted team-mate is one thing, but to do it by almost 0.6 of a second is an amazing result.
McLaren were hoping that their Spanish GP upgrades would put them in contention to be best of the rest, but the car still looked like it worked well in a very narrow range of circumstances, despite Jenson being second fastest in the cool conditions of FP1 on Friday. Kevin Magnussen’s power unit failed in Q2 and Jenson scrambled into the top 10. Only Vettel (no lap) and Massa (big mistake) were slower.
Pun of the day goes to F1 technical expert Gary Anderson: “If you lose the tyres at Turn 3 that just compounds the situation…”