F1 Saturday: Ferrari's pace, Hamilton's tyre choice, and more
Saturday of a hectic Eifel GP weekend proved an intriguing day, with Ferrari showing pace, Hamilton unhappy with his tyre choice, and more.
Having fought valiantly to claim this honor at the Russian GP a fortnight ago, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas secured pole at the Nurburgring on Saturday for the Eifel GP, edging out his teammate Lewis Hamilton with a gradual progression throughout the session.
The Finn remained competitive in all sessions, ultimately capitalizing on the lackluster performances of Hamilton, and the threatening Red Bull of Max Verstappen, whose pace also seemed approximately on par with that of the Mercedes F1 pairing.
"Of course you enjoy it when you manage to put it on pole and especially when it’s the last lap that really counts and when you get a good lap and it’s enough for pole, it’s a really good feeling, one of those feelings and sensations why we do this," Bottas began to explain. "With that lap, that was pretty tidy, and you know, I got all the details right and you know, I was also struggling a bit in the first sector through qualifying but really in the last lap I managed to get it all right, so it was a good feeling."
Having lost roughly two tenths to the time he set in Q2 when he set his Q3 time, Hamilton was disappointed to have been denied a 97th pole position. The Brit was equally baffled by his regression as the session developed. "I’d have to go back and have a look, but definitely Q2 looked and felt good but when I got to Q3 it just didn’t feel good either run. Just the grip didn’t feel the same," he said.
"I think I’ll just try to understand what happened. It will be a long race. It’s a lot cooler here. Not the easiest place to overtake either. But there could be lots of opportunities, so I’ll be pushing hard." Both the Mercedes F1 drivers tried the medium compound in Q2 but eventually changed to the softs, conforming to the norm on the grid.
Hamilton might have managed to get through on that compound, but the team opted against taking such a risk. The Briton, not wholly on board, still complied.
"I could have got through on medium tyre," said Hamilton. "I wanted to start on it – just because I wanted to do something different – but the team chose for us to both be on the same tyre. We’ll see whether it was the right choice. I’m sure it’s the right choice. I think the other one would have been a little bit hard," he stated, as he added about the colder conditions, which he and Bottas reckon will be quite an unknown for F1 drivers.
As was previously alluded to, Verstappen seemed a threat to Mercedes' pole position streak early on, topping the time sheets in Q1, and also keeping pace with Hamilton in Q2. As it did for his close adversary, Q3 would prove less fruitful than the sessions preceding it for the Dutchman due to a lack of grip.
Verstappen was nonetheless content with his efforts, as he recognized the challenge that limited running time prior to Qualifying posed. "I felt quite comfortable," he said. "Of course, there were a few little balance things I would have liked to get improved but, of course, short notice. Overall I think it was a good qualifying. I just struggled a bit with understeer – and I don’t like understeer but also this track, at the moment when it’s so cold, with the tyres, yeah, it just didn’t come towards us, dry qualifying.
"I think from the beginning it was fine but then it just slipped away a bit. When you’re understeering, you can’t carry that mid-corner speed through the corners, you have to V-style it a bit more and you lose a bit of time. Still, a good qualifying. To be that close to them." His teammate Alexander Albon looked set to claim fourth, but was demoted to fifth from this position by the Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
The former was, like his teammate, satisfied with his lap, spurred on by the possibility of gathering some good points should his start go to plan. He is, however, wary of the two Renaults behind. The latter, meanwhile, was surprised by his incredible pace, which was enough to secure him P4, equaling the best result of his qualifying career thus far in 2020.
The Monegasque was exceptionally happy, as he also appreciated the two-day format. Leclerc theorized that upgrades the Italian outfit brought to the German track could have contributed to their competitiveness. "This qualifying result is possibly better than we expected, especially in these cold conditions, but we brought some updates here, which maybe made a small difference in the right direction, which is nice to see," he said.
"I am happy about the way we are working and how things went today. I quite liked the fact we had just one FP session and went straight into qualifying. We made the most of the situation, even if we don’t have much information about the long runs with high fuel. Especially in Q3 there was quite a strong wind, which made the car unpredictable. We are all a bit in unknown territory, but one thing I know is that it’ll be important to manage these soft tyres because they are pretty difficult in terms of graining.
"It’s going to be a tricky race but that’s what makes this weekend interesting," he said, as his teammate Sebastian Vettel added that a troubling lack of grip in the first sector was partially responsible for his lacking pace. The four-time F1 champion is hoping that tyre choice will be to their advantage on Sunday, when he'll start eleventh.
The Renault duo enjoyed a remarkably impressive qualifying session, with both cars well within the top ten. For Esteban Ocon, P7 was the result, while Daniel Ricciardo finished one position higher up on the timesheets. The Australian expressed that the hectic nature of the day's running made it all the more enjoyable, also stating that he has confidence in their chances for tomorrow. "I’m happy enough with qualifying and sixth is a good starting position for us," he said.
"It was a fun Saturday with a packed practice session and then a hectic qualifying. Everyone was on track at a similar time, so it was quite enjoyable. It’s not the best preparation, but we know the car well enough and we’ll figure it out for the race. We know it will be close in the race, but I’m excited and I think we can be up there and aim for a top six finish.
"We’ll see how the Soft holds up as it looks like it could be susceptible to graining. If it’s dry or wet, it should be an interesting race and sixth isn’t a bad place to be on the grid." Ocon was similarly happy with his result, stating that the car's balance felt good from the get-go in Q1. The Frenchman, however, was wary of the unproven soft tyre for Sunday's F1 race, as he has yet to run it for a considerable stint.
McLaren, meanwhile, was divided in their views. Both F1 cars finished within the top ten, albeit both to varying degrees of satisfaction. In tenth, Carlos Sainz of the team explained that his session was made more difficult by a lack of prior running time with a new upgrade package, as he was left partially dissatisfied after Qualifying.
"A very challenging Saturday for us – mainly because we didn’t have the time to test the new package I’m running this weekend," said Sainz. "FP3 was not enough to fine-tune the set-up properly and qualifying was a struggle. I did improve through the session, but I haven’t felt like we’ve put the car into its optimal window yet. We need to look carefully into it because the other car seemed to extract a bit more from the other spec, so the target is to optimise the new parts as soon as possible.
"Hopefully we’ll get there with more running. The points are on Sunday and we could have an interesting race due to the weather changes, so we’ll keep an eye on the sky,” Sainz said. With an eighth place finish, Norris felt he performed to the best of his ability, albeit he admitted P8 is somewhat disappointing when one looks at the performance of their close rival Renault.
[This story was written by me for FormulaRapida and edited by Darshan Chokhani]