Russian GP: 7 things you need to know from qualifying after a farcical Q2
And so to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix where we would find out whether Ferrari could hit back after their trouncing by Mercedes last time out in Singapore.
And the answer to that – after qualifying at least – was, erm… nope.
Here’s how they finished up after the session, and everything else you need to know:
1. Penalties galore in Sochi
See that finishing order in the tweet above? Yeah, forget it. Well, everything from the top ten down, anyway.
Because they have used too many engine and gearbox parts this season, five drivers come into this event with grid penalties.
It means that despite the qualifying positions they finished in, Daniel Ricciardo will start last, Max Verstappen 19th, Brendon Hartley 18th, Pierre Gasly 17th and Fernando Alonso 16th.
That pushes everyone who was behind them up five places, meaning Lance Stroll actually starts 15th, Stoffel Vandoorne 14th, Sergey Sirotkin 13th, Nico Hulkenberg 12th and Carlos Sainz 11th.
Got it? Good.
Once position that won’t change though, is the man who qualified on pole: Valtteri Bottas.
The Finn was in superb form and beat not only the Ferraris, but also his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who has looked unbeatable for the past few races.
We know Sochi is not Lewis’s favourite track, but Bottas seems to love it: he took his first ever win at the track last year, he has never started lower than third on the grid, and he has never been out-qualified by a team-mate at this race.
This is also just his second pole of the season (after Austria), but with championship leader Hamilton second on the grid, will he be able or allowed to convert it into his first win of the season on Sunday?
Mere boss Toto Wolff was coy about whether he would deploy team orders in the race, but with Sebastian Vettel lurking in third, the Silver Arrows need to be careful.
3. Whither Ferrari?
It is not so much the fact that Vettel qualified third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth that must be worrying for the team chiefs and their fans, it is the fact that Vettel was almost six tenths off Bottas’s pole time.
Especially when the red cars were the quickest in the field just a few races ago. It almost seems as if Hamilton pickpocketing them of victory in Monza, and then stunning them with another miraculous performance in Singapore, has taken the wind out of the Scuderia sails, and they seem almost ready to hoist the while flag.
Both championships were there for Ferrari this season – they certainly had the car – but both have slipped away from them over the course of the last three races, and with each passing session they slip further and further away.
Let’s at least hope they can regroup for Sunday’s race, and the rest of this season, so they at least make Hamilton and Mercedes work for the glory…
4. *Comic book guy voice* Worst. Q2. Ever.
Look at this round-up of the cars eliminated in Q2:
Not one of them set a time. Not one of them bothered to go out at all, which meant that the other ten cars only needed to trundle round and set a time – any time– to be sure of going through to Q3.
For three of them (Verstappen, Ricciardo and Gasly), it was because they have grid penalties so going out would be a waste of time.
But for the Renaults, it seems to have been a strategic decision. Last time out in Singapore, not one of the drivers who qualified seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth scored points. But Fernando Alonso, who qualified in 11th, finished seventh and took home points because he was able to pick his race starting tyre, unlike those starting in the top ten, who have to start on whatever tyre they set their fastest Q2 time on.
So, knowing that the two Red Bulls and Gasly would be bumped down anyway, Renault appears to have decided 11th and 12th for Sainz and Hulkenberg is better than a top 10 position.
Clever from them perhaps, but it made for probably the worst Q2 session in F1 history, with not a single driver having anything to fight for.
Note to F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn: might be something for you to work on for next year.
5. K-Mag is best of the rest
Haas announced earlier this week that they would be retaining both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean as their two race drivers for next season.
And with perfect timing, K-Mag stuck his car in fifth for tomorrow’s race, making him the quickest non Ferrari or Mercedes driver.
Grosjean was a few places back in ninth, but two cars in the top ten is another great weekend for the American squad.
6. Rise of the new midfield maestros
Force India and even more impressively Sauber also got both their cars into the top ten.
Yes, it was partly thanks to the Red Bulls and the Renaults not fighting in Q2, but it’s a great result for both teams – especially Sauber, who couldn’t even dream of Q3 just a couple of seasons ago.
Hope, perhaps, for former heavyweights of F1, Williams and McLaren, which were the four slowest cars of the day. How things can change in F1…
7. The Torpedo is back!
Speaking of how quickly things can change in F1, who would have thought we’d ever see Daniil Kvyat back at Toro Rosso?
Yet because Red Bull have churned through all the drivers in their junior programme, the Russian racer is returning to the team that booted him out a year ago.
That leaves only the other STR seat and the two Williams seats available for 2019.