Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

lauantai 7. lokakuuta 2017

Japanese GP / Qualifying: Untouchable Hamilton earned his first-ever Suzuka pole!

The Malaysian GP weekend had already been dramatic for Ferrari, and coming to Japan, the drama seemed to continue. Kimi had lost control of his SF70-H and crashed out in FP3, which had caused quite a massive damage to his Ferrari. Before the qualifying it was still uncertain, whether the team would be able to fix the car in time for the qualifying. In addition to that, the shunt had caused damage to the gearbox as well, which meant an unscheduled gearbox change and a 5-place grid penalty for the race!

Both Hamilton and Sebastian came out on the yellow-marked soft tyres, whereas the rest had super softs. Mercedes´ Bottas had a true moment of scare on his first run, as the Finn hugely lucky got away with a massive slide into the dirt in Degner 2. Against all odds, Ferrari had managed to fix Kimi´s car, and the Iceman was released from the pits with 11 minutes remaining. Hamilton had set the pace in spite of the harder rubber, but Kimi set an excellent lap time, jumping second. Verstappen in his RB13 was third, so the pecking order seemed extremely interesting. Q1 came to an explosive end, as Grosjean lost control of his Haas after putting a wheel over the kerb. The session was red-flagged. With 1m 18s remaining, the session was not restarted. The unlucky Grosjean was the first faller in the first session, followed by Toro Rosso´s Gasly, Williams´ Stroll and the Sauber duo of Ericsson and Wehrlein.

Q2 saw different tyre strategies as well. The Finns were using the soft Pirelli tyres, whereas everyone else opted for the red-marked super soft compound. Kimi´s and Valtteri´s tyre choice made sense, as both Finns had been given a 5-place grid penalty for gearbox changes. Hamilton underlined Mercedes´ dramatic return to top form in Suzuka, as the world championship points leader edged Sebastian by over six tenths of a second! Bottas went third fastest, and Kimi was sixth. Kimi´s lap time proved competitive enough, and the Iceman decided to sit out the second runs. So did the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo. In spite of the second runs, the top six remained unchanged. McLaren´s Alonso was the last driver to make it among the top ten, which made his teammate Vandoorne the first faller in Q2. Out of Q3 were also the Renaults of Hulkenberg and Palmer, Haas´ Magnussen and Toro Rosso´s Sainz.

In the decisive last session Hamilton stamped his authority all over the place. The Briton took provisional pole by crushing 4.5 tenths to title rival Sebastian. Hamilton´s pace was absolutely mind blowing; I knew that pole was out of everyone else´s reach. After the first runs, teammate Bottas was third, Ricciardo fourth and teammate Verstappen fifth. However, Ricciardo was already a second down on Hamilton! Kimi made a mistake on his first attempt, going wide, which ruined the Finn´s first attempt. Hamilton even improved his lap time by a couple of hundredths on his second run, earning his very first pole in Suzuka. Bottas improved his lap time on his second flyer as well, which made the Finn jump second. Sebastian did everything he could on his second flyer, but P3 was the maximum result today. Ricciardo was the faster Red Bull driver today, qualifying fourth. Verstappen was fifth, and Kimi had to settle for P6. Kimi was already massive 1.1s down on pole-setter Hamilton. The fourth row was locked down by the pinks, Ocon edging teammate Perez this time. Williams´ Massa qualified 9th, and McLaren´s Alonso completed the top ten.

However, various grid penalties will mix up the provisional starting order. In summary, penalised for using additional power unit components are Toro Rosso´s Sainz (20 grid places), McLaren´s Alonso (35) and Renault´s Palmer (20). The Finns, meanwhile, get 5-place drops for above-mentioned gearbox changes. This means, that Bottas will start to the race from P6 and Kimi from P10. Sebastian, on the other hand, will start to the race on the front row alongside Hamilton. Suzuka is known to be a difficult circuit to overtake, which underlines the importance of a great start. Sebastian really needs to deliver tomorrow and finish the race ahead of Hamilton! It´s very interesting to see, what kind of a role the tyre strategy will play tomorrow. I definitely hope, that Ferrari´s fortunes will turn around, and both red-suited aces will make it on the podium! Forza Ferrari!

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