Once again Ferrari and Red Bull have been handed an opportunity to take the fight to Mercedes. It looked set for Lewis Hamilton to dominate qualifying as he had been imperious during what was proving to be a testing weekend for some drivers.
Things turned on their head in Qualifying though as Hamilton brought out the red flag after hitting the barriers at turn 11. He starts in 10th position.
If I was a gambling person my money would have been on Perez again challenging for the podium this weekend. He was impressive in practice until he too came into contact with the wall. He was 2nd fastest in qualifying but will start in 7th as his accident in practice necessitated a gearbox change.
So it was Ricciardo and Vettel who would slug it out, as Nico Rosberg sat out the last lap dash, when the track re-opened following Hamilton’s crash. Both drivers set identical times. 1:43.966. Daniel set it 1st so he will join Nico on the front row.
It will be an all Ferrari row 2 (Watch out for those lightening starts) as Kimi lines up in 4th. Massa and Kvyat make up the top 6 as Bottas and Verstappen seemed determined to get in each others way.
Ferrari and Red Bull are once again handed a great chance to challenge for a win. We expect a one stop strategy to be the optimum but given what we have seen over the weekend some safety cars could well have an influence on that. Keeping out of trouble and calling it right could be key to beating Mercedes this weekend. Both Perez and Bottas have been on the podium this season, playing it conservative when others have made the wrong strategy call. Mercedes power on the long straights of Baku will make them hard to rule out. Daniel Ricciardo though will be desperate to put right the bad luck that has dogged him in recent races.
“It’s my third front row of the season so that’s really nice, I owe a big thanks to the team for getting me to the start of that queue (in the pit lane), that was a crucial part of it and allowed me to get a clean lap. My first lap in Q3 I went wide and made a few mistakes so we needed that last run and I’m glad I was able to execute a good one. We learnt a lot from yesterday and were able to connect the dots overnight which led to a strong day. The race tomorrow is going to be really interesting, I would be very surprised if it’s a dull and boring race. If anyone hasn’t watched the GP2 race from this morning I suggest they do. Judging by it you need to survive, be smart and pick your opportunities to be fast using the slipstream well. I think it could potentially be race of the season so it’s going to be fun. On average we have been having better starts than Mercedes, so if I get a good start it won’t be too tactical, just aim to get good track position and then figure it out from there. I have been handed second place on the grid by Perez’s penalty so we’ll take what we get and see how we go tomorrow.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “We saw an action-packed qualifying session, where the lack of experience and lack of grip on this new circuit was a key factor, causing a few surprises. The supersoft was used from start to finish, but the fresh asphalt meant that there was little grip on offer, and the track was evolving all the time. As a result it was an exciting session, which suggests also that there could be a high probability of a safety car tomorrow, as we saw in the GP2 race earlier. While a one-stop strategy is clearly the way forward, there are some good opportunities to have on this rapid circuit, which combines the unpredictability of a street circuit with the possibility to overtake and move up the field.”
How the tyres behaved today:
Medium: used today only in FP3 and unlikely to play a major part in the race tomorrow.
Soft: seen in FP3; will be used in the latter part of the race, or by those on an alternative strategy at the start.
Supersoft: the fastest tyre by about a second, which was the default qualifying choice.
Race strategy: The teams obviously have limited data regarding Baku, so there is less information than usual on which to base strategy calculations. However, a one-stop seems to be clearly the best option. The top 10 will all start on used supersoft, and we would expect them to move onto the soft on lap 22 (of 51). If starting on the soft, the time to switch to supersoft is lap 29. However, strategies will have to be flexible, as there appears to be a high likelihood of a safety car.
Free practice 3 – top three times
Qualifying top 10
Longest stint so far of the weekend
Highest laps per compound of the weekend
Best time by compound so far