Formula 1 media director Luca Colajanni looks back on a day the promised plenty but in the end delivered the usual fare of Mercedes dominance during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas seems unstoppable right now. Tomorrow in Barcelona, the current championship leader will start the Formula 1 Emirates Gran Premio DE España 2019 from pole position, thanks to an amazing performance in qualifying, during which he was clearly quickest in all three parts of the session. He was the only driver to get under the 1’17 barrier in Q1, the only one under 1’16 in Q2 and again in Q3, where he even did it twice.
He posted his best lap, a 1.15.406 on his first attempt, but even the 1.15.958 he did on his second run would have been good enough to secure his third consecutive pole position and the ninth of his career.
Bottas was faster by an incredible 634 thousandths of a second than his Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The reigning world champion was unable to improve on his Q2 time of 1.16.038, even if only failing to do so by two thousandths, clearly demonstrating that the Englishman struggled in Q3.
Less surprising, but technically more significant, was the larger gap to those chasing the Mercedes duo. It was clear yesterday and this morning in free practice that third place was the most that Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow could aspire to and Sebastian Vettel did just that, in a time of 1.16.272, but the gap to pole position is pretty significant.
Once again today, Ferrari demonstrated that its car was fastest in the first sector, but struggled progressively from then on: Vettel was 357 thousandths down on Bottas in the second sector and Leclerc was 635 down to the Finn in the third.
As in Baku a fortnight ago, the German will have Max Verstappen alongside him on the grid, after the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver posted the fourth best time of 1.16.357. Behind them come their respective team-mates.
Charles Leclerc was fifth in 1.16.588, only able to do one run in Q3, as he’d had to use a second set of Soft tyres to make the cut from Q2 as he damaged the car on a kerb on his first run. Pierre Gasly starts next to him, having put in a best time of 1.16.708.
In the battle for the title of fourth best team, today that honour went to Haas, with Romain Grosjean seventh in 1.16.911, getting the better of team-mate Kevin Magnussen, eighth just 11 thousandths slower.
Rounding off the top ten we find Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda, 1.17.573) and Daniel Ricciardo (Renault F1 Team, 1.18.106.) However, the Australian takes a three place drop on the grid, penalised in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago.
There was a whiff of disappointment for the only Spaniard on the F1 grid as, for the first time this season and at his home track, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was out-qualified by his team-mate. Lando Norris was eleventh fastest with a 1.17.338, while Sainz had to settle for a best of 1.17.599, which meant he also finds himself behind the Honda-powered Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon (1.17.445.)
The Barcelona-Catalunya circuit is known for being one of the toughest on tyres, as well as one where overtaking is not exactly straightforward. Therefore, while a two stop strategy might seem the quickest route to victory, a one stop is not beyond the realms of possibility, for those who opt to make the most of the hardest tyre in the Pirelli range this year.
This was the very first race for the new FIA F3 Championship and it ended in victory for Russia’s Robert Shwartzman. However, it came about in a rather unusual way, as the on-track winner, the Danish Christian Lundgaard, was demoted to second place at the chequered flag with a five second time penalty.
The PREMA Racing man had been led by his ART Grand Prix competitor for the bulk of the race, but an incident during a virtual safety car period served a crushing blow to the Renault junior as he climbed out of his car in the parc fermé. The duo finished ahead of fellow PREMA driver Marcus Armstrong.
In the FIA Formula 2 Championship Nicholas Latifi finished first and gained further ground on his Championship rivals as a carefully plotted attack came to fruition in the final laps of the Feature Race.
The DAMS driver saved his rubber to steal a potential win from the clutches of UNI-Virtuosi rookie Guanyu Zhou at the end, who finished in third behind Campos Racing’s Jack Aitken, who also passed him late on.