One afternoon at Watkins Glen, when it was so wet that most didn’t bother, Villeneuve did, and went 12sec quicker than anyone else. And Senna was so freakishly quick in changing grip conditions that, pre-’94, there used to be one of those jokes about someone dying and going to heaven. When he gets there, he sees a driver in a yellow helmet pounding around a heavenly race track.
“Didn’t know Ayrton had died…” he says.
“No,” replies St Peter, “That’s God. He just thinks he’s Senna.”
Well, it was that sort of level that Verstappen was at, which explains why being told that he was three-tenths slower than Lance Stroll required copious use of the bleep machine. He’d been quickest throughout Q3 too, until Racing Point got the inters switched on. Max’s final lap, also on the inters, fell short. He’d faced the conundrum of being close to Räikkönen’s Alfa on-track without being able to back-off because doing so would have meant missing out on his final lap. Behind Kimi he couldn’t keep the tyres temperatures up and had a snap at Turn Seven that cost him six-tenths, which would have been enough.
If Sergio beats Max into Turn One, passing the Racing Point may not be straightforward
“The inters were terrible for us,” a disgruntled Max explained. “When you’re first all the time and you come out second, it’s not what you want…”
Definitely not, but Verstappen will still start tomorrow’s race a red-hot favourite. One element that might make his task tougher though, is Perez’s contention that he’s much happier to qualify P3 than P2 because he feels the grip advantage at the start will be substantial enough to make up for the 8m deficit to the Red Bull.
If Sergio does beat Max into Turn One, passing the Racing Point around Istanbul Park may not be straightforward. And doubly so given that Verstappen’s foe will be Perez. With the caveat that Sergio, who starts from the top three for the first time in his F1 career, will no doubt have it hammered into him that team scoring is more important than personal satisfaction. Bin it at your peril! But, in the absurd position of not yet having a 2021 drive, whether he listens or not is another matter.
Alex Albon starts fourth in the second Red Bull with a time achieved on the full wet. “It was much easier on the other tyre,” he confirmed. “On the intermediate I was going off everywhere, which made it hard to generate temperature.”
A second behind Albon, Daniel Ricciardo maintained his rich recent vein of form, not to mention Renault’s hopes of the championship third place, with fifth quickest lap, himself a second clear of the man hoping to clinch his seventh world title tomorrow afternoon.
Whether on Friday’s dry skating rink or Saturday’s wet one, and for all his innate talent, Hamilton has been unable to get in amongst it this weekend. If the difference is tenths of a second, it can be the man in the cockpit. When the deficit to pole is almost five seconds, it clearly is not.
“I didn’t spin, I didn’t make any mistakes, I did my absolute best, there just ain’t no grip,” was how Lewis put it. Still, all he has to do is make sure Valtteri Bottas doesn’t outscore him by eight points. And Bottas, of course, is in the same boat, which in Turkey, could not be a more apt description. Valtteri goes to the grid ninth, seven-tenths slower, separated from his team-mate by Esteban Ocon and Kimi Räikkönen.