The media centre is usually a quiet place apart from the occasional round of applause when one of the radio broadcasters stops a very loud transmission. One in particular takes much pleasure in telling people to shut up as he records his thoughts on the session just gone at the top of his voice. There was clapping for a different reason today, though, when Mark Webber secured pole position for tomorrow’s Grand Prix with a brilliant lap in the final moments of Q3.
Vettel had set a very quick benchmark of 1.40.091 earlier in the session and many thought it unbeatable. Webber’s final effort was a 1.39.957, the fastest lap ever around the Yas Marina circuit. “He deserved to be on pole,” said Vettel afterwards, “he made no mistakes”. Webber was typically calm about the achievement: “I’m happy with the pole, it was a good lap and I enjoined it…”
Ten minutes before Q1 started and Nico Rosberg could be spotted playing football with one of his mechanics behind the Mercedes hospitality building. He’s actually pretty good and it clearly did no harm to his qualifying performance as he lines up behind the two Red Bulls. Behind him sits Hamilton, Räikkönen, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Massa, Pérez and Ricciardo. Hamilton set his time in the first half of Q3 and looked set to go faster still on his second run, with two personal bests in the first two sectors, but lost the rear of the car on the exit of Turn 14 when a rear wishbone snapped. Räikkönen’s car has since been found illegal after it failed a front-floor deflection test. The punishment is yet to be decided.
Massa again out-qualified Alonso, who was knocked out in Q2 for the first time this year, and looked a lot more comfortable with the Ferrari in all three sessions. Alonso made a mistake on his first Q2 lap on new soft-compound tyres and from there it was always going to be a struggle as the tyres would be past their best on his next attempt. They were and he finished 11th.
Button was another high-profile victim in Q2 and couldn’t understand where his practice pace had gone. “There’s no grip,” he said, “I don’t understand how we go from P6 this morning to here [13th].” He was clearly irritated that the small uplift in McLaren’s performance had failed him at the crucial moment. An hour or so after qualifying and the troubles had been put down partly due to the temperature difference between FP3 and Q2. Matters were made worse by an impressive qualifying for Pérez. Both the McLarens will be interesting to watch in the race, though, with their low-downforce setup and high top speeds. They do struggle in the third sector, but it’s extremely difficult to overtake there as Alonso will tell you…
Things didn’t go quite as expected for Williams as some were quietly hoping for a better result than 15th and 16th on the grid. This year all the teams are manipulating the exhaust gases as they exit the car by using the Coandă effect, which increases rear downforce. This won’t be the case next year and Williams was keen to try a semi-2014 system in practice. It turned out to be quicker than the one using the Coandă effect…
“You can’t run it exactly as we will next year because that would be illegal,” technical director Pat Symonds told me, “so we’ve run it with minimum under-floor effect and the drivers say the car is more consistent and easier to drive. Our job is to put the fastest car out there, not the most trendy.
“The possible performance advantage was spotted a while ago, but it takes some time to sort these things out and make the parts. The experiment was really for next year, but we thought it might have a bit of an unintended consequence. It has, and that’s fine.” While the ‘unintended consequence’ wasn’t displayed much in qualifying the better consistency should help in the race.
Championships are sometimes decided by one mistake in an otherwise good season. That was the case in GP2 this year as Sam Bird, who was in contention to win the title heading into this weekend, stalled on the grid for today’s feature race. Everything up until then went well – he’d qualified third, but was then promoted to second when pole sitter Marcus Ericsson was penalised for exceeding the track limits.
After an extra formation lap Bird stalled and Joylon Palmer lead away. It was a disastrous start and, despite an early safety car for a Dillman/Lancaster pile up, he could only recover to 10th. The new GP2 champion Fabio Leimer, who finished fourth in the race, is a deserving one, though, after a solid campaign. It is his fourth year in the championship so it was now or never for the Swiss driver.
“I saw immediately that Sam had stalled,” said Leimer (below) when asked about the race, “and I feel really sorry for him – he’s a really nice guy, one of the best guys on the track. I think he also deserved to win the championship, but in the end it can only go to one driver and luckily it was me.”
Bird is already Mercedes’ third driver, but the chances of him getting on the Formula 1 grid are small. “It’s really difficult,” he admitted to me when I saw him in the Indian Grand Prix paddock, “there’s not much out there, but I’m also looking at DTM and America”.
As more Formula 1 teams look for drivers who can bring cash the American route will be the only one available to many of the GP2 graduates. I spoke to British Grand-Am GT driver Robin Liddell a while ago who said that with more young drivers bringing budget, the more teams will go looking for it. “They’re making a rod for their own back,” he said. “In America it’s totally different – if you make the effort to get over there and do well in a test the question the team asks you is ‘how much do you want to be paid’ not ‘how much money can you bring’.” Unless every Formula 1 team can make sufficient money to cover the cost of drivers who can’t bring cash this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
The first Porsche Supercup race took place today and was won by Nicki Thiim followed by Earl Bamber and Kuba Giermaziak. Thiim’s win netted him 20 points and has taken him past the late Sean Edwards’ tally of 118. As he crossed the line he pointed to the sky and to Edwards’ helmet graphic on the front of his lid. Michael Ammermüller is now the only person who can stop Thiim, but trails by 16 points with 20 to play for tomorrow.
The GP3 series also had its first race this evening and 2014 Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kyvat led away from pole position and was never troubled, leaving him to clinch the 2013 crown. It was a strong first race for Stoneman as well who finished sixth.
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