When Daniel Ricciardo set second quickest time in FP2, it looked like his uplift in confidence with McLaren’s MCL35M was continuing. Actually though, it was unrepresentative, with quite a few teams doing their qualifying simulations in FP1 in anticipation of the rain that didn’t arrive in FP2. Post-qualifying, Ricciardo was facing those same old questions again as he contemplates starting 13th, some 10 places and almost seven-tenths behind team-mate Lando Norris, who goes to the grid an excellent third, his best starting position of the year.
“We seemed to lose speed overnight,” Ricciardo explained. “A bit of it is set-up, but I felt like I was pushing to the limit of the car even though I was slower everywhere. I don’t have any answers at the moment.”
On the shortest lap of the season, losing that much time was a bit of a head-scratcher and, as usual, the midfield was super-tight.
The soft tyre was estimated to be around 0.4sec quicker than the medium compound Pirelli over one lap and all three fastest qualifiers – Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton – set their Q2 times and will hence start the race on mediums for a one-stopper given dry weather.
Sergio Perez’s average 2021 qualifying deficit to Max Verstappen is 0.45sec and given the narrow time spread on a track with so few corners, using the medium in Q2 was never on the Mexican’s agenda. In Q3 he was 0.32sec down and will start fourth, ahead of Bottas.
“I had to use a second set of softs in Q1,” Sergio said, “which meant used softs for my first Q3 run. The lap was okay but on new tyres for my second run they were too cold at the start of the lap and I lost time at Turn One. I think P2 was possible.”
Pierre Gasly continued his fine run of form, qualifying the first AlphaTauri in the top sixth for the sixth time this year – already a single-season record for the Faenza-based team. Team-mate Yuki Tsunoda made it through to Q3 and backed him up with a lap just a quarter-second slower, eighth fastest, but, frustratingly, got a three-pace grid penalty for impeding Bottas. Which means that George Russell, who missed Q3 by just a hundredth in the Williams, does after all get to start in the top 10, and with freedom of tyre choice.
As at Paul Ricard, Charles Leclerc will line up seventh. “I expected more than that,” he admitted, “but our race pace was okay and we didn’t want to sacrifice that to go quicker over one lap.” Ferrari was still trying to get a handle on the tyre issues that afflicted them in such a disappointing race in France, and Carlos Sainz failed to make it through to Q3 for the first time since round two at Imola, and will line up behind Russell’s Williams and Tsunoda.
Fernando Alonso starts eighth for Alpine, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, bringing his seasonal qualifying head-to-head with team-mate Ocon to 4-4 after Esteban surprisingly fell at the first hurdle.