The Alpines oh-so-nearly fell over each other on their final Q3 ‘out’ laps, Esteban Ocon meandering along as Fernando Alonso dived around his outside. Esteban inadvertently almost took Fernando off as he moved right but it all worked out in the end, both got their laps in and the Frenchman went 7-6 up in his season’s qualifying battle with Spaniard, by two-hundredths.
For the first time since Barcelona, Daniel Ricciardo had more pace than Lando Norris and was the sole McLaren representative in Q3 as Norris went out in Q2 for the first time this year. He will start 13th.
“It was just small things,” Lando said. “The competition was even tighter with the Alpines and Alfa closing the gap and without that strong lap it was going to be hard to make Q3. It was possible, as Daniel proved, but I didn’t really have the confidence in the car to get the best out of it, which I’m annoyed about. Here at Zandvoort, it’s not ideal…” Ricciardo himself was at a loss to explain why he managed to go quicker in Q2 than in Q3.
Williams looked to be in decent shape when Nicholas Latifi managed fifth quickest time in Q1, with George Russell 11th. In Q2, Russell was fifth on the opening run and was on a mega lap when he carried too much speed into Turn 13 and lost the rear end. He went backwards into the tyres, prompting a red flag which was perhaps a bit premature as Russell got going again. Suspension damage spelled the end of his qualifying, however. When the session was restarted, Latifi had a carbon-copy shunt but with an even heftier impact, giving rise to speculation that the wind-sensitive Williams was affected by a cross-wind at T13. Russell, however, held up his hands and admitted to simply pushing too hard.
Although there is still no official confirmation, take it as read that Russell will be in a Mercedes next year. You have to hope that Brixworth comes up with a decent flat-bottomed car and, if so, it’s going to be fascinating to see the performance level relative to Hamilton. Lewis must be eyeing his pace with the same kind of trepidation that Fernando Alonso will have witnessed some of Lewis’s ’06 GP2 drives. No wonder he talked up Bottas at every available opportunity!
To a man, the drivers love Zandvoort. Particularly, as Verstappen said, when the fuel comes out. They love the banking, the blind exits, the roller-coaster ride and the constantly varying cambers. But as good as it is to drive, how well-suited will it be to a race?
The theory was that there may be varied lines at the banked Turn Three. The quickest way is to use the high line, but at the risk of having someone go inside you, preventing the quick exit. The reality though, is that going low unloads the left-front and prompts a lock-up. Some though, will probably still try it, heavy with fuel, on the opening lap. As Leclerc said, “that first lap is going to be interesting, but opportunity might be limited after that.”
What about the outside of Tarzan, the first corner, apparently named after a local character who only allowed his vegetable patch to be commandeered for the track build if he had a corner named after him!? That’s unlikely to come off either. Just ask Mario Andretti…
There may not be much in the way of overtaking tomorrow, but on the evidence of the last couple of days, it certainly won’t be dull. I wouldn’t like to bet that we’d get through without a red flag and strategy will be of the suck-it-and-see variety. All amid a boiling cauldron of an atmosphere. Max is the obvious pick but, this season, who knows. Just don’t miss it!