The 1000th F1 GP qualifying is done and dusted. Mercedes locked out the front row as they showed a much superior corner speed and used to outpace the Ferraris who were, as expected, much quicker on the straights. The final qualifying session saw all cars put attempt to put in two lap times, except the Haas who saved their only available new set of soft tires for a run towards the end of the final session.
For the 2nd time ever in 1000 races we will have a top 10 on the circuit divided between 5 teams in perfect harmony.
1-2 (Bottas & Hamilton – Mercedes)
3-4 (Vettel & Leclerc – Ferrari)
5-6 (Verstappen & Gasly – Red Bull)
7-8 (Ricciardo & Hulkenberg – Renault)
9-10 (Magnussen & Grosjean – Haas)
No F1 qualifying session is ever complete without drama and once again drama found itself around Vettel and Verstappen, as it often does. All cars headed out for their final run in Q3 with 2 minutes and 25 seconds left on the clock. An average lap takes close to 1 minute and 33 seconds on the Chinese GP for the top 10. That left very little time on the clock for the drivers to complete the out lap and get their flying laps started before the session clock stopped, as cars go slow on their outlaws, especially the Mercedes cars who were at the head of the que going into the final lap. Hamilton was not required to speed up in order to get all the other cars to cross the line with time left, so he went as slow as he needed to, to protect his tires and set up a good start to the final run.
Behind him was teammate Valtteri Bottas who was given express command over the radio to not let anyone pass him by as they headed towards the end of their out laps. The 7 cars towards the end of the que were Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Magnussen, Grosjean and Gasly. Most of them were worried about missing out on their final runs due to the approaching end of the Q3. So Vettel started a domino effect by passing Hulkenberg and Ricciardo first and then on the second last corner he overtook Verstappen who was going really slow in an attempt to build up a gap between himself and Leclerc ahead of him so he could put in a fast lap in clean air.
But Vettel couldn’t risk missing out on the run and went around Verstappen which messed up Verstappen as he tried to once again build a gap between himself and Vettel only for both the Renault’s to pass him again and leaving him in a bad position where he no longer could get to the start line before the checkered flag was waved, at least not with enough gap between the Renault’s and himself. Gasly tried to pass him in the final corner as he wasn’t worried about the gap so much as ensuring the Renault’s didn’t out qualify him, but Verstappen fuming at this point blocked his teammate and as a result neither Red Bull or Haas could put in a lap time towards the end.
Verstappen dropped a spot to 5th after Leclerc went faster than him on his final run by 3 hundredths of a second and conveyed his annoyance with Vettel and the Renaults for passing him. While there is no rule about overtaking on the qualifying laps, there is a sort of gentleman’s agreement among the drivers, to not pass each other on the second last or the last corner before a flying lap. Vettel broke that agreement when he went past Verstappen on the second last corner and the Renaults followed suit. A similar thing happened to Vettel in Bahrain so it seems the gentleman’s agreement doesn’t hold much value any longer.
lol @ Max Verstappen: "It's an unwritten rule that you don't fuck up other people's run up in quali out laps, but Vettel and the two Renault's broke it, so in the future, I'll fuck up their runs too."#ChineseGP #F1
— J. (@Gubrach) April 13, 2019
Max Verstappen qualifying radio: "They are trying to be nice, but everyone f*cks up"
— Eau rouge (@Insidef1) April 13, 2019
Verstappen was raging though. He promised to fuck up Vettel and the Renaults in the future in similar situations and knowing Mad Max he will probably do it. None of it was against the rule but if you want to point fingers theres plenty of finger pointing to do based on who you support.
There’s Mercedes who can be blamed for going too slow in order to push the cars behind them too far back to make it to the start line before time expired. You can blame Vettel for not compromising his own race in order to stick to the agreement and overtaking Verstappen. You can blame Verstappen for letting Vettel through and again going slow which let the Renaults through that were his real downfall, because if he had followed Vettel with pace, he could have crossed the line in time and still put in a good lap but he chose to fall back again for clean air and the Renaults weren’t hanging around for him to push them back.
It was pretty poor from most teams to leave it this late and Mercedes got their strategy right and benefitted. Ferrari almost cost Vettel by leaving him this late until he took matters into his own hands. Haas didn’t set any time in the Q3 because they released their cars so late.
While Chinese GP will be exciting, I cant wait to see the next qualifying where pettiest man on the grid, Max Verstappen will be out for revenge. Whether he can exact his revenge without getting a penalty is a whole different matter.