The first part of Qualifying was met with a lot of drama, as for the first ten minutes we saw drivers setting fairly average lap times on the Intermediate tyre, with many coming over their radios to report that the track conditions were drying. That meant that the crossover point was going to be crucial for teams looking to get themselves out of the drop zone, something Marussia and Caterham bet on. They sent their drivers out with five minutes to go on a set of Medium tyres, with McLaren, Sauber, and Toro Rosso also attempting to get some heat into the tyres and get further up the order.
As both Kvyat and Chilton posted the two top times of the session, all the teams reacted by going out on a set of Mediums. However with three minutes to go, timing was always going to be paramount between getting the track conditions right on your hot lap, and by not wasting too much time on your outlap. Usually you want to be the last car out on track in these conditions, however in this case we saw both Ferrari’s, both Caterham’s, and both William’s drivers get caught out as they set their hot laps in the closing stages.
Alonso spun at Brooklands, bringing out the yellow flags with 21 seconds left on the clock, stopping his teammate who was behind him Kimi Raikkonen from setting a fast lap. With that amount of time left on the clock, it was clear that neither driver was going to be able to cross the line to set another time unless they found some sort of shortcut. The same was also the case for both Williams drivers, who were caught out by a spinning Adrian Sutil at exactly the same place, however he put it into the gravel and brought out permanent yellow flags. That also stopped both Caterham’s from setting a lap, and with it allowed both Marussia’s to get into Q2.
After a crazy first part of Qualifying, the second part got underway in similar conditions to the previous session, with the drivers setting their initial lap times on a set of Intermediate tyres before switching to the Medium tyres. The crossover point was a bit more comfortable for the teams however this time, with most switching to slicks with seven minutes to go. The lap times didn’t start coming through until four minutes left in the session, which means the teams were still in that danger zone when it came to yellow flags
That did happen, as the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez spun off at Luffield with 30 seconds left on the clock, however most of the drivers who were on a fast lap had made it past that section, and were able to complete their laps to get into Q3. Whilst both Saubers were out by default, both Marussia’s were able to post faster lap times then them and Maldonado to get into P13 and P12, with Grosjean just missing out on P10 by three tenths of a second.
The final part of Qualifying started with lap times being completed on the Medium tyre. Both Mercedes showed their early pace, however Vettel did not manage to get an initial lap time in, which meant his final run would be done in the closing stages of the session. However with three minutes to go, it looked like they might not improve on those initial laps. Even so, we saw the teams send their drivers out on sets of tyres they had to give back to Pirelli anyway.
Hulkenberg was the first to post a lap time, going into provisional pole. Vettel then cross the line to go top of the time sheets, before Jenson Button crossed the line to go P3. All eyes then turned to both Mercedes, who just made the chequered flag in the closing stages of the session. Hamilton was ahead of Rosberg when they began their laps, but Rosberg crossed the line on pole first. The red pit icon then highlighted Hamilton’s name, confirming that he did in fact abort his lap.
A crazy Qualifying session that didn’t end until the top of the hour. The biggest losers were probably Riccardo and both Toro Rosso’s, who could’ve probably posted faster lap times than Perez and Hamilton. Riccardo could’ve also challenged for pole. But in the end the top three were the ones who made the most of the changing track conditions. One thing we also saw in that Qualifying session was also a further clamping down on the track limits, with times being disallowed for drivers who put all four wheels over the white line at the exit of Corpse and Club. Chances are, we will see drivers get penalised if they do the same thing in the race too many times.
Whether they will be able to turn that into race pace however, will be the big question. We know Red Bull are matching Mercedes over the course of a lap, however McLaren might struggle with Button, who will be looking to hold station in P3. It will also be good fun to see the Williams and Ferrari duo come through the pack, who will be looking to get into the points.
In terms of strategy, we know the performance gap between the two compounds is a second, and with degradation high on this track we will be looking at the two stop strategy being the trend amongst the teams. We believe Force India might be looking at trying to replicate what they have been doing the last couple of races, and going for the one-stop. As we saw today though, the changing conditions can really throw up the strategy, and put the cars on par with each other when it comes to pace. There is a 20 per-cent chance of rain, but its going to be in the early hours of the day rather than during the race.