As the F1 circus rolls into Europe, there’s a step-up in the development race with most teams bringing upgrades to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. But are they running to stand still as Mercedes-Benz continue to stamp their authority on these early rounds of the Champonship? It would appear so, with Lewis Hamilton particularly imperious in the first two free practice sessions and his teammate snatching the honours in the third.
The free practice sessions suggested improvements accross the board in the chasing pack, with Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams, Lotus and McLaren all showing good speed.
The Saubers led the way out in Q1, hoping to avoid the ignominy of having at least one car fail to reach Q2 as has been the case in every race so far. Lotus’s quali woes were increased when Maldonado put wheels on the astroturf and lost the back end, sending him into the wall on more or less his first lap. Recovering his car triggered a red flag, with under five minutes of the Q1 session elapsed. Team radio from Hamilton and Hulkenberg
revealed what seemed to be a general lack of handling, with most of the Q1 drivers having twitchy moments. Sauber’s early laps didn’t help them, with Sutil failing to make it through to Q2. Mclaren, ominously, had to use a set of the softer medum option to guarantee their presence in the second session.
The focus in Q2 was on the two Mercedes drivers, to see which would top the timesheet. Sure enough, Hamilton reduced his teammate’s advantage. McLaren’s Magnussen failed to set a time in Q2 due to what the tea described as a ‘power unit failure’. Button’s final timed lap on the medium compound trye boosted him to eighth. Local hero Alonso had a couple of sticky moments and just scraped through into the final Q3 slot on the harder compound.
A drive failure for Vettel on leaving the pitlane caused the final session to be red flagged with eight minutes left on the clock while his car was recovered from the run-off at turn one. With the session effectively restarting and new sets of tyres for everyone, it was Mercedes who set the pace. Hamilton on pole alongside his team mate, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo the best of the rest.
All places are provisional on Vergne’s ten-place grid drop for his unsafe release in free practice.