It’s all-in for F1’s pretend-American Lewis Hamilton this weekend at Austin. With three wins out of four races in Austin to his name, this is the right place for him to start the final attack on Rosberg before it’s too late. Find out here how he did in Qualifying.
Various media outlets took the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull a bit too literally: while third-placed Verstappen indeed was almost two seconds slower than Hamilton, the real gap was a lot closer. Red Bull didn’t run the Soft tire which on a single lap is worth seven tenths. Also, due to a new engine being fitted, Verstappen and Ricciardo were running a conservative engine setting to not overstress the high-tech powertrain on its first hot laps. Factor that and different levels of fuel in, and it didn’t look too bleak for Red Bull.
Ferrari meanwhile was struggling a bit with the balance in the quick S-corners of Austin. The car isn’t terrible, but won’t grip like a Mercedes or Red Bull. A lot of work ahead for the Scuderia, and it seems like a much-needed win over Red Bull is only possible over some trick strategy come race day.
Haas F1 of course had the honor of participating in their first home Grand Prix. Sadly, Grosjean and Gutierrez were down the order in 14th and 15th. On top of that, Grosjean lost a brake duct and both cars suffered technical difficulties when they tried to do a practice start. I’m sure quality control is big on the agenda for next year.
Force India and Manor gave two rookie drivers a chance behind the wheel. Alfonso Celis replaced Perez for FP1 and didn’t impress again, showing that his sponsorship money paved the way for his track time. Jordan King over at Manor at least outpaced his teammate and the Renault of Palmer.
Williams’ most memorable action was Valtteri Bottas Halo test run at the beginning of the session. Painted white instead of bare carbon it gave a preview of how the 2018 cars would like with the device installed. It’s not an aesthetically pleasing look I’ll admit, but it has the potential to save a life.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 21. Oktober 2016
Didn’t believe in a strong Red Bull team? Well, after FP2 Ricciardo and Verstappen were not only looking like race pace champions. Even a pole position might be possible. Rosberg’s gap to Ricciardo was at two tenths, and Hamilton was another tenth behind. The long runs indicated that tire wear on the Red Bull was minimal though, and Mercedes would have to find another three tenths to stay ahead. For Lewis Hamilton this means more chances for Rosberg to finish behind a Red Bull or two. Ferrari could only hope to profit from technical difficulties to move past a Mercedes or Red Bull: both single lap and long run pace was not convincing, but still good enough to keep Force India at bay.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 21. Oktober 2016
The usual suspects battled it out at the back during Q1: Pascal Wehrlein defeated Esteban Ocon and even Felipe Nasr of Sauber. Jenson Button had another disappointing qualifying, ending in P19 and behind Magnussen and Grosjean who also didn’t make the cut. Maybe his motivation has bottomed on his unofficial goodbye tour, as Alonso got the McLaren into the top 15.
Fernando did better in Q2 and missed a sensational Q3 participation by only two tenths, outpacing competitors such as Kvyat, Gutierrez, Palmer and Ericsson. The McLaren-Honda doesn’t have the pace yet to beat one of the better Mercedes-powered teams though. And the Mercedes factory team moved into the next session with the Soft tire and will start the race on them, just like Verstappen. Ricciardo opted for the Super Soft, explaining that the feeling was better for him and that the advantage at the start is worth the quicker tire degradation.
Moving into the final session of Qualifying, and the competition between Rosberg and Hamilton was fierce. They went back and forth, but in the end a sensational first sector gave Lewis the advantage – the three tenths he gained in the Esses and the tricky uphill first corner gifted him pole position. Rosberg took the defeat well and remembered on the record that Hamilton won three times starting from P2.
Behind them, Ricciardo had the edge over Verstappen. From the second row, the well-starting Red Bulls are a real threat to Mercedes, especially with Ricciardo on the Super Softs. Ferrari occupies row three but had to realize that the gap in Qualifying is way too large to get them into a race winning position: Kimi Räikkönen lost over a second to Hamilton, and Vettel was behind by 1.3.
Future Renault driver Nico Hülkenberg singlehandedly beat the two Williams and will be the team’s best shot at cementing their advantage in the constructors standing above Williams. With Hülk leaving the team at the end of the year, a podium would be a great way to bid farewell, but it’s unlikely to happen in Austin.
After all, the podium will be probably made up of Red Bull and Mercedes drivers, the question is in which order. And with the Mercedes drivers in an epic battle of their own, don’t discount the possibility of another Red Bull win just yet.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 22. Oktober 2016