Events

Interlagos Bites During Practice Before Red Bull Snares Pole.

Practice sessions in motor sport are intended to give drivers a chance to iron out issues in cars and to get a feel for a track’s layout. Somehow this went awry at Interlagos with a number of drivers finding the limit of adhesion and exceeding it. Rain during Free Practice 1 saw Alexander Albon find the wall late in the session. He had lead the session with the quickest time however, but the track soon saw Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both spin. With just a few minutes left in the 90 minute FP1, Albon slid off and parked his Red Bull in a difficult position, bringing out the red flag.

FP2 and it was Robert Kubica’s turn to find a wall. His front rubber had picked up the ripple strip and unsettled his Williams, launching it onto the grass and subsequently nose first into the metal wall. Then it was an incident between newly crowned champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, with a slow Finn suddenly having the Briton filling his mirrors. Hamilton had come in at speed and seemingly unaware of the slower car of his team mate.

Also seeing unwanted action in FP2 were Pierre Gasly and Kvyat. Both drivers had cars with older powerplants, and unfortunately for both the pair of them decided to end their working life in spectacular fashion. Gasly’s expired in a cloud of smoke whilst the Russian’s appeared to lock the drive axles and flung his Toro Rosso sideways into the barriers. “We knew on Friday we’d run older engines to save the race engines. We knew that my one was quite old and we were giving it a pretty hard time and we kind of expected this would happen at some point. We missed a couple of laps, but conditions will be really different tomorrow and Sunday, so hopefully we didn’t miss that much information.” said Gasly. At least the pair can rest easy in the knowledge they’re both at Toro Rosso for 2020.

Daniel Ricciardo has set his sights on 2021 with the chirpy Australian seeming to confirm he’ll be with Renault after 2020. “There’s a lot of calculations to make,”  he said “But I think the easiest thing for me to do is do everything I said I would do here, (and) then that works and I stay. And I don’t have to deal with too much. But (the 2021 regulations) should favour us a bit more, but you never know.” As chirpy as he may have been there’d be little doubt he’d be somewhat miffed after missing out on a top ten starting position at Interlagos. The Perth born driver could manage just 12th in his qualifying runs.

Pole position has gone to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Although consistently outdriven by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc in the straights, the Red Bull’s pace in the tighter corners was outclassing the two red cars. Showing how close times were, Verstappen’s 1:07.508 was only 4/10ths quicker than Albon’s 1:07.935 for P6. Said Verstappen after the sessions: “Straight away from Q1 the car was flying and even though Q3 was a little more tricky as the temperature increased the car still felt good. Going purple in the middle sector and to be on pole by over a tenth here is a strong performance for us and Honda. ”

P2 is Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on 1:07.631. That time is less than a tenth quicker than Leclerc’s 1:07.728 for P4. Leclerc said afterwards: “It was not the best qualifying. The team gave me a great car and I believe that the potential was there for us to take pole today. I am disappointed about the mistake I made on the last corner of my first lap in Q3, because I lost about three tenths there.”

The pair split the Mercedes drivers, with Hamilton taking P3 and Bottas snaring P5. Again there was little between the two, with 1:07.699 and 1:07.874 being the times. A slightly bemused Hamilton would say later: “FP3 was really strong for us, but once we got to qualifying both Ferrari and Red Bull had great pace and we were losing out on the straights by quite a chunk.”

Gasly would make his way in the top ten with P7 and 1:08.837. P8 and P10 went to the Haas pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen with 1:08.854 and 1:09.037. “Having both cars in Q3 is unbelievable. Tomorrow might be a different day, but that doesn’t matter, we’ll take the pleasure from today.” said Grosjean whilst an equally philosophical Magnussen stated: “It looks like we might have something to fight with this weekend, which is really good. There’s nothing to be disappointed about from today.”

The final piece of the top ten puzzle fell to Kimi Raikkonen. The veteran laid down a 1:08.984. The experience of the 40 year old was evident as he said: “The margins in the midfield are very close and you can make up a lot of places with just a small difference, but we will take P9 and see what we can do in the race tomorrow.”

Lando Norris shaded Ricciardo by 4/100s to take P11. Ricciardo himself was lucky to grab P12 as Antonio Giovinazzi and Nico Hulkenberg in P13 and P14 were barely 2/100s off his pace. P15 went to Sergio Perez and he was clearly quicker than P16’s Kvyat by 3/10ths. P17 through to P20 are Lance Stroll, George Russell, Kubica and Carlos Sainz. The Spanish driver had a horror Q1 and didn’t progress as his engine’s ignition system failed, and wasn’t able to be repaired in time for Q2.

The race gets underway at 13:10 local time on Sunday November 17.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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