If Sebastian Vettel should take pole this afternoon, while there is no guarantee he will go on to take victory tomorrow far less the title, the German – and perhaps his team – should at least be considered for an Oscar.
On the evidence thus far, the German and his team don’t have a hope, 06s off Lewis Hamilton‘s pace and clearly struggling.
Though the title cannot be decided this weekend, an already despondent Vettel would surely be climbing the walls should Hamilton extend his championship lead, though, on the evidence thus far, that very much appears to be the case.
Based on the previous sessions – certainly those that really mattered – this is Mercedes pole and race to lose, while Ferrari can only hope to stay in touch, anticipating those circuits better suited to the SF-71H.
With the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos’ destined to the back of the grid as a result of engine penalties, though the usual suspects should fill the first four places, we could be seeing some interesting names fill the remaining six spots.
Of course, this would not only add an element to the start tomorrow, but offer the prospect of the Bulls being given a hard time as they attempt to pass those cars they usually only encounter when lapping them.
Seventh quickest this morning, Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc must look good for a Q3 placing, as do the Panthers and Haas pair. However, Renault is looking strong, while Marcus Ericsson would surely like to signal his team not to write him off.
The big issues facing drivers thus far this weekend have been traffic and tyre degradation, and while the latter will certainly cause problems in Q1, it will be interesting to see if anyone takes the gamble today by trying to qualify on the (slightly) more durable ultrasoft as opposed to the hyper.
Ten minutes before the start of Q1, both Red Bull cars are up on their stands and Ricciardo’s, in particular, doesn’t look as though it is going anywhere, anytime soon.
Stroll is first out when the lights go green, and if a Williams makes it to Q2 the Canadian and his Russian teammate are even better actors than Mr Vettel.
As Leclerc, Magnussen and Grosjean head out, the Ferrari pair are among the early risers, clearly wanting to avoid the inevitable traffic.
Back in the Red Bull garage and as if by magic both cars look ready to roll.
Magnussen gets things underway with a 34.078 and Sirotkin with a 35.612. Grosjean responds with a 34.495 and Stroll a 49.271. “I made a mistake,” admits the Canadian.
Vettel bangs in a 33.534 while Raikkonen stops the clock at 33.800.
No sooner has Leclerc posted 34.445 to go fourth, than Gasly responds with a 34.383.
“Hypersofts are the order of the day so far,” says Pirelli. “Q2 will be the important one though, as this decides which tyres they start on.”
Bottas and Hamilton trade fastest sectors, the Finn posting 33.170 while Hamilton can only manage tenth (34.547) having lost a heap of time in the final sector due to traffic.
Vettel and Raikkonen both improve, the Finn (33.341) the quicker of the pair.
Ocon goes fifth, behind Magnussen, as Perez goes seventh. Ericsson is ninth ahead of Grosjean.
As Hamilton goes quickest (32.825), Grosjean complains that he “can’t do anything, the rears are too loose”.
As in FP3, Hamilton is 0.6s clear of Vettel.
With 4:40 remaining the Bulls are yet to post a time, while Sirotkin, Stroll and Vandoorne comprise the remainder of the drop zone, with Alonso, Hartley and the Renault pair hovering.
The Bulls head out… shortly after, Ricciardo goes third (33.247) and Verstappen fourth (33.314).
Another improvement from Hamilton who consolidates his top spot with a 32.410, thereby extending the gap to Vettel to 1.066. That’s one in the eye for the German. Think about it.
On-board shows Hulkenberg really struggling with the Renault, the German unable to improve on 14th.
A spin for Sirotkin brings out the yellows which is bad news for a couple of drivers looking to improve.
Somehow, the Renaults make the cut but only just. However, it’s game over for Hartley, Alonso, Sirotkin, Vandoorne and Stroll.
Quickest was Hamilton, ahead of Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel, Leclerc, Grosjean, Magnussen and Perez.
Ferrari must be thanking their lucky stars that the Bulls have those penalties.
Bottas is first out as Q2 gets underway, followed by his teammate. Both are on ultras.
The Ferraris follow, they too opt for the purple-banded rubber.
Bottas posts the benchmark, a 32.744. Moments later Hamilton raises said benchmark to 32.595.
Raikkonen responds with a 33.065 and Vettel 33.045, both over 0.4s off the pace.
Ocon goes fifth with a 33.713 on the hypers, as the Saubers and Haas‘ head out.
Leclerc goes fifth (33.488), just 0.4s off Vettel’s pace, ahead of Ocon, Perez and Ericsson.
A 33.517 sees Grosjean go sixth.
“For the next run, if Sergio could avoid being in front in the last two corners it would be great,” suggests teammate Ocon, with a hint of sarcasm.
With the Renaults yet to appear, Ericsson is first out for the final assault. The Bulls and Gasly will not run again.
As the rest head out, the Mercedes and Ferraris have switched to the hypers.
It appears the Renault pair have opted not to run.
On those hypers Hamilton goes purple in S1, but will he complete the lap? He maintains the pace in S2, but slows in S3 in order that he doesn’t improve. While Bottas does similar, the Ferrari pair both pit.
In a somewhat anticlimactic session, due to the fact that all ten knew they were through, Leclerc holds fifth, ahead of Grosjean, Ocon, Magnussen, Perez and Ericsson.
We lose Verstappen, Ricciardo, Gasly, Sainz and Hulkenberg.
Ahead of Q3, the question has to be not so much about who will be on [ole, but how much the gap will be.
Ocon is first out, followed by Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Magnussen, Grosjean, Vettel and Leclerc. Ericsson stays put in the pits. As you’d expect, all are on hypers.
Hamilton is quickest in S1, though Raikkonen is strong. Bottas is quickest in S2, the Finn finally crossing the line at 31.528.
Hamilton can only manage 31.532, and while Raikkonen (32.237) takes third he is soon demoted by his teammate who crosses the line at 32.167.
Ocon goes fifth, ahead of Leclerc, Magnussen, Perez and Grosjean.