Story of qualifying – Sebastian Vettel loses his cool in Brazil

A round-up of the main talking points from Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying, after Lewis Hamilton took pole position and Sebastian Vettel incurred the wratch of the stewards.

Hamilton secures Mercedes’ 100th pole
It was close throughout the session, but once again Lewis Hamilton had the pace when it mattered. His tenth pole position of the season was also Mercedes’ 100th as a constructor — an impressive statistic from 188 grand prix entries.

Ferrari gambles on the weather … and wins!
After Ferrari lost out big time with a qualifying tyre gamble in Japan, it seemed incredibly brave to play chicken with the weather in Brazil. But that’s exactly what the Italian team did in Q2. At the start of the session both Ferraris went out on super-softs but, with rain in the air and no time set, the drivers were called back to switch to the soft compound. The strategy had some logic behind it as it means Ferrari will start the race on the soft compound — which should be the better race tyre — but had a downpour hit just after they came in for the tyre change, both cars would have been caught on track with the wrong tyre. The panic around the tyre change also led to Vettel’s controversy at the weigh bridge…

Vettel destroys weighbridge
Vettel will be the subject of one of the more bizarre stewards’ investigations of the season after being accused of “destroying” the FIA’s weighbridge. The scales are used to weigh cars mid-session and the FIA has the right to call in any car that is returning to the pits for a random check. Vettel was returning to make the tyre change mentioned above and, with rain threatening, wanted the process to be completed as soon as possible. When he arrived at the scales, Vettel used his car to knock a cone out of the way and then gesticulated wildly at officials. Drivers are required to turn off their engines on the weighbridge, but Vettel kept his running which makes it difficult to get a clear reading and could result in a penalty. He later complained that the timing of the weighing was unfair, but that’s unlikely to wash with the stewards.

Should Hamilton be penalised?
There was also a good case for investigating Hamilton after qualifying, but it seems the Mercedes driver has been let off. During Q2 he blocked both Kimi Raikkonen and Sergey Sirotkin on track, although neither incident was being investigated at the time of writing. Sirotkin was on his outlap rather than a hot lap when he had to slam on the brakes to avoid Hamilton, but considering the importance of getting a good run through the final corner where the incident occurred, there could have been a strong case to follow it up in the stewards room. The Raikkonen incident was less dramatic, but occured on the exit of Turn 3 as the Ferrari driver was on a hot lap.

Leclerc shows why he’s Ferrari’s next big hope
Charles Leclerc’s Q2 lap was something very special indeed. With rain intensifying, he was outside the top ten and circulating on a set of slick tyres. His Sauber engineer told him to call it a day and return to the pits, but Leclerc wanted his shot at the top ten and bit of rain wasn’t going to stop him. The lap that followed was 0.4s faster than his first attempt and enough for eighth fastest, 0.244s faster than teammate Marcus Ericsson who set his time in better conditions.

First corner predictions
Assuming Vettel keeps his second place grid slot, he is likely to come under fire from Valtteri Bottas into the first corner. Bottas starts on the super-soft tyre, which should offer better grip away from the line than the softs fitted to Vettel’s Ferrari. But assuming he can hold second by the end of the first lap, the race should quickly come to Vettel who will have the advantage of more durable tyres on a track where rear blistering is a serious concern.