Qualifying was wet almost throughout, and rain came at unexpected moments. This of course meant that teams were taken by surprise, and two of those teams expected to be fighting for higher grid slots ended up at the back. Williams and Ferrari were both taken out in Q1, and Alonso even had an off-road moment that brought out yellows, due to a sudden drizzle at the end of the session. Sutil also went into the gravel, but all of this meant that both the Marussias were into Q2.
Ericsson also spun off during Q1, and given his patchy performances compared to Kobayashi, I’m not sure he’s all that cut out to be an F1 driver.
Then, in Q2, Gutierrez spun off, making it yet another horrible qualifying session for Sauber. Marussia, banking on early laps and problems to Lotus and other runners, managed a respectable 12th and 13th on the grid. While Chilton will get a 5-place grid penalty, Bianchi will start in 12th.
Then, just as Q3 started, rain hit, and drivers had to tiptoe around the track on their slick tires and get a lap done. Hamilton managed to get provisional pole then, and as the final minutes came by, he thought he couldn’t go faster and aborted his lap, following instructions from his team to let Rosberg have a go.
Turns out the final sector was drying up, and everyone found time. Vettel scored the front row slot beside polesitter Rosberg, Button and Hulkenberg were behind them respectively, and even Magnussen was ahead of Hamilton back in P6. As a fan of Hamilton, I can’t say I’m happy to see him struggle, but this sets up for a potentially epic race, with Ferrari/Williams charging up from the back, and Hamilton with a point to prove.
Whew! I missed the first lap due to something else, but to have it red flagged means that I effectively missed none of the race. And what a race it was.
Raikkonen crashed out right from the off, with his car oversteering, going off track, and just as he came back on, he lost control and had his 47G collision with the barriers. Massa, having had problems at the start, was unfortunate to end up right behind the crash, and had to retire due to some damage. Meanwhile, Chilton had a close encounter with a flying wheel that could have taken his head off, and went into the pits despite the red flags, earning him a drive-through penalty.
Under the red flags, Hamilton was up to P4 already, the McLarens starting well and in P2/P3. Bottas was flying in 9th, and Bianchi made it up to 10th. It made for compelling viewing the moment the race restarted, as Hamilton took the McLarens ahead of him with consummate ease, while Bottas started to reel in everyone in front of him. Alonso was on a charge too, and he was soon up and fighting for higher places.
The next retirements came with Gutierrez, who had issues after his massive collision with Maldonado that sent the Lotus airborne; and then Ericsson went off with some mechanical problems. Alonso got a 5s stop-go penalty for being off his grid slot from the first start, and served it with his next pit stop. But that didn’t deter him, as both he and Bottas ripped past Magnussen, for 5th and 4th respectively.
Bottas then made a brave move on the outside of Button for 3rd, behind the two Mercs, while Hamilton slowly chipped away at Rosberg’s lead. As Rosberg pits, Hamilton was told: “It’s hammer time.”
And so he pushed on his old medium tires, while Rosberg slowly made up time on fresh mediums despite reporting problems with his downshift. Meanwhile, Alonso was stuck behind Button and couldn’t get past, the McLaren with a speed advantage down the straights compared to the Ferrari.
When Hamilton finally pitted, he ended up having a slow stop again, but it didn’t matter a jolt because his hard tires instantly worked for him, letting him gain 1s a lap on Rosberg with mediums. That was shaping up to be a fantastic battle for the victory when Rosberg’s gearbox finally failed on him. Hamilton passed the stricken sister Merc and the crowd cheered; luck finally went Hamilton’s way.
40s behind the Merc, Bottas closed in on Vettel despite being on a 1-stopper and was effectively P2 already. He passed the Red Bull with ease, then Vettel pitted, before coming out right in front of Alonso. This set up for an epic battle between the two multiple world champions, as Alonso made a super pass, then held on grimly for his P5 until Vettel finally got past him several laps later.
Both of them complained incessantly about each other not giving space or going over the white lines, but in the post-race interviews, both seemed a little embarrassed about their similar childish tantrums that brought verbal warnings about crossing the track limits. But it was great to watch the aggressive driving between the two drivers, and it made up for the lack of an inter-Mercedes fight.
Then, as the race was ending, Button was told to chase down Ricciardo, who was expected not to stop again. In contrast, Ricciardo was told Button can’t catch him. That said, he was doing damn well with his medium tires much older than their expected lifespan on a 1-stop, eventually doing 37 laps on those. In the end, as Ricciardo’s tires went off the cliff, Button managed to close up to 0.8s behind, but it was not enough to snatch that last podium from the Aussie.
Back down the grid, we see Ricciardo outperforming Vettel again (though it has to be said, Vettel was on the worse, 2-stop strategy), and Alonso in a battling 6th. Magnussen was right behind the Vettel/Alonso fight, and he should have given it a go. Hulkenberg couldn’t do better than 8th in a Force India affected by the winds, and after him was the Toro Rossos, both in the points and Kvyat once again showing that he has the talent.
Grosjean made it 12th behind Perez in 11th, while Sutil was 13th in a Sauber that had brake-by-wire problems once again. Kobayashi split the Marussias, with Bianchi in 14th and Chilton in 16th, wrapping up the end of the grid.
All in all, it was a great race, and as a Hamilton fan, it’s awesome to see him close the gap to Rosberg right up to 4 points again. He’s had the greater share of bad luck this season, and it’s about time Rosberg had some mechanical gremlins. Meanwhile, kudos to Bottas for another podium, confirming Williams’ revival.