In Q1, Sebastian Vettel encountered an issue on his outlap, with the message over team radio requesting him to switch the car off, but Vettel persisted, received advice over a settings switch and was able to continue. He set a 1:20:939, which saw him safely through to Q2 with Lewis Hamilton half-a-second ahead.
Romain Grosjean had an early spin in the technical sector three but was able to get going again. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was having a better day, he set a time of 1:22.4s, only half-a-second behind the Williams of Massa early on. Wehrlein also put in a competitive lap which saw both Sauber cars in safety away from the drop zone.
In the drop zone with five-minutes of Q1 remaining, the drivers that needed to find some pace were Grosjean, Stroll, Palmer, Magnussen and Kvyat. Grosjean was able to get out comfortably with a smooth lap bumping him up to 7th, trailed by Magnussen who also escaped the drop zone and was sitting 8th, a tenth down on his Haas teammate.
It was a very disappointing Q1 for Williams and Renault, who both lost a drivers. Jolyon Palmer was only good enough for 17th, with Stroll 18th. Both drivers will start the race behind both Saubers. The Swiss team had a pretty good Q1, with Ericsson 16th, only missing out on Q2 thanks to his teammate, who was a whole five-thousandths of a second quicker, and survived the drop.
Stoffel Vandoorne was 19th in what is shaping up to be another difficult weekend languishing at the back, with and out of shape Daniil Kvyat propping up the grid in 20th. Going into Q2, Williams and Renault looked to be under the most pressure having both lost a car so far, despite the feeling that both teams might have edged Force India here. Fernando Alonso was still in the mix too, he was 10th in FP3 earlier in the morning, so was aiming for a surprise Q3 cameo.
In Q2, the Mercedes duo were out first on what would be their race start tyres, which didn’t bode well for Bottas as he locked up going into turn-one. Lewis Hamilton once again built momentum into Q3 with a strong opening flyer which saw a four-tenth gap to Raikkonen’s opener in the Ferrari. It was starting to feel like a Lewis Hamilton weekend, who tends to come back to the F1 paddock with something extra following a difficult weekend.
Sainz and Ocon were setting an early Q2 precedent too, the Spaniard, who was a star of the race last season, found himself 7th early on, with the Force India of Ocon 8th. Once every car had set a flyer, the drivers in the drop zone were Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Pascal Wehrlein.
Incredibly, Alonso was on the precipice of Q3 holding onto 10th. But with five minutes to go, the drivers went out for their final Q2 flyer. The Spaniard was momentarily demoted due to an improvement from Massa and Magnussen before putting in another flyer that put him 7th, enough to eventually trickle down the order to 10th and get McLaren-Honda into Q3.
Despite the pre-weekend talk down, Force India were once again the only team outside of the “big three” to get both cars into the final phase of qualifying, with Ocon 7th and Perez improving at the chequered flag for 9th.
Both Haas cars failed to make it into Q3, with Grosjean once again losing the car at turn-13, it was unclear whether this was due to an aerodynamic disturbance or the pesky Brembo brakes, but the Frenchman will start the race 14th tomorrow. His teammate Kevin Magnussen had a good session, missing out on Q3 courtesy of Alonso’s McLaren, the Dane starts the Spanish Grand Prix from an opportunistic 11th. Carlos Sainz will be disappointed with 12th at his home race, as will Toro Rosso more generally, who will be hoping that their race pace is better than their one-lap. Nico Hulkenberg was a lowly 13th, unable to highlight the big upgrades that Renault were supposed to have on show this weekend. Pascal Wehrlein will start the Spanish Grand Prix in 15th.
In Q3, Lewis Hamilton once again put himself on the front-foot, with a 1.19.149 putting him just over two-tenths ahead of his teammate, although Bottas would improve on his second run if he could get through sector three a bit smoother, he definitely lost time exiting the final corner, sliding wide. Kimi Raikkonen was also in contention for pole, he would enter his final Q3 run with just under three-tenths to make up to Hamilton. The Iceman was also faster than Vettel by two-tenths. Verstappen led Ricciardo in the third-row duel.
In the final runs for Q3 that would define the top ten on the grid for race day, neither Mercedes improved on their earlier time, which was a bit odd and rarely ever happens. It made the final few minutes of the session a tense affair, as the Ferrari’s started to bang in green sectors. Vettel couldn’t topple Hamilton’s early benchmark, but did get within a tenth and break up the prospect of a Mercedes front-row. Valtteri Bottas will start the race 3rd, with Kimi Raikkonen 4th. Verstappen was a bit closer to the top four here, but Red Bull don’t look like they’ll be worrying the top four too much. Daniel Ricciardo will be disappointed with 6th.
Fernando Alonso will start the race from 7th place, whilst he wants to win Championships and win races, surely even he will be pleasantly surprised with that. He has Sergio Perez behind him in 8th, with Felipe Massa 9th and Esteban Ocon rounding out the top ten.
Qualifying has set up another epic battle at the front of the grid between Mercedes and Ferrari. It’s a relief that the upgrades that both cars have been given seem to have been cancelled out by each other.