Well, that qualifying session was unpredictable, entertaining and, at times, dramatic. It was also yet another red tip, which is irksome. I’ll explain what surprised me (and what didn’t) below.
Q1 was pretty much standard fare. The four pointless cars went out, and Gutierrez and Bottas both failed to escape into Q2.
Q2 was as tight as I’d expected, but I got a few things wrong. For a start, Maldonado never seemed to have a realistic prospect of reaching Q3. I was also slightly surprised both Lotuses failed to make the top 10 (I’d taken the few pounds available for Grosjean to not make it at 1.4 so overall my qualifying result was flat, but I’m a bit irked with myself for not tipping it at 1.75). It was also very surprising that Hamilton’s run of pole positions came to an end with twelfth. One suspects he must’ve damaged the car when he went rallying at the Parabolica. Force India also had a bad performance, both cars leaving the stage in Q2 (I reckon Sutil’s impeding of Hamilton, who strongly blamed himself, will lead to a penalty).
Q3 was a bit weird. Not Vettel easily getting pole, but Hulkenberg storming to third. Even last year when the Sauber was pretty racy they never managed such a feat (though Perez did rise from twelfth to second). Ferrari buggered up their towing tactic, which saw Massa fourth and Alonso both fifth and irate on the radio (apparently telling the team they were all idiots). Toro Rosso had a great day to get both cars into Q3, though Vergne’s off-road rally action meant he could only get tenth, with Ricciardo (Italian for ‘always smiling’) nabbing seventh. Perez and Button were eighth and ninth respectively, which is a nice solid result for McLaren.
Sadly, I think Vettel’s just going to drive off into the sunset, and will spend most of the race all by himself. The Red Bull was fastest in qualifying and looked very strong on heavy fuel runs too. I have nothing against Vettel, but a new champion would be refreshing.
It’ll be interesting to see how Hulkenberg can do. I rate the German very highly, and if Ferrari weren’t thinking of him as a replacement for Massa before they certainly will be thinking of it now. His car will not be fast enough on race pace to match the likes of Alonso, but if it rains (more on that below) then it’s worth considering he’s extremely good in such wet-dry changeable conditions (cf his 2010 Interlagos pole position and the 2012 Interlagos race, where he was vying to win for Force India prior to a small collision with Hamilton).
Hamilton, speaking to lovely Lee McKenzie, entirely blamed himself for driving too badly. I do think it’s good when drivers take responsibility and don’t just blame the team *cough*DiResta*cough* but this was too far. It sounded like he was being too hard on himself, and I wonder if, psychologically, he’ll be there tomorrow. Then again, when his girlfriend broke up with him it prompted his first race win with Mercedes.
Alonso, however, did no media interviews (apparently). That after shouting at the team (reportedly calling them idiots, my Italian is non-existent so I cannot confirm or deny that).
Currently (as of 4pm UK time) the weather forecasts are that rain is unlikely, but possible, during the race.
The Red Bull looks very good indeed. So, boringly, I’ve backed them at 2.1 with Ladbrokes to both get a podium. Whilst a big Hulkenberg fan I don’t think his Sauber will have the pace to go much further and will probably drift backwards, and whilst Alonso could beat Webber, the Aussie will be glad to know that Hamilton and Raikkonen are some way down the field. Degradation is low, as is the difference between medium and hard compounds, and with one stop expected (barring rain) there’s limited scope for strategic shenanigans.
My suspicion is that Vettel will just drive off, and Webber will comfortably be on the podium. It’ll be interesting to see how Hulkenberg does. I was tempted to back him for a podium (10 or so on Betfair) as he did get the third on the grid in the dry (unlike Bottas at Canada or himself at Interlagos 2010). Fisichella had a similarly unexpectedly good qualifying at Spa for Force India a while ago, and competed for the win, so I might put a pound or two on Hulkenberg.
So, one tip: Red Bull to both get a podium at 2.1 with Ladbrokes.