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Max and Lewis set up a genuine Texan thriller

NEWS STORY
23/10/2021

Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 30 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38 degrees. Despite being bright and sunny, race control claims there is a 40% chance of rain. Wow!

It's fair to say that heading into the session it is almost impossible to make any predictions.

While Mercedes totally dominated FP1, it clearly lost ground in FP2, and this morning, following overnight work in the Red Bull simulator by Sebastien Buemi, the Austrian team appeared to have the edge.

To further muddy the waters, the clampdown on track limits meant that Hamilton and Verstappen had their best times deleted and while this meant that Perez topped the timesheets this shouldn't take anything away from the Mexican who has looked good all weekend.

Like yesterday, the afternoon heat it likely to cause problems with the tyres, while traffic and those pesky track limits will surely add to the fun.

Then, of course, there is the question of engine reliability, with all eyes on Mercedes where Bottas takes a 5-place hit after taking on his sixth ICE of the season.

Also taking penalties are Vettel, Russell and Alonso who had a complete engine change overnight.

Other than Mercedes and Red Bull, Ferrari is looking good, as is McLaren, while Gasly looks set for another Q3 appearance.

The Alfas seem settled here, but then so do both Williams drivers.

It is likely that Mercedes and Red Bull will look to get to Q3 on mediums, but it is also likely that tomorrow's race is going to be a two-stoppers such are the issues with the increased temperatures this year.

In the moments before the start of Q1 it is revealed that the rear wings on both Red Bulls have been changes after cracks were discovered, thought to have been inflicted by the track's notorious bumps.

The lights go green and Stroll leads Schumacher and Mazepin out, followed by Leclerc.

"Why did we go out so early," asks Stroll, who probably hasn't heard about the possibility of rain.

"All eight races at COTA have been won from the front row," Pirelli helpfully reminds us as Verstappen, Perez and the Mercedes pair head out.

Both Haas drivers are in the 1:37s, while Stroll posts a far more sensible 35.983.

That said, Mazepin has his time deleted, the Russian having a pretty dire weekend.

Verstappen posts 34.521 and Perez 34.575 as the Mercedes pair crank up for their first flying laps.

Bottas goes quickest in S2, but traffic in the first and final sectors mean he can only manage a 34.659, while teammate Hamilton posts a 34.797.

Leclerc goes fifth, ahead of Vettel, Giovinazzi and Stroll, however a 34.407 sees Ricciardo go quickest.

A 34.551 from Norris makes it a McLaren 1-3.

"Come on, what... I mean seriously," shout Vettel as he encounters a very slow Haas on the racing line. Take a guess.

Mazepin, Stroll and Raikkonen have their times deleted as Sainz goes fourth with a 34.558.

No purples but Verstappen improves to 34.352 to retake the top spot.

Meanwhile, Mazepin could be under investigation for the Vettel incident.

Perez goes second with a 34.369.

With less than 4 minutes remaining, Alonso, Latifi, Schumacher, Raikkonen and Mazepin comprise the drop zone, the latter two yet to post 'legal' times.

While the Bulls have sensibly settled for their times, as have Sainz and the McLarens, the Mercedes pair are amongst those coming out for another go.

Bottas posts a PB in S1, as does Hamilton. However, Leclerc goes quickest in the opening sector.

The yellows are briefly waved after Giovinazzi spins as the Mercedes pair back off and abort their laps.

Raikkonen can only manage 18th, while Leclerc goes quickest with a 34.153.

A late charge sees Ocon go 13th, while Vettel goes 10th and Tsunoda 11th.

Gasly goes 7th, which means Stroll falls at the first hurdle.

Quickest is Leclerc, ahead of Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel.

We lose Stroll, Latifi, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin.

While there will be no further action over Mazepin's issue with Vettel, another issue involving the Russian, this time with Stroll, has been noted.

The Mercedes pair are first out for Q2 and as expected they are sporting mediums, as is Verstappen and Leclerc, as Red Bull and Ferrari split their strategies. Indeed a number of teams have their drivers on different compounds.

Bottas posts 33.959 but is instantly deposed by his teammate who posts a 33.797.

However, Verstappen responds with a 33.464, while Perez posts 34.074.

At which point not only does the Mexican have his time deleted but the timing screen reveals that he is on mediums like his teammate.

Norris goes third (33.880), ahead of Leclerc, Bottas, Sainz, Gasly and Ocon. Sainz being the highest placed driver on softs.

With 7 minutes remaining, Perez has yet to post a legal time, as has Ricciardo, while Russell, Vettel and Giovinazzi have yet to appear. Then again, Vettel and Russell both have grid penalties.

Perez heads out for another go as the final assault gets underway. He is followed by Russell and Ricciardo.

Though he is third, Norris also heads out as do Sainz and Gasly.

PBs in the first two sectors are followed by a weak S3, which sees Perez cross the line at 34.178 to go 7th.

Not the most impressive of openings to a lap from Ricciardo, the Australian crossing the line at 34.643 to go ninth.

Alonso can only manage 13th, while Tsunoda goes tenth.

Vettel goes twelfth and Russell 13th, which means Ricciardo survives by the skin of his teeth, unlike Ocon as both Alpines go out.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Hamilton, Norris, Leclerc, Bottas, Sainz, Perez, Gasly, Ricciardo and Tsunoda.

We lose Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Alonso and Russell.

Check out our Saturday gallery from COTA, here.

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