Hamilton shines as Ferrari falls apart

06/10/2018
NEWS STORY

Please, please, please will someone tell broadcasters that shouting about something doesn't actually make it exciting.

Then again, as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes cruise towards their fifth titles, we guess one can understand the need to ramp up the enthusiasm.

Funniest thing, in the wake of this morning's session, was Sky's team insisting that we appear to have "a fight on our hands", when the reality is that it was the weather conditions that allowed the Ferrari pair to finish second and third, Sebastian Vettel just 0.116s off Hamilton's pace.

Other than anything else, if Ferrari really is in with a chance, somebody forgot to tell Vettel, who all weekend has looked like a kid who has just learned that Father Christmas isn't real.

That said, despite Mercedes (and Hamilton's) superiority, the weather could still mix things up, both in this afternoon's session and tomorrow during the race, but even so, it would be merely postponing the inevitable.

Renault has been kept busy over the break, the French outfit having to rebuild Nico Hulkenberg's car following his off at the end of this morning's session. The good news, for the German, is that not only will the car be ready for this session, his gearbox appears to have escaped damage.

With this morning's session pretty much unrepresentative, we have to look back to FP2 to get an idea of how the midfield battle might play out, but even then, with most of the drivers covered by one second, it is hard to tell.

What we do know however, is the McLaren and Williams are struggling - as ever - and the Honda is proving troublesome, Franz Tost's demand that the Toro Rosso's must make it to Q3 looking increasingly unlikely.

Ahead of Q1, air temperature is 26.4 degrees C, while the track temperature is 27.9 degrees. While the sun is up there somewhere, thick cloud is preventing it from breaking through. As in FP3 it is quite blustery. There is a 60% chance of rain, though the radar suggests t will miss the circuit.

The lights go green and a few seconds later Vandoorne and Grosjean get things underway. The Ferrari pair are among the early risers.

All are on supers bar Vandoorne who has opted for softs.

The Belgian posts 32.170 to get things underway, but this soon beaten by Grosjean who stops the clock at 30.504.

Raikkonen posts 29.631 but Vettel responds with a 29.049.

Hamilton goes quickest in S1, maintaining a strong pace in S2 also. At the line it's 28.702, the Briton 0.3s up on Vettel in S3 alone.

Bottas goes third (29.297) and Verstappen fourth (29.480) as Ricciardo posts 29.806 to go sixth.

Vettel spins at the hairpin, while, moments later, Ericsson is off and in the barriers at T7. "It's over, I'm in the wall," reports the Swede.

The session is red flagged.

Replay shows the Swede ran wide and was merely a passenger as the Sauber headed off into the barriers causing damage at the front and rear.

Anticipating the re-start, the two Renaults head to the end of the pitlane.

The session resumes with 9:50 remaining.

Still to post a time, Vandoorne and Perez join the Renaults.

Strangely, very few others appear to be going out again just yet.

Sainz goes tenth, but is demoted when Hulkenberg goes ninth. Shortly after Perez posts 30.219 to go eighth only to be demoted when Magnussen improves with a 30.219.

With 4:30 remaining the drop zone comprises Alonso, Stroll, Ericsson, Sirotkin and Vandoorne, with the Toro Rossos hovering.

The top nine remain in their garages, as the rest head out... will someone pay the price for their complacency?

Perez is warned of "rain in the pitlane". However, currently tenth, the Mexican looks safe.

Hulkenberg, Leclerc and Stroll look set to improve, as does Galsy.

Hulkenberg remains 11thm but is demoted when Stroll improves and then Gasly.

Leclerc goes sixth, which pushed Alonso into the drop zone and Hulkenberg also as Sainz posts 30.587 to go 12th.

Stroll is through to Q3, as are both Toro Rossos.

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Leclerc, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Ocon and Gasly.

We lose Hulkenberg, Sirotkin, Alonso, Vandoorne and Ericsson.

Hamilton and Bottas are first out for Q2, both sporting the softs. The Ferraris head out also, both on the supers.

On the out lap, Raikkonen passes Hamilton, as the dark clouds in the distance become ever more threatening. Hamilton is told "there's nothing on the radar".

While Hamilton is quickest in S1, Bottas is even quicker. The Briton is quickest in S2, as Raikkonen posts a 28.595. Moments later Hamilton posts 28.017 while Bottas responds with a 27.987.

In the pitlane, a mechanic is pushing Ricciardo's car. "I've a loss of power," reports the Australian.

Vettel goes third (28.279), ahead of Raikkonen and Verstappen, with Ocon sixth and Perez seventh.

Like the Mercedes', the Haas pair are on softs, as Grosjean goes eighth (29.678) and Magnussen tenth (30.226).

A 29.810 sees Gasly go ninth, with teammate Hartley taking tenth moments later. Will Franz Tost get his wish?

As work continues on Ricciardo's car, Horner looks on anxiously from the pit-wall.

With 6:12 remaining, Stroll heads out for his sole run. He is joined by Sainz.

Posting 30.714, Stroll remains 14th.

"Rain coming from T8," Sainz is told, as the Panthers, Grosjean, Leclerc, and Magnussen head out.

Bottas completes a sole lap on supersofts, though not sure why.

The rain is now visible and Magnussen confirms the deteriorating conditions by slowing. Moments later a big, big spin for Leclerc at T8 after touching the kerbs.

As Ricciardo screams in frustration, helmet still firmly in place, Leclerc wants to know why his team wasn't aware of the rain and didn't send him out earlier.

We lose Leclerc, Magnussen, Sainz, Stroll and Ricciardo.

Quickest was Bottas, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ocon, Perez, Grosjean, Gasly and Hartley.

As race control warns of low grip, the start of Q3 is delayed by a few minutes.

The Ferraris are at the end fo the pitlane for Q3, both on the Inters, while the Mercedes pair are on supers.

Vettel immediately suggests that the team may have made the wrong call. Indeed, nobody else is on Inters.

Both Ferraris duly pit and fit the supers... and as they leave the pitlane it begins to rain again.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka, here.

Ocon posts 30.126, but seconds later Hamilton crosses the line at 27.760, while Bottas can only manage 28.059.

Verstappen goes third, Hartley fourth and Gasly fifth.

The Ferraris are up against it, Raikkonen running a little wide at Spoon. The Finn goes fourth with a 29.521, with Vettel posting 32.192 after running wide at Spoon like his teammate.

Not for the first time, Ferrari has shot itself in the foot in terms of strategy.

A quick turnaround sees the Mercedes pair back on track already, keen to make their final assault before the serious rain arrives.

With 4:20 remaining, Vettel is ninth, just ahead of Perez.

As the Mercedes pair begin their final laps, Vettel is pushed back into his garage for fuel, while Grosjean is on track on softs.

A nasty wobble for Bottas as Raikkonen also struggles to keep it on the black stuff.

On the Ferrari pit-wall, Maurizio Arrivabene shakes his head in disbelief.

Now Vettel is off track, the German, having gone wide exiting Degner, now gets it all wrong at Spoon, like his teammate, but runs even wider.

A disaster for the Maranello outfit, which, having clearly made the wrong call on the Inters, had lost around ninety precious seconds. Ninety seconds which Mercedes made full use of before the conditions deteriorated. Even then however, while Raikkonen made a small error in his efforts to improve in the worsening conditions, Vettel's error was even bigger, once again the German appearing to crack under pressure.

"Masterstroke," says Toto Wolff as he high fives his colleagues on the pit-wall.

The session ends, and indeed it is a masterstroke for Mercedes and Hamilton, while Ferrari is on the back foot having first shot the other.

A strategic disaster for Force India also, the Panthers sandwiching Vettel in 8th and 10th, and while Grosjean has done well putting the Haas fifth on the grid, how about those Honda-powered Toro Rossos, not only making it to Q3 but qualifying sixth and seventh.

The weather has been all over the place today and one can only hope that this continues to be the case tomorrow, as we need some added spice for a race which Mercedes and Hamilton threaten to walk away with.

"The team have done an amazing job this weekend," says Hamilton at session end, "and the call that we made to go out for Q3, which is probably the most difficult call - you saw all of us fumbling and kind of trying to figure out what to do - the team just were spot on with it and gave us the opportunity to grab this pole position.

"While it was a bit of an anti-climax, because we didn't get to do the last lap, it's still... it's my 80th (pole), I can't believe I have 80, and I couldn't have done it without the team.

"We worked so hard on this car to refine it, to improve it in all areas. And even in ourselves, and how we function, the processes that we go through, our communication, everything. And so, it's really just such an honour to race for this team, for the guys and I'm just so thankful. Big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory. I'm so proud to be on this journey with them. I never in a million years thought I would get to 80."

Asked about Ferrari's struggles, he adds: "It is so difficult out there to make the right call but I think that's another real big difference that we as a team have made this year. Every team has smart people but ultimately, when it comes to being under pressure, making the right decisions, the right calls, that's why we are the best team in the world. And rightly so, they deserve that.

"The team was really reactive again," says Bottas. "We did the right decisions with the rain. Obviously, a real shame for everyone that it started raining but tomorrow should be some sun.

"I think for me, honestly practice three this morning was very difficult," he admits. "I didn't find the car good at all, so we made some changes to build up the confidence. Q2, I was the quickest. Q3, just had that one lap, which was not quite perfect in the middle and the last sector. So I was waiting for the second run - but anyway, it's not a bad starting position.

"When it's wet like this you can't use the kerbs," he adds, "but you still need to be absolutely on the limit. So, I did enjoy that. I just know there was a couple of corners where I could have done a better job - but yeah, let's see tomorrow."

"I think realistically, normally we would be pretty close to Ferrari," says Verstappen, "but it would be hard to beat them... but we made the right call in Q3.

"Of course, very happy to be third. A shame we couldn't give the fans a really cool Q3 but, y'know, it's great to see them over here. They're so passionate about Formula One. Even when it's raining, they just stay. When it's dark and the mechanics are working on the car, they're also staying on the grandstands. It's quite crazy to see - but in one way also it's amazing."

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka, here.

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Published: 06/10/2018
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