Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
Would this morning’s qualifying session (UK time) be one fitting for such a momentous occasion as a 1000th grand prix?
Here’s how it went, team-by team.
Mercedes (Bottas POLE, Hamilton second)
Valterri ‘To whom it may concern’ Bottas, version 2.0 from Australia, was resurrected in China. David Croft, Sky Sports lead commentator, has christened him the ‘beard to be feared’.
He had good omens coming into the session as the driver quickest in free practice three has been on pole both in Australia and Bahrain. The Finn did just that, taking pole by just 0.023 seconds over his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, who didn’t improve on his first run in Q3.
Reflecting on his pole with Martin Brundle, Bottas said, “It’s been a good weekend so far. The lap was okay. Not completely how I wanted but, luckily, it was good enough for pole.”
Hamilton told Brundle, “I kept pushing him. I’ve been struggling and fighting the car all weekend. It was eight tenths, the gap, at one stage so to be as close as we were is a great result for the team. It’s evident this weekend that we’ve pulled some time [from Ferrari] in the corners.”
Ferrari (Vettel third, Leclerc fourth)
Ferrari were close but not close enough. Three tenths separated the Prancing Horses from the Silver Arrows.
Ferrari’s race pace looks good and they have more speed on the straights so, coupled with the DRS, they should be able to give the Mercedes a run for their money tomorrow. What a 1000th race it would be if my fortune cookie prediction is correct.
Like Mercedes, they start on the medium tyres tomorrow.
Sebastian Vettel explained to Brundle, “Right from Q1, they just seemed to start from a better place. I think there was maybe a little more but not enough to beat these guys [Mercedes]. When we get close, we have an advantage on a straight line.”
Red Bull-Honda (Verstappen fifth, Gasly sixth)
It was a case of what could’ve been for Red Bull today. Max Verstappen had prepared his flying lap as usual and then Vettel passed him on the outside around the turn 14 hairpin.
As Verstappen held back to avoid getting in Vettel’s dirty air, both the Renaults passed him. This all meant he couldn’t set another lap as he crossed the line to start his lap after the chequered flag had flown.
I think it’s best explained by Verstappen himself: “I’m just trying to be nice and everyone’s just f***ing it up.”
Something positive to take from qualifying for Red Bull is Pierre Gasly’s first Q3 participation of the situation, meaning he has sorted out the issues he had in qualifying in Australia and Bahrain.
Williams (Russell 17th, Kubica 18th)
Williams are closing the gap. It was 1.5 seconds to the nearest car in Bahrain and it is 1.1 seconds here in China. Unfortunately, the team was only promoted off the back row because Giovinazzi and Albon did not set times in Q1.
A lot of work still needs to be done. Will Sir Patrick Head’s involvement improve their fortunes? Only time will tell.
Robert Kubica explained why the Williams struggled today, “The balance shift [sic] quite a lot. It took me by surprise. We just have to understand why we have those shifts [so that it doesn’t take us by surprise in the later rounds]. It will be a long race. We will have to see how the car handles. It is difficult to expect what will happen.
Toro Rosso (Kvyat 11th, Albon 20th)
Alexander Albon did not participate in qualifying after a massive accident he had coming out of the final corner in free practice three. Albon went wide, got on the AstroTurf and sent the car into a spin, impacting the tyre barriers hard, destroying the rear end of the car.
Albon was annoyed at the crash. “I’m OK. More angry and disappointed than anything else. It was a big crash, bit of a silly one as well, too much AstroTurf, too much throttle. A little bit greedy. It’d be a bad excuse [to blame it on Albon being a rookie].”
Daniil Kvyat just missed out on a place in Q3 but it was another great performance from the Russian – he lines up 11th on the grid tomorrow.
Racing Point (Perez 12th, Stroll 16th)
Lance Stroll was eliminated from Q1 for the seventh consecutive qualifying session – he is making a habit of qualifying in 16th. Sergio Perez didn’t get much further, getting knocked out in Q2 – he will start 12th on the grid tomorrow.
The team are expecting an upgrade in Barcelona. In previous seasons, this upgrade has proven to be the catalyst for the team’s progression into consistent Q3 participations and points-scoring finishes.
Renault (Ricciardo seventh, Hulkenberg eighth)
Daniel Ricciardo made his way into Q3 for the first time this season, eventually out-qualifying his teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. They were best of the rest today largely by virtue of Haas not setting a lap time in Q3.
Haas (Magnussen ninth, Grosjean tenth)
I was expecting a Haas-Renault qualifying battle like we saw last year but Haas did not set a lap time in Q3. They did not have an extra set of tyres to do two runs in Q3 and probably thought that there was no need to go out at all as they didn’t have as much pace as the Renaults.
McLaren (Sainz 14th, Norris 15th)
McLaren weren’t expecting the performance they enjoyed in Bahrain this weekend but I don’t expect they would have planned to qualify 14th and 15th. Lando Norris did go wide out of the final corner so that wouldn’t have helped his lap time.
Alfa Romeo (Raikkonen 13th, Giovinazzi 19th)
Antonio Giovinazzi did not set a lap time in qualifying. He had suffered from problems in free practice and it seems that his bad luck continued. Kimi Raikkonen didn’t have much better luck as he didn’t manage to get into Q3 – he lines up 13th on the grid tomorrow.