After a two-hour long qualifying session – one of the longest-ever – Valterri Bottas is our polesitter for tomorrow’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
My report, however, starts yesterday.
Last night, it was announced that Pierre Gasly would start from the pitlane on Sunday after he failed to stop at the weighbridge in Free Practice 2. As the Frenchman entered the pitlane, two screens to his right were showing that he had been randomly selected to be weighed at the weighbridge.
Gasly ignored these and went to his pit box, where Red Bull carried out a practice pitstop before wheeling Gasly’s car back into the garage.
This did not please the stewards who considered Gasly to be in breach of Article 29.1 a). They said in their report, “The Stewards reviewed video evidence and heard from [Gasly] and determined that the driver failed to stop for weighing when required to do so. Under Article 29.1 a) the penalty for this infringement is specified to be for the car to start from the pitlane.”
Ouch. Gasly has to start from the pit lane after failing to stop for the weigh bridge in practice pic.twitter.com/uIMow51U2B
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) April 26, 2019
Another driver who comes into today’s qualifying with a penalty is Antonio Giovinazzi, who has a ten-place grid penalty after replacing his control electronics.
Confirmation from the FIA of Giovinazzi’s grid penalty pic.twitter.com/CC5FC2oIMX
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) April 26, 2019
Now, onto qualifying and something which nearly caught drivers out in Q1 was the rapid track evolution. Lewis Hamilton ended up two seconds off the fastest time after the initial runs because of this but was able to secure his place in Q2 after another run.
Slipstream helped many drivers with Pierre Gasly able to get a tow down the main straight as he finished fastest in Q1. The tow is estimated to be worth around three or four-tenths of a second. Despite Gasly’s excellent run in Q1, Christian Horner told Sky Sports’ David Croft and Paul di Resta that the team would not be using him strategically in the rest of qualifying.
“I can’t see the benefit of that because you’d have to commit Pierre on that set of tyres [that he set his fastest lap time in Q2 on],” he said. That’s not something we’d really consider.”
Williams are still the slowest team and George Russell knows this. He told Sky Sports’ Natalie Pinkham, “We are massively off the pace but that is expected as we didn’t bring any upgrades.” These upgrades should come in Barcelona.
To make matters worse, Robert Kubica had a massive crash at turn eight. Kubica took too much of the inside kerb, clipping the inside wall, breaking his front-left suspension and going straight into the barriers with a 21G impact.
Renault didn’t fare much better than Williams with Nico Hulkenberg unable to get out of Q1 and Daniel Ricciardo just scraping into Q2. Ricciardo struggled on his earlier runs having a major lock up in the downhill braking zone at turn 15 which compromised his lap time.
“Just a lack of confidence,” Hulkenberg told Sky Sports’ Natalie Pinkham. “I didn’t really feel at home and happy in the car any time this weekend. We need to investigate, obviously, after this weekend. Today’s not a good day but we’ll still race hard tomorrow.”
Romain Grosjean was surprised to get knocked out of Q1 as he felt good in the car but clearly he lacked pace. He was unaffected by the red flag brought out after Kubica’s crash at the end of the session.
Lance Stroll now has the longest active streak of Q1 eliminations on the grid with eight consecutive eliminations. Today, he was hindered by a foggy visor.
Another red flag came out in Q2. This time it was Charles Leclerc who locked up coming into turn eight and slammed into the barriers. Immediately, he came on the team radio and chastised himself, “I am stupid. I am stupid.”
“I deserve what happened today,” Leclerc told Natalie Pinkham. “I’ve been stupid, like I said on the radio. I’ve calmed down but I still think I’m stupid. I don’t want to say anything stupid but after FP1, FP2, FP3 and Q1, pole was possible today.”
No excuses. I've been useless. I will push to have a better tomorrow.
Sorry to all the people supporting us and even more to the whole team that deserved so much better.
????: @motorsportpics1 pic.twitter.com/F8rDEr2L0A
— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) April 27, 2019
Leclerc’s time that he set on the medium compound tyres before his crash was good enough to get him through to Q3 so, barring any penalties, he will start tenth.
After the delay, lap times were slower due to the lower track temperature with drivers setting personal bests that weren’t fast enough to get them out of the elimination zone. Ricciardo, Alexander Albon and Kevin Magnussen were caught out by this.
While trying to improve, both Albon and Magnussen made mistakes. Albon gave the wall on the exit of turn 15 a massive clout, sacrificing a few tenths of a second, while Magnussen locked up into turn two, aborting his lap time by going down the escape road.
Max Verstappen took a different approach to Q3 as he chose to go out for one run instead of two runs because he only had one set of tyres. This meant that he was not on the track during the final few minutes of qualifying when the other eight runners in this session were. Verstappen qualified fourth today.
Mercedes seemed to compromise themselves by doing a practice start at the end of the pitlane before going out for their final run as they ended up in traffic. However, the traffic benefitted them as they were able to get tows down the main straight which helped Bottas achieve pole. Hamilton will line up alongside him on the front row.
Paul di Resta interviewed the top three after qualifying, speaking first to Bottas.
“As a team, it’s really good to be where we are after a difficult practice,” he said. “It was getting trickier and trickier. We’re not supposed to race this late here.”
Hamilton said, “It’s been so close all weekend. Ferrari have looked incredibly quick. This is a massively great result for us.”
Vettel said, “I had no tow to close the lap so that cost a bit. We were expecting to have a better session with Charles and myself.”
And finally, a mention for Antonio Giovinazzi who not only got into Q3 for the first time in his career but out-qualified his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 27, 2019