Saturday 11 November 2017

Interlagos Qualifying - Bottas steps into the breach

Interlagos's reputation lives. The place where things happen - however unforeseen.

Valtteri Bottas stepped up when his team mate stepped out
Photo: Octane Photography
Today's Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying session contained just the latest manifestation. Take the guy who has just claimed his latest drivers' title of four and barely missed a beat in doing so. The guy also that following practice was firm favourite for pole. Who has 72 of the things to his name.

He only went and binned it in the opening seconds - after getting a swapper on at the fast Ferradura turn his Mercedes buried deep in the barriers.

Thus Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow's race from the back. Thus also qualifying almost immediately had its most potent protagonist removed.

Lewis seemed sanguine afterwards, but equally wasn't full of explanation about what occurred. "It shows we're all human and things happen," he mumbled.

Even so it was a quali session with plenty to anticipate. Mercedes had feared this weekend in advance but it in the event dominated practice. Practice also suggested that the other Merc of Valtteri Bottas was near to the pelt Lewis likely would have had in any case.

And indeed the fight for pole boiled down to Bottas versus that qualifying perennial Sebastian Vettel.

Come the end of the second part Seb's Ferrari appeared to be getting the upper hand, with a fine lap a tenth and a bit under Bottas's. At the start of Q3 Seb dipped further and was still eight hundredths clear of the Finn. And we know you don't get rich betting against Seb when he has a P1 scent in his nostrils. Particularly not on a Saturday. Particularly not in the final moments

Sebastian Vettel looked good for pole,
but was pipped at the last
Photo: Octane Photography
But this is Interlagos. The norm doesn't always prevail. Seb for once didn't improve on his final effort and Bottas blasted his way through the resultant sliver of light. He set a 1m 08.322, just 0.038 of a second under Seb's mark, for his third pole.

"It was so close with Sebastian all through the qualifying but I got a good lap at the end," said a content Bottas afterwards.

"Lewis out in the beginning was a shame for us but I'm glad I could stand up for the team."

It was timely for him too, after a spell since the summer break where he's drifted somewhat from the pace. Here though he continued his upturn that the previous couple of race weekends had hinted at.

"We've been working hard on the issues," Bottas went on, "everyone knows there have been many difficult races for me, but I managed to learn from them, solving every issue one at a time and going deep into myself.

"Last three races I'd say every time [there was] a step up, and here it's a lot better. Hard work will always pay off." It's typical of the Finn's stoicism.

Seb meanwhile was slightly rueful "I think I chickened out a little bit under brakes on the final run into Turn 1 and lost a bit too much time," he admitted. "From there, the lap was fine, but I knew I had a bit left in the final sector, the final corner, which I got, but by then I was already a bit much behind."

A distant fourth was Max Verstappen's reward
after an eventful session
Photo: Octane Photography
The other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen was third, two tenths off the top.

Only then did we have the recently-potent Red Bulls. The team came to Brazil with optimism but found its lack of power in the first and third sectors could not be overcome. Max Verstappen got fourth albeit six tenths off pole after a haphazard qualifying hour grumbling about his engine then showing comical confusion in the pit lane about whether he was being called to the weighbridge.

"I think we maximised the result, but 'pleased'? No not really," noted Max. "It's not our track with the long straights."

He was followed by stable mate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth, with again a gaping deficit - this time four tenths off on this short lap - and him unhappy with the supersoft tyres. It's amazing how even the most glowing reputations in this game can wane quickly. Daniel struggled for positive afterwards.

It gets no easier for him either as he adds ten to his qualifying slot tomorrow due to an engine penalty.

First beneficiary is Sergio Perez who'll start fifth having bounced back after a run of rounds in his Force India team mate Esteban Ocon's wake. Ocon indeed was another oddly off it and was only 11th in the order, which converts to 10th on the grid.

Fernando Alonso was next after Perez and particularly pleased with his effort - finally making good on what he's saying is a very good McLaren without penalties spoiling it. Nico Hulkenberg will start seventh, ahead of the warring Carlos Sainz and Felipe Massa. Both had got in the other's way in qualifying - Massa indeed alleged Sainz's baulk was deliberate. It remains to be seen what the stewards make of it.

Fernando Alonso was excellent and
will start tomorrow from sixth
Photo: Octane Photography
As for tomorrow, Bottas if he leads from the off will be in position to control things, but the Ferraris (and Red Bulls) come on stronger in race conditions plus the temperature is set to rise which also isn't good for the Mercedes. It could give us a close, intense, race particularly as overtaking as ever won't be easy.

Seb for one sounded confident. "For tomorrow our long run looked good, in particular against Valtteri, so let's see what happens tomorrow."

And Valtteri echoed Seb's words. "It's not going to be easy for sure - they're quick as hell," he conceded.

While Lewis Hamilton coming through the pack should be something to saviour, especially as he has little to deter him from attacking. He shouldn't be entirely ruled out. Particularly given where we are. "I'll try to have as much fun as possible," the new champion promised

Make sure you're in place tomorrow. Particularly given where we are.

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