There must have been some anxious moments at the BBC as delay after delay pushed this afternoon’s F1 qualifying closer to the start time of Strictly Come Dancing (and the big 50th anniversary Doctor Who, of course). As it was, Q3 didn’t get started until 5.30pm and well, was almost as good to watch as Abbey Clancy and co doing the Quick Step, wasn’t it?
And, as predictably as Mrs Crouch (or perhaps Ben Cohen) winning Strictly, Sebastian Vettel will start from pole tomorrow, but there was a faint sense of jeopardy, as nobody really seemed to have any idea when and where and how hard the rain would fall. Nine of the ten drivers in the shoot-out did one lap on full wets, before heading to the pits to change to intermediates. All except Romain Grosjean, who headed straight back out and promptly beat the full-wets time set by Vettel. Who equally promptly went back on top with his first lap on inters. It was going to be down to the last dance…
And Vettel blitzed it! Half a second quicker than Rosberg, who will start on the front row, and over a second quicker than Fernando Alonso who starts third — the nearest he’s been to the front in a while. Just behind him, Mark Webber will start his last grand prix in fourth place. Let’s hope he can still do something from there.
Behind Webber, and anxious that he doesn’t, are Hamilton and Grosjean. Everyone watching will need to keep an eye on those two heading to that first corner three rows from the front. The two Toro Rossos start in seventh and eight, Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and both ahead of Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg on row five. With his teammate, whom he’s made something of habit of out-qualifying recently on the second row, Massa might have been hoping for more in his last race for Ferrari.
Both Toro Rossos in the top ten meant someone else had to pay the price. Sadly one of them was Heikki Kovalainen, who seemed to have the pace, just not the luck. McLaren of course haven’t had the pace all season and both its cars failed the make the cut, Sergio Perez again out-qualifying Jenson Button (that’s 10-9 for the season Mr Whitmarsh), despite throwing the MP4-28 at the wall in the closing minutes. How many times this season have either driver wanted to do that? As Jenson Button told Lee Mackenzie: “one more day of pain..”
Both Force Indias were also in the Q2 group despite the best efforts of Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil to rally the increasingly-less competitive VJM06 in to the top ten. Talk about maximum attack! It looked like the Finns were in the white, orange and green cars not the number two Lotus and the number one Williams. KOV, DIR, BOT, PER, BUT, SUT will start number 11 to 16 tomorrow, two of them quite probably starting a grand prix for the very last time. At the least the forecast for tomorrow is less glum for Heikki and Paul’s swansongs.
Remarkably it seems most of the drivers starting in positions 17-22 will be racing next year, Maldonado (17th and top of the Q1 cut) in a Lotus, Gutierrez (18th) in a Sauber again. Among the Caterhams and Marussias only Charles Pic looks likely be making his last F1 start tomorrow, he’ll be pleased then with 19th. Van de Garde lines up next to him, ahead of the Marussias with Max Chilton at the very back.
For a while however, as the rain started to get its grip on the afternoon, Q1 looked like it might cause some upsets. Having at one stage or another already threatened Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen, the track suddenly and unexpectedly finding some grip in the last minute or so. Had Caterham and Marussia opted to play it a little more aggressively then at one stage it looked like it might just have been a bloodbath for the middle order. Odd they didn’t really, what with so much at stake for the team that grabs tenths place. Eventually back came the rain and Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez were handed designated grown-ups cards and stuck babysitting the kids at the back.
One more race then and it will be over for this year, for V8 engines, for Mark Webber, and for more than one other driver. There were times this afternoon when it looked like it would never even get started, so while it might be a predictable grand prix (though history suggests it won’t) we suggest you at least try to cherish it. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.