It was a very strange afternoon in the Austrian mountains for a variety of reasons.
Spielberg – Fernando Alonso matched his and Scuderia Ferrari’s best grid position of the season today, with a fourth place in Spielberg, to ensure his F14 T will line up on the second row of the grid. Of course, that’s very positive, especially given Fernando’s penchant for aggressive starts, but this was a very strange afternoon in the Austrian mountains for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the dominant force that is the Mercedes team tripped itself up, as a problem for Lewis Hamilton in Q3 caught out his team-mate Nico Rosberg, so that the German lines up in third place on the inside of the Spanish Ferrari driver. Yes, for the first time this season, a Mercedes is not on pole, although its power unit is. They’ve looked strong all weekend and Williams locked out the front row, naturally enough producing a few smiles down in the Prancing Horse garage as Felipe Massa, today’s pole man is still a popular figure in the Ferrari camp. This was the Brazilian’s first pole since he was fastest in a Ferrari at his home race in 2008. Alongside him is his team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The short lap makes for close times here and the slightest error leads to a big penalty, as some of the usual front runners found out. While Kimi Raikkonen struggled with the balance of his car and had to settle for eighth place on row four on the outside of Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso, the Finn is one place ahead of Lewis Hamilton, the Englishman off the front row for the first time this year. He is bound to be trying to charge up the order. Other big names in trouble include reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, who starts twelfth for Red Bull at the team’s home race and home track.
The unusual grid means that the start is going to see plenty of action and after that, it will be a case of the faster cars that haven’t qualified well trying to fight their way up the order. This means timing the tyre stops correctly could be decisive. A two stop is the most likely strategy, with the front runners running on Supersoft Pirellis at the start, before switching around lap 13 onto the Softs and taking on a final set of the harder compound around lap 42. However, for the cars further back on the grid, they could leave the Supersoft tyre for a short final stint. An interesting afternoon awaits..
Fernando Alonso: “I have mixed feelings after this qualifying, because on the one hand, this is the best result since early in the season, but it’s also true that the session was very unusual and it’s highly likely that the final order does not reflect the true hierarchy down the field. In Q2, I made a mistake at the final corner, which meant I had to try another run and in Q3, I went long in turn 3. But fourth place makes up for the disappointment of not having done a perfect lap and it should make us proud of what we have accomplished so far, because the updates we started bringing since Canada seem to indicate we are on the right road. With some faster cars behind us, we can expect a difficult race, in which defending will be as important as attacking. Now we must try and work out how to make the most of this advantage for as long as possible in terms of strategy and to have a solid race.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “In these two days I have found it more difficult to put together a good lap and again today in qualifying things did not go well. In Q3, I went out for just a single run on the Supersofts, but the mistakes made at the first corner affected my lap times. On my last run I locked the wheels, damaging the left front tyre, but at that point, I decided to keep on trying to improve. Even if eighth place is not a disaster, I am disappointed because we were quicker than that today, but I was never able to be consistent in the three sectors. Race pace is good and even if I am finding it a bit hard to get the tyres up to temperature, I will try my best tomorrow.”
Pat Fry: “If you look at the results of qualifying since the start of the year, today’s is definitely unusual, but putting all other considerations aside, all my congratulations go to Felipe, because I think he really deserved pole position. Here in Spielberg, your overall power counts for a lot and so starting from the second row must be seen as a good result. It’s very easy to make mistakes here, especially in the first corner and the last two and, as it’s a very short track, traffic can also create problems. Fernando got the most out of the car and tomorrow with him we will work in two directions, attacking those in front while defending from those behind such as Hamilton. Unfortunately, Kimi didn’t get a clean lap, because of a mistake at the first corner and now we will work on improving his package so he can have greater confidence in the car, because his qualities are out of question. The race pace we had on Friday is encouraging, equal to that of the Williams and Red Bull and so we can expect the race to be as tight as qualifying.”