Chinese GP – Qualifying

1-2-3 on the grid tomorrow
1-2-3 on the grid tomorrow

So at the end of qualifying, I asked the husband what he would give it out of 10 and he said “3…if that”. Because bizarrely I have some time on my hands (mainly due to the fact it NEVER seems to stop raining outside), I nonetheless decided to shoot off a quick blog. And believe me it will be quick as there was naff all action on track for most of the qualifying hour.

As this was the first race that the BBC was covering live in 2013, I decided to tune in and see how the newly united trio of Suzi Perry, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan (whose grand return had even been triumphantly trailered on the BBC Sport website) fared. Well in a nutshell, not too well. Although the matey joshing and banter got a mite tedious at times between Jake, DC and Eddie, there was an undeniable chemistry and warm rapport between them. Early days and all that but the dynamic between the presenters now feels quite stilted and oddly tense. I like Suzi Perry a lot and respect her petrolhead credentials but something isn’t working.

The new BBC line-up
The new BBC line-up

Previously on F1, we had all that nasty business with team orders. Disobeyed by the Official New Villain in Formula 1, Sebastian Vettel, and followed to the letter by Nico Rosberg. So naturally we began with a montage of racing moments involving the use of team orders back in the Olden Days featuring:

Mansell and Patrese, 1992
Mansell and Patrese, 1992

1992, Williams: Patrese letting team-mate Mansell through to win the French GP – pretty unnecessary given Mansell already had a commanding lead in the title race and his closest challenger was er Patrese.

1997, Williams/McLaren: Villenueve letting Hakkinen and DC through to secure a 1-2 at Jerez – Villeneuve with his damaged car (yes we all know why) was being caught by both McLarens. But with a world title at stake it made sense in a way although I feel a bit uncomfortable about inter-team orders .

2002, Ferrari: Barrichello letting Schumacher through to win the Austrian GP – documented ad infinitum and not Ferrari’s finest hour.

2008, Renault: Piquet crashing to order to bring out the safety car and assist Alonso in winning the Singapore GP – even now a quite unbelievable and shocking turn of events.

And with the montage guys working overtime we had another load of footage from the Olden Days where team mates refused to obey team orders. And who better to be dispatched to investigate these murky waters than Eddie Jordan. He brought up his own episode as team boss at Jordan where he ordered Ralf Schumacher to hold station behind Damon Hill at the Belgian GP in 1998 to which I would make 3 immediate points:

  1. They were on the verge of a precious FIRST win for Jordan (and a 1-2 to boot) so really to jeopardise that would have been insane.
  2. The conditions were horrific and the race had seen numerous large crashes already.
  3. Ralf (bless him) wasn’t exactly known for having the supreme car control or prowess in the rain as his brother so any overtaking move would have been ahem risky.
Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher in Spa 1998
Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher in Spa 1998

Anyway since Malaysia, Vettel has been at pains to diffuse the row and mend fences. HANG ON…apparently he hasn’t. Apparently he would do it all over again and felt Mark didn’t deserve to win anyway. Way to make friends and gain influence Seb (actually he probably has lots of influence but few friends). He certainly has upset Eddie Jordan who declared in dramatic, disapproving tones that Seb was a “changed man” and had become much more arrogant. Furthermore (but I must stress I have heard this from no other source than Eddie Jordan!) the rumour is that Seb has been taking phone calls and advice from none other than the biggest villain of all time, MICHAEL SCHUMACHER. I might have known they’d try and blame Schuey somehow. Curses myself for ever deciding to watch F1 on the BBC.

Still lets crack on with qualifying. Precisely nothing, nada, rien happened for the first 10 minutes of Q1 and with 8 minutes remaining we had a great moment of excitement when someone – can’t even remember who – finally set a time.

And fast-forwarding to the relevant part as to who was in the Drop Zone of Doom, the bottom end of the grid looked like this: 17) Valtteri Bottas 18) Esteban Gutierrez 19) Jules Bianchi 20) Max Chilton 21) Charles Pic 22) Giedo van der Garde.

Q2 was marginally more exciting in that Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of the weekend so far. He was told over the radio that he was 0.5 seconds faster than his team-mate. I’m keeping a very close eye on driver relations at Mercedes. The road is long etc.

Meanwhile Webber running at P8 suddenly stopped on track and he was OUT of qualifying. It appeared he had a fuel pressure problem and they needed to quarantine ‘fuel bowsers’. BOWSERS?!?! Is this a technical term, or more Red Bull code? Every race is an education.

Bowser is the culprit apparently for Webber's fuel issues
Bowser is the culprit apparently for Webber’s fuel issues

Poor old Marky Mark ended up being demoted to the back of the grid as his car was under-fuelled. All Christian Horner must have wanted was an incident-free race weekend and there is controversy even before the race is underway. You couldn’t make it up.

Webber having (another) totally rubbish day at the office
Webber having (another) totally rubbish day at the office

Dumped out in Q2 were: Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil, Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Quite stunningly Daniel Ricciardo had made it through to the Top Ten Shoot-out which even elicited a ‘wow’ from Jenson Button when told over the radio. The Hulk deserves an honourable mention for scraping into Q3 as well (compare and contrast with his team-mate, Esteban Gutierrez, languishing in 18th place). The three fastest drivers incidentally from Q2 were Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel.

Daniel Ricciardo - suits a Red Bull hat doesn't he...!
Daniel Ricciardo – suits a Red Bull hat doesn’t he…!

Time for the Final Showdown and we all had to sit and twiddle our thumbs for an eternity before the cars all shot out like rats down a drainpipe with 3 minutes to go. The BIG point to note was that Vettel and Button were on the medium tyre compounds and all the others cars were on soft. This basically meant that Vettel and Button were sacrificing qualifying for race advantage.

Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver to set a time and had a blisteringly fast lap to put himself right up there in contention for pole. Nico Rosberg could not match his time and slotted himself into 2nd place until Hamilton and Alonso came out on track to do their flying laps. Hamilton seized pole and Alonso secured 3rd place – a mere 0.02 seconds was the difference between being on the front row and starting from the 2nd row).

Kimi clinching 2nd place in qualifying
Kimi clinching 2nd place in qualifying

Vettel didn’t manage to set a lap time as he locked up and spun so starts down in 9th place. Button was suddenly rushed out (McLaren admitted their strategy was to do the opposite of Red Bull once they both went down the medium tyre route) and managed to sneak into 8th place with Daniel Ricciardo hugely impressing after a brilliant qualifying performance. The front end of the grid lines up tomorrow as follows:

1) Lewis Hamilton 2) Kimi Raikkonen 3) Fernando Alonso 4) Nico Rosberg 5) Felipe Massa 6) Romain Grosjean 7) Daniel Ricciardo 8) Jenson Button 9) Sebastian Vettel 10) Nico Hulkenberg.

Not a vintage qualifying but a tantalisingly mixed-up grid. My ones to watch are Kimi, Button and Vettel with (oooooh this is SO tricky) Alonso to win.

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