Drivers and fans have been praising the Spanish GP’s decision to revert to the pre-2007 penultimate corner. Gone is the slow-speed chicane of Turns 14 and 15, in favour of a right-hander which will seriously punish the left-front tyre. The big question is whether the final corner will now be flat out. With low fuel and fresh, soft rubber, it should just about be possible.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull have a big lead of 129 points but Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari are set for a big fight to grab second place, which continued with the qualifying session for the 2023 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
There was a 30 per cent chance of rain ahead of the Qualifying session in Barcelona but there were drops in the paddock again with just five minutes until Q1 began. It was not enough yet to force the drivers onto intermediates but it did cause a bit of a stampede out of the pit lane.
The rain in Spain wasn’t dampening the atmosphere in the stands, where there as an incredible support for home heroes Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso, as the cars rolled out onto the track, led by the AlphaTauri drivers. And after just a few moments in Q1, Yuki Tsunoda lost it into Turn 12: you don’t often see F1 drivers struggling there, but he corrected himself, yet that moment spoiled his attempt at an early banker lap. George Russell reported “rain on the way” as he briefly went fastest with a 1:15.735. It didn’t last too long though as Esteban Ocon went nearly one second faster.
Two minutes later, we have a red flag, though it’s not quite clear why: Bottas lost control of his Alfa Romeo into Turn 10 – while Alex Albon went into the gravel at Turn 5. The FIA then confirmed the red flag was thrown because of “gravel on the track that needs to be cleaned up”. The changing conditions caused several cars to spin off in that last lap: Fernando Alonso was one of several drivers to go off, losing control of his car at the final corner. He got away with it though and was back out when the session resumed at the Circuit de Cataunya in Barcelona.
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There was another queue at the end of the pit lane as the cars got back out there. Conditions were definitely not easy. Max Verstappen edged out Oscar Piastri by 0.031s after his first flying lap. The final sector was still treacherous at the moment, but it didn’t stop the Dutchman from setting the fastest lap of the weekend. There was another spin, this time from Nyck de Vries in the AlphaTauri, saw a yellow flag for a few brief moments. He completely lost it and flew backwards into the gravel.
A fastest final sector from Hamilton moved him up to third. However, team-mate Russell was only 15th at that stage, while Sergio Perez was also in a little bit of trouble in 13th and 1.507s behind his Red Bull teammate. Charles Leclerc was also really struggling. His latest lap could only put him 16th, which was 0.080s slower than Sergio Perez, who was on the brink of elimination: “There is something wrong with my rear tyres,” he told his Maranello team who promised an investigation. Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc were struggling to get their tyres in the optimum temperature window.
Unfortunately Charles Leclerc was eliminated in Q1 alongside Valterri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Alex Albon and Logan Sargaent. Last year’s pole-sitter jumped out of the drop zone with a minute to go, but had used up his battery and couldn’t deliver another flying lap. A flurry of other drivers set quicker times as the session drew to a close and the Ferrari man ended up in a shock 19th position. That’s a nightmare for the Monegasque.
It was a nightmare Q1 for Charles and it was almost a similar fate for Sergio Perez who squeaked through in 15th, only one place above the drop zone. Max Verstappen was only ninth in the other Red Bull with Fernando Alonso down in 12th. That was pretty dramatic.
Q2 was under way with just one Ferrari car on track. Red Bull immediately wanted to get a banker lap on the board in case there were further incidents and if Q1 was anything to go by, it was very possible. A 1:12.760 from Max Verstappen was faster than Lewis Hamilton’s benchmark time from Q1, while Sergio Perez slotted into second place, but on used, soft tyres and Carlos Sainz went third.
Fernando Alonso went second but was half a second slower than Max Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton did set the fastest first sector but aborted his lap. George Russell was fifth, behind Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll. Russell had a big slide at Turn 11 which cost him time. Everyone was getting back out there on new soft tyres for the final minutes of Q2. At this stage the top five was Verstappen, Hamilton, Alonso, Ocon and Stroll, but it wa the bottom five we had to keep an eye on.
Carlos Sainz moved into second place to secure a Q3 spot, while ergio Sergio Perez and George Russell were both out and will start tomorrow’s race from P11 and P12. The Mexican just didn’t have the performance on his final lap, perhaps due to dirt on his tyres from the off he had two minutes earlier. We later saw a replay of Hamilton and Russell colliding at the end of Q2: Hamilton was behind his team-mate, who appeared to back off and Hamilton’s front right made contact with Russell’s front left.
The five drivers eliminated from Q2 were Sergio Perez, George Russell, Zhou Guanyu, Nyck De Vries and Yuki Tsunoda.
Q3 was under way and it was a brilliant lap from Max Verstappen – a 1:12.272. At that stage it was more than one second faster than anyone else. Lewis Hamilton slotted into second but was still nearly one second down on the Dutchman. Lando Norris was third, from Ocon, Carlos Sainz and Piastri. Everyone, apart from Max Verstappen, were on used soft tyres.
Nico Hulkenberg had been strong all weekend in Barcelona and decided to go for a flying lap when the others were in the garage. He went third, just behind Lewis Hamilton and ahead of Lando Norris, as the cars back on track for one last time in Q3. Qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix was coming to a climax. Nine drivers were out there on new, soft tyres: Carlos Sainz went P2 for the Maranello team with a great lap, while Fernando Alonso was pushed down to seventh!
Max Verstappen didn’t even bother with his final run because nobody could beat his first lap in Q3, so he was on pole position, while Carlos Sainz will start alongside him on the first row.
Q3 was done and these are the top ten drivers for tomorrow’s grid:
1) Max Verstappen
2) Carlos Sainz
3) Lando Norris
4) Pierre Gasly
5) Lewis Hamilton
6) Lance Stroll
8) Nico Hulkenberg
9) Fernando Alonso
10) Oscar Piastri