Practice Sessions, FP1/FP2/FP3:
The weather was all fine for the three practice sessions, there were some clouds during Friday but it didn’t hinder any of the team’s programs for the day. It was busy all the time on track as all the drivers did a lot of laps in order to gain data of the tyres and the car handling around the circuit. As we have already seen during the season, there were a lot of drivers who flat spotted their tyres while breaking and there was a lot of slipping & sliding too. Overall the Mercedes were still doing a fine job ahead but then Red Bull, Williams looked very good, be it on one lap pace or on the long runs. It still looked in the bag for Mercedes unless there was any issue with either of their cars, the final podium position and the remaining 7 places was to be decided.
Much was said about SFI chances for this weekend and a lot of TV pundits were putting their money on the Anglo-Indian team for the final place on the podium. Naturally the team had to live upto the expectations of not only the pundits but also themselves and the fans. All through the practice session, the team was looking pretty stable and surely had the pace to match the big guns. The long run pace was the weapon that the team was banking on for Sunday; they were a little short on the one lap pace though which got them worried. They hovered around that P11 to P14 mark but the aim was to get into Q3 with both cars which I think was possible with only one car looking at the one lap pace during practice.
The pole battle was obviously between Rosberg & Hamilton with the British driver having the upper hand according to history. But history is not always right as Rosberg took pole position, just 0.079 seconds ahead of his teammate Hamilton who made a mistake on his fast lap which costed him dearly in the end. Vettel completed the top 3 as Massa, Bottas & Vergne made their way into Q3 comfortably. Gutierrez was anon-starter in qualifying due to crash in FP3 while Maldonado once again couldn’t make it to Q2 along with the usual Marussia & Caterham; although Bianchi looked very good to make it to Q2 at one point.
It was not looking good for both the SFI drivers even during the first part of qualifying. They made it through to Q2 but it was hard work certainly. They looked much better in Q2 but it was still not enough for them to break into Q3. Hulkenberg came close but only managed P11 with Perez qualified at P13. They pretty much ended where they were finishing during practice session but the race pace scene was all together a different thing. Things were looking much better for race preparation for the drivers with them weighing up the one stop option and push for double points and a possible podium.
A fine weather to go racing as everyone geared up for the seventh race of the season and see which Mercedes take the winning honours and who ends up with the final podium position with a fight between Red Bull, Williams & SFI. For the second race running we witnessed a safety car deployment on the first lap of the race as this time the two Marussia’s collided taking each other out. It also ended Chilton’s record of 25 consecutive race finishes. Meanwhile Rosberg managed to keep his P1 place intact whereas Hamilton lost a place to Vettel which he quickly got it back after SC was in. SFI duo made a steady start with Perez moving up to P11 while Hulkenberg lost a place to be at P12; the German started on soft tyres while most other around him were on super soft tyres.
The Rosberg-Hamilton duel continued as usual but the end was not the same. The duel took an interesting turn when both Mercedes driver reported power failure or loss of power and started losing time. Eventually, Hamilton suffered the brake failure and thus retired but Rosberg carried on in the stricken Mercedes car. His problems were not over as everyone behind him were gaining on him so much so that they were within his DRS range and looked to overtake him for the lead. Apart from Perez; Massa, Ricciardo & Vettel all had firm eyes on winning the race. Behind this melee there was lot of retirements in the race while Ferrari was in fight with McLaren, STR for the remaining half of the top 10.
It was known that both the SFI drivers were going for on stop race as they continued racing while others around them stopped for tyre change. And soon they found themselves in a good position with Perez at P3 & Hulkenberg at P4 going up well; although Hulkenberg was always in fight with fellow German for P4 but the SFI driver managed to held on due to superior speed advantage. After their respective pitstops and Hamilton’s retirement, Perez found himself in the battle for the lead as he chased Rosberg well enough and held the Ricciardo-Vettel pressure well. Meanwhile Hulkenberg was at P5 behind this battle being chased by the Williams duo.
It all changed by the end of the race as the last few laps brought about loads of position changes that of the lead too; the lead didn’t go to Perez unfortunately but to Ricciardo who passed Perez as well as Rosberg with 3 laps to go to take his maiden F1 victory and it was also the maiden victory of the season for Red Bull. Rosberg fended off Perez but couldn’t stop Ricciardo and ended a fine P2 after his troubles. Vettel in the dying laps overtook Perez to complete the podium; he just avoided the Perez-Massa tangle as we saw from the on-board footage. Hulkenberg’s consistency continued as he finished at P5 losing a place to Button on the last lap when while fighting with Alonso, both went off at the hairpin; thereby Button went from P8 to P4 on the last lap, some Canadian luck you see.
And yes, after a brilliant drive from Perez, he came home with nothing but a 5 place grid penalty after he was hit by a raging Massa who was trying to overtake the Mexican going into T1. A controversial move which has got some very mixed reviews from all quarters but FIA deemed that Perez was at fault as he changed the racing line. Thankfully both drivers were unhurt physically but the mental hurt was there to be felt. I have seen lot of evidences and it seems both have some valid points which sort of bring only one conclusion that if it was to find fault then it was both of them. Massa did have plenty of room to go the inside of Perez going into the turn and although Perez might have gone a bit off from the racing line, his steering wheel at the time of impact was straight while for Massa, it was pointed towards right. It doesn’t mean he did it on purpose but in the moment to overtake, a slight turn was all that required for such a crash to happen.
All in all, I do think that it was slightly harsh on Perez with the penalty but that’s racing, team has to accept and move on. The team lost some big points and also the chance to get ahead of Ferrari in the CC. If Perez had finished the race gathering those 12 or 15 points then SFI would have got ahead of Ferrari up to P3 but now they stand 10 points behind with 77 at P4. Also, thanks to Hulkenberg that the team is sitting firmly at P4, his 7 out of 7 points finishes has certainly not gone under the radar, a tremendous effort from the German and the team. There is no doubt that the team effort has got SFI some eyeballs and they are always termed as dark horse for podium finishes this season. We now move to an unknown territory with Austrian GP coming up (the last race happened in 2003) in two weeks time. I am expecting lot of running on Friday as all the teams get up to speed on the track which making a return to the calender.
Thank you for reading