Qualifying started with an engine change for Valtteri Bottas ahead of FP3 and both Ferrari’s led the session so as the teams prepared to go for pole position, they did so with new upgrades across the grid. Sebastian Vettel also experienced a water leak that required a new power unit. This is the second of the four allowed for this season and you can see where each team stands right here.
The Spanish Grand Prix is the first race back in Europe and normally marks the arrival of significant chassis updates as well as all working components on an F1 car. The first four races expose weaknesses and reveal competitive strengths of their adversaries so in order to progress, teams are forced to engage in what we call the development war. The race itself will expose just how effective those upgrades will be.
An interesting part of this large upgrade is that some teams who were running competitively in the mid or higher part of the grid could suddenly struggle to continue doing so if they missed the upgrade target and competitors didn’t.
Intriguingly, the FIA agreed to extend the DRS zone in Spain in order to aid in overtaking after a processional Russian Grand Prix. I am sure they have done the math(s) but it seems to me an handy solution would be to retain the DRS zone but make the delta two seconds instead of one second meaning that cars following by 2s or less can use DRS. That would keep the DRS zone paint stripes but that’s just my hunch.
Vettel took to the track but experienced technical issues on his maiden run on the new power unit. He did set initial top time but was immediately eclipsed by Lewis Hamilton.
Haas F1’s Romain Grosjean spun on his first attempt and left it late with just two minutes left in Q1 to set P7 while his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, set P8.
Ericsson, Palmer, Stroll, Vandoorne and Kvyat were out in Q1. Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Ocon, Sainz, Magnussen, Perez, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Masssa and Wehrelin all made it through. A big achievement for Sauber and Pascal.
Teams started their initial runs on the Soft compounds which were to be the race-start tires. The key here was going to be saving as many soft compounds as you can for the race and a possible soft-soft-medium strategy.
Hamilton and Vettel led the time sheet on their initial runs and it started to prove that Ferrari had a slight advantage in sector 2 while Mercedes had an advantage in sector 3. It was all very close.
Romain Grosjean ran wide on his final attempt putting him out in Q2 while Alonso went P10 but it was not to be for Magnussen, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Wehrlein. A very disappointing result for Renault who had both cars miss Q3 suggesting the new upgrades may not be flattering the Spanish circuit.
Initial runs placed both Mercedes at the top in the 1:19’s and the Ferrari just a few tenths behind them. The Red Bull’s followed Ferrari with over half a second between Verstappen and Ricciardo.
As NBC Sports broadcaster, Steve Matchett, rightly pointed out, the delta between Mercedes and Ferrari was down to the third sector with Hamilton having a four tenths advantage.
As the teams started their final runs with just 2:42 to play, it was McLaren and Force India out first to set their first times of the session.
Bottas and Hamilton led Vettel and Raikkonen for their final runs.
Mercedes held on to take pole for Lewis Hamilton and was the fifth year in a row that they’ve taken pole in Spain. Vettel was faster than anyone in sector one and two but it was that third sector that gave Mercedes the top spot.
It’s worth noting that McLaren and Fernando Alonso qualified in P7 for the very first time in 2017.