I don’t think many people would argue with the statement that 2011’s Formula One qualifying sessions have been some of the dullest in years. Even at places like Canada (my favourite circuit of the season), Saturdays have been terrible.
So I headed into Silverstone expecting very little, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!
Even though the first and final sessions were cut short by rain, the limited time on track was probably closer and more exciting than any previous 2011 session.
I don’t think we should look to these new rule changes for thanks, though. (The British GP marks the end of blown diffusers). I think today’s excitement lies solely at the feet of British weather!
Nearly every car took to the track as the threat of rain loomed over Silverstone.
Paul Di Resta set a first time of 1:36:372, but he was soon toppled by faster cars. It was great—just four minutes in, there were 13 times up on the board.
At this early stage, it seemed as though Ferrari were the best, followed by Red Bull, and then probably Williams. Neither McLaren driver was able to make much of a difference, but both were safe for now.
About half way through the session, little drops of rain began to fall, but the track seemed split between wet and dry sections.
We got to see how tough the Ferrari car is when Fernando Alonso lost grip and found himself on wet track before having to drive "rally-cross style" over what must have felt like miles of gravel. Alonso skilfully survived without beaching his car and went on to set times that indicated no damage at all!
The session was ended with six minutes left when the heavens opened.
I guess normally I would have been disappointed by having the session cut short so early on, but to be perfectly honest, the mad rush to set times beforehand had been more than enough to keep me interested.
The changing conditions also led to a very welcome promotion into Q2 for Heikki Kovalianen. The ex-McLaren man has always looked the best of the new team drivers, and his success in Q1 came at the expense of the severely under-pressure Torro Rosso drivers.
Q1 Top Three
Jamie Alguersuari, Sebastian Buemi, Timo Glock, Jarno Trulli, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Daniel Ricciardo (who replaces Narain Karthikeyan at HRT)
There was no real rush as Q2 started, as the weather looked as though it would hold for the 15-minute session.
The Mercedes drivers ventured out on intermediate tires, but it quickly became clear that the track had dried enough to warrant dry tires. The circuit was far from perfect, though, and this is what contributed to such a great Q2.
As the track dried, the conditions changed constantly, and no driver ever felt safe enough to sit in the pits for too long.
Nick Heidfeld eventually set the first time of 1:41:657, but when you consider that Felipe Massa’s eventual pole time was 1:31:640 you can really gauge how much the track changed!
Again, Williams looked very strong in the second session, and also again, McLaren looked very mediocre.
With just eight minutes left, times were dropping all over the grid, and the likelihood of a big-name dropout increased. In fact, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and both Ferrari drivers occupied the drop out zone at this point!
Whilst Rosberg, Hamilton, and the Ferrari guys were able to claw their way through, Schumacher was unable to find a time and finished a very uncomfortable P13.
There were some great last-minute performances from Jenson Button and Paul Di Rest, too, to keep us all entertained.
Button had looked very off color all session and was forced to put in a last-minute super lap to finish P4, whilst Di Resta set only one time the whole session! (This time was good enough to pass him through into Q3).
Q2 Top Three
Adrian Sutil, Sergio Perez, Michael Schumacher, Vitaly Petrov, Rubens Barrichello, Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen
Q3 was a strange one, really.
Even though the session was decided by everyone’s first runs (due to rain), it somehow still maintained a decent enough pace.
With the threat of rain again looming over the 10 remaining drivers, all but Kamui Kobayashi raced out for an early lap.
The first time was set by Vettel (1:30:431), but he was quickly toppled by Mark Webber.
As the other times followed, it became clear that Alonso was the only man even close to battling the Red Bulls.
The big news in Q3 was the continued slowness of McLaren. Jenson Button managed an okay P5, but Lewis Hamilton completed his lap on used soft tires… why? This resulted in the McLaren man being well off the pace and in P10 as the rain began to fall again.
With two minutes still left, the session was effectively over, but Nico Rosberg did his best to keep us all entertained by charging around the track in a last minute attempt to get up the standings. The Mercedes man was unfortunately unable to finish his lap, but his semi-drift lap had been enough to keep a smile on my face.
Mark Webber has looked unbeatable all weekend, and frankly you’d be a mad man to bet against a Webber victory tomorrow.
I’m slightly worried about DRS on the long-hanger straight, as I think it’ll take the sting out of close racing.
However, Ferrari have looked much better, and Vettel has looked a little bit uncomfortable.
If you take all this and add very unpredictable weather conditions, we could be in for a classic!
1 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:30.399
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:30.431
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:30.516
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:31.124
5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.898
6 Paul Di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:31.929
7 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:31.933
8 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:32.128
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:32.209
10 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.376
11 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:32.617
12 Sergio Perez Sauber 1:32.624
13 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:32.656
14 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:32.734
15 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:33.119
16 Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:33.805
17 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1:34.821
18 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:35.245
19 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:35.749
20 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:36.203
21 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:36.456
22 Jerome d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:37.154
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi Hispania-Cosworth 1:37.484
24 Daniel Ricciardo Hispania-Cosworth 1:38.059