With Colin Logan
Mercedes two weeks of celebration after winning both Drivers & Constructor’s World Championships are finally over as the team set about using new parts on the car during the last two race weekends of the 2017 season to test 2018 parts.
Mercedes is being very secretive about just which parts are being tested, but late on Friday night all attention focused on the wellbeing of the team, as one of the team’s minibuses was held up at gun point leaving the circuit, with shoots fired and a gun held to the head of the Mercedes engineers. A very worrying development and thankfully no one was injured, but it did bring back memories of the 2009 incident with Jenson Button being attacked by gunmen as he left the circuit before winning his championship.
Attention turned today to Renault and Toro Rosso, with angry exchanges being hurled by both team principles along with a threat to withhold engines and parts for the last race weekend from Toro Rosso. With Toro Rosso losing engines in Mexico and with both drivers suffering engine failures this weekend, temperatures have boiled over within the team which has resulted in Renault’s angry exchanges with Red Bull management.
Williams were surprised to lose Stroll’s Mercedes engine in FP3, a very strange total engine failure which is a rarity this year to see the normally reliable Mercedes power unit fail. This put pressure on the Williams team before qualifying to change the engine and be ready in time.
Felipe Massa, however was calm, having finally announced his second retirement from F1 on Wednesday, this is his final Brazilian GP and he was going to enjoy every second of it.
Q1, got under with Hamilton being first to start a flying lap, but did not finish it!
For the first time this year, Hamilton made a mistake, a huge mistake that saw him crash out pushing the Mercedes too hard on a cooling track; the back end snapped round and off Hamilton went into the tyre barriers.
The front suspension broken, gearbox damage, but pride was the main damage suffered today. Hamilton sat in the car for a long time, responding to the team’s radio question as to his condition, he replied slowly that he was not injured. Climbing out and walking away dejected looking from the car he returned to the pits and gave no reason for the crash other than “Well you saw it, what more can I add to it”.
Red Flag session delayed qualifying for ten minutes as Hamilton’s car was recovered and then we were racing again, with Raikkonen in the Ferrari going fastest in Q1, with both Sauber’s, P Gasly in the Toro Rosso and Stroll in the Williams joining Hamilton being out of qualifying.
Hartley who last weekend won the 2017 WEC Championship had taken his Toro Rosso into Q2 for the first time in only his third F1 outing, but he was also done for the day, saving tyres for the race or was it the engine he did not return to the track to set a time in Q2.
Light rain was falling round the circuit, but Bottas in the remaining Mercedes went fastest breaking the lap record for the circuit with a 1.08.901. Red Bull and Ferrari were chasing and suddenly we had a battle for P1.
Verstappen was on it, but Vettel and Raikkonen had found a new gear for qualifying pushing the Red Bull team down the pecking order.
Q2 was over with both Haas cars out along with Vandoorne in the McLaren and Ocon in the Force India, joining the Toro Rosso of Hartley.
Alonso was flying in the McLaren, talk of him doing Le Mans in 2018 with Toyota have upset Honda. One does have to wonder why, but also McLaren are concerned about it distracting him from next year’s F1 campaign. But this could Alonso’s best chance of winning Le Mans in a LMP1 car with Toyota really only racing itself next year in WEC, with Ginetta being the main challenge for the Japanese team next year in WEC.
Q3 got underway, with Massa and Sainz blocking each other, it did not make any difference to either driver’s time, but it did give a little excitement to the crowd as Massa held the sliding Williams in the same place that Hamilton lost his Mercedes.
Final minutes of qualifying and Vettel and Bottas were battling it out. First Bottas set another fastest time, but then Vettel did a 1.08.360 setting the fastest lap, but he Fin had not finished and in the final seconds took pole position with a record breaking 1.08.322 lap.
Raikkonen came in P3 with Verstappen in P4, Ricciardo in P5 but with a ten place grid penalty for his new engine after Mexico he will drop to P15.
Hamilton came down to celebrate with his team mate Bottas, but it was Massa who got the biggest cheer from the crowd as he took P10.
Race day will be dry, but will Hamilton make it into the top five places tomorrow, could he start from the pit lane to avoid any first corner incidents that do happen here in Brazil. One thing is certain, the battle will be between Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas for the win tomorrow, but don’t count out Verstappen in the Red Bull to try and upset the party.
Colin Logan for In2Motorsports.com