Sunny, but very windy today at Circuit De Catalunya, the gusting wind is catching out a few drivers at turn thirteen in free practise all weekend.
Q1 gets underway with both Vettel in the Ferrari and Bottas in the Mercedes having had engine changes during Free Practise this morning. Bottas getting ten minutes running at the end of the session while Vettel ten minutes running at the start of the session.
Both teams did well in changing the eninges so quickly, but Vettel on his out lap is told to switch the engine off, Vettel drives the car towards the pit lane and then does a flying lap time to save the Ferrari going out in Q1.
Telemetry had a power loss, Vettel felt it to, but was able to carry on and set that lap time. Quick check on the car once back in the garage and its fine to run again which is good news for Ferrari.
Mercedes of Hamilton is out in from, with Bottas close behind with Raikkonen in the second Ferrari behind him.
Force India are either holding back all weekend or just not found the accelerater till now and have both cars in the top ten. This is a surprise for Renault and Williams who have dropped down the running order.
Wehrlein in the Sauber is also going well and brings the Sauber into Q2, while Ericsson is out in Q1 along with Palmer in the Renault, Stroll in the Williams, Vandoorne in the McLaren-Honda and Kvyat the surprise exit in the Toro Rosso in last place.
Alonso in the McLaren-Honda is in eleventh place and into Q2, given the issues he has had with the Honda engine this is a tremdous drive today. Renault are confused by the exit of Palmer who was running with Hulkenberg in the top ten during the free practise session, but he can take some comfort in having his team mate drop out of the ten top as well.
Q2 gets underway with Bottas out first and is scrappy first laps forces him to stay out longer and put more miles on his tyres for starting the race.
Hamilton again sets the pace, but Vettel is right behind him, while Raikkonen is told over the radio that he can match the Mercedes time today.
Red Bull are not in the mix, yes they are fourth and fifth, but cannot match the Mercedes or Ferrari, the Spec ‘B’ car has not closed the gap, which must be a disappointment for Ricciardo and Verstappen.
Force India are pushing hard and the Williams of Massa is finally on the charge, while Grosjean is caught out by the wind in turn thirteen which ends his chance of getting into Q3 and is followed by his team mate Magnussen.
Sainz is out at his home race in the Toro Rosso, but the shock of the day and the lap of the day is Alonso in the McLaren-Honda as he makes it into Q3.
The crowd stand and cheer as Alonso is confirmed as making it into Q3, the McLaren-Honda team are in shock, smiles breaking out around the garage and the pit wall. Just goes to show that driver talent is worth a second even in a underpowered car.
Q3 gets underway with Hamilton setting a blistering pace of 1:19:149, the fastest lap set this weekend and faster than last year’s times who can match Hamilton’s pace?
Not Bottas as he another run and is just slower than his team mate, while Raikkonen is trailing by 100th of a second behind him. Vettel comes closer with a 1:19:200 to take second place.
With the clock counting down, all the cars now head out track for a final showdown, with Alonso in the McLaren-Honda out first, a clear track ahead of him and two minutes to go in qualifying.
Alonso finds another 200th of second and goes P7, the crowd is on its feet, McLaren-Honda garage is jumping for joy, but it’s not over yet.
The top four cannot improve their times and its Hamilton on pole for the 64th time, with Vettel in second place.
Red Bull can only hold on to fourth and fifth, but it’s Verstappen who pips his team mate today, but the Red Bulls are still ¾ of second slower than Mercedes and half a second behind Ferrari.
Massa splits the Force India cars of Perez and Ocon, which is a good result for Force India with both cars in the top ten, but Williams are suffering with the young Lance Stroll driving the other Williams. He is costing the team vital points that with today’s qualifying performance by Force India will see them solidify fourth place in the constructor’s championship.
While Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas are brought out on to the main straight in front of the grandstand for the interviews, Alonso is brought out to join them. The crowd is overjoyed to see Alonso, as are the top three drivers today.
So qualifying in Barcelona will be remembered not for Hamilton’s lap or Vettel in the Ferrari challenge, but for Alonso in the McLaren-Honda showing the car with the most underpowered engine, the most unreliable engine has a great chassis and on a good day, can challenge the top three teams. Just what could Alonso do if he had an engine with power to match that McLaren chassis?
Sunday will be exciting, can Alonso hold on for a top ten finish in the race, will he do one of his great starts and make it difficult for Red Bull or even the Ferrari of Raikkonen or Mercedes of Bottas in the first corner. Alonso is worth a second in any car and given its home race, we are expecting fireworks tomorrow along with some rain to add to the mix. Yes rain is due on Sunday, so we can expect to have a real fight between Mercedes and Ferrari.
But today, belongs to McLaren-Honda the team in Woking and Japan, the engineers in Barcelona, the fans who kept the faith and Alonso, the legend.
Colin Logan for In2Motorsports.com