(Image source: emperornie)
The big news ahead of qualifying was that Max Verstappen would not be taking part after a crash in morning practice resulted in a gearbox change. The Red Bulls had looked quick since arriving in the Principality so this was a major blow to the team who still worked on the car as Q1 got underway.
Sergey Sirotkin finally had something to cheer about after setting the early pace with a time that held up well enough throughout the session to see him progress to Q2. Predictably, his time was bettered by the likes of Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Bottas and Alonso while Stoffel Vandoorne produced one of the better drives of the session to sneak into fifth place.
Both McLarens featured in the top seven while local lad Charles Leclerc grabbed P9 in the Sauber. Haas would have been disappointed to see Kevin Magnussen down in 19th, eight places behind teammate Romain Grosjean. Hartley also missed out along with Lance Stroll and Marcus Ericsson.
Eliminated in Q1:
In Q2, it was Force India drivers who impressed with Ocon and Perez finishing sixth and seventh, respectively, continuing the trend of midfield surprises this season.
At the sharp end, it was Daniel Ricciardo who seemed to have all the fun once again, storming to the top of the board, but this time it was the other Ferrari of Raikkonen who pushed him closest. Vettel was third ahead of the two Mercedes who both looked to be struggling for pace.
Alonso followed the two Force Indias while Sainz and Gasly made up the top ten. Vandoorne could not keep in touch with his teammate and missed out along with Hulkenberg, Sirotkin, Leclerc and Grosjean who confirmed a miserable session for Haas.
Eliminated in Q2:
Hamilton showed some early pace in Q3 but Ricciardo soon came along to smash the lap record with an unassailable time of 1:10.810. No one could get close to the Australian so it was all about who could get next to him on the front row. Vettel eventually pushed Hamilton down to third ahead of Raikkonen while Bottas was the slowest of the remaining drivers from the big three teams down in fifth.
Esteban Ocon brought the Force India home in sixth ahead of Fernando Alonso who will be disappointed to have finished 0.05 behind the pink car. Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly made up the top ten.
Red Bull came out on top but were left ruing the loss of their second driver. This really should have been the weekend that got them back in the hunt for the constructors’ title, but Verstappen’s lack of composure cost them, and provided an unwelcome talking point once again. Hass were also left scratching their heads having failed to get a car into Q3.
With track position so important, the run to the first corner could be the pivotal moment of tomorrow’s race.
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