There was a bit of a groan on Friday evening when the news broke of the five-place grid penalty for Lewis Hamilton that will seriously affect his hopes of closing the gap on Sebastian Vettel this weekend. That rather marred my ‘Advantage Hamilton’ headline and Saturday didn’t go too well either for the British driver and he’ll be starting eighth on the grid with his team mate Valtteri Bottas on pole.
Grid Penalty for Hamilton
Friday had been going well for Lewis until the news came through of that five-place grid penalty for the Austrian Grand Prix. It was a gearbox change in Hamilton’s car required after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that led to the penalty. Rules declare that teams have to run a gearbox for six events in a row and Mercedes changed the gearbox in Hamilton’s car before that period had elapsed. That makes it even more difficult for Lewis to close the gap on Sebastian Vettel which currently stands at 14 points.
Saturday didn’t get off to a great start for Lewis with a front brake failure heading into Turn Two cost him the chance to be fastest in final practice. He went wide and that left Championship leader Sebastian Vettel who finished fastest 0.269 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas was third fastest with Kimi Rankine in fourth. The Red Bulls were fifth and sixth with Verstappen just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
It wasn’t quite as promising for McLaren in final practice after their top ten finishes on Friday. Stoffel Vandoorne was 13th and Fernando Alonso back in 15th. Alonso must have been thinking ‘here we go again’ as his McLaren had a problem with its MGU-H.
Mercedes took pole for Sunday’s race but of course it’s not Lewis Hamilton in that position but his team mate Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton was third fastest but will start down in eighth due to that five-place grid penalty.
Sebastian Vettel will start second on the grid, finishing just 0.042 seconds behind Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth but was 0.486 seconds slower than his Ferrari team mate. Max Verstappen took fifth in his Red Bull with his team mate Daniel Ricciardo back in sixth. That’s the first time since the Russian Grand Prix that Verstappen will start ahead of Ricciardo on the grid. McLaren finished 12th and 13th with Alonso just ahead of Vandoorne but at least they don’t have any grid penalties this weekend.
Hamilton wasn’t at his best in qualifying and an error at Turn One hitting the kerb cost him enough time to give pole to his team mate. His luck certainly wasn’t in as he realized that Romain Grosjean was stuck on the track in his Haas after engine problems. That meant Hamilton didn’t have time to do another lap even though this is one of the shortest laps of the year.
The British driver is hopeful of a good race though. After qualifying he commented, “I hoped to be higher up but it wasn’t to be. But I plan to be on the podium and make it a one two with Valtteri.”
This could be another weekend where Lewis is in damage limitation mode. It’s been revealed that he’ll be starting the race on super-soft tyres while his main rivals will be using their ultra-soft tyres. That will see Hamilton on the quicker tyre as the race reaches its conclusion so he could make up a few places if the plan works. Hamilton doesn’t think the strategy will make too much difference though. “It is a slower tyre. But lots of things can happen, rain, safety cars. We shall see.”
Well if it’s anything like Azerbaijan we’ll be in for a treat on Sunday. Enjoy your racing and I’ll be back next week.