Mistakes from Hulkenberg result in Q1 elimination

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Nico Hulkenberg was the surprise elimination during the first part of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix today, with the German driver believing that mistakes on both of his last two flying laps of the session cost him a place in Q2.

The Force India driver qualified down in 18th position during the wet session today at Spa. This is his second-worst ever starting position for a grand prix, having started last for the 2012 Italian Grand Prix thanks to a gearbox change.

However, he did not look to palm off the blame for the result, admitting that he made some mistakes towards the end of the session in the rain.

“It was a difficult session in tricky conditions,” Hulkenberg said. “Initially it was looking good. I was on the pace and we chose to stay out on one set of intermediates for the whole session. Maybe that was a factor in missing out on Q2 because my tires were quite old and worn by the end of the session.

“Q2 should still have been possible, but I made mistakes on my last two laps and outbraked myself going into the final corner, went wide and lost time.”

However, the German driver is confident that he can bounce back in the race tomorrow after showing good signs of pace in practice yesterday.

“For the race tomorrow, I believe we can recover because we’ve got a solid car and the long run pace in the dry yesterday looked promising,” he said.

Hulkenberg’s teammate, Sergio Perez, failed to make it through to Q3 on Saturday, and will start the race from 13th position.

“It was not the easiest day for us,” he said. “I was struggling in the wet conditions and that was the main issue today. I wanted to be further up but we did not maximize everything.

“I’m feeling more optimistic for tomorrow and we should have strong race pace. P13 is not a bad place to start the race and I’m sure we can move forward and make up some positions.”

It will be interesting to see how Hulkenberg fares in the race tomorrow from so far back, but given the pace of the Force India and the power of the Mercedes engine, he should be aiming to pick up some points for a finish in the lower reaches of the top ten.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.