Valtteri Bottas pipped Sebastian Vettel in the final stage of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday at Interlagos to take the third pole position of his Formula 1 career in a day of mixed fortunes for Mercedes.
Early drama struck in Q1 when world champion Lewis Hamilton crashed out on his first flying lap, losing his car mid-way through Turn 6 and slamming into the barrier at high speed.
While Hamilton was unhurt, the crash marked the end of his session, as well as his resulting first Q1 exit since the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix, where he opted to take no part in the session due to a penalty.
The Mercedes driver will start P20 tomorrow, having technically failed to qualify for the race and therefore starting behind any drivers who have grid penalties.
Hamilton’s crash meant the battle for pole boiled down to Mercedes teammate Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with the pair going toe-to-toe in the final stage of qualifying.
Bottas laid down the first benchmark in Q3 to take provisional pole for Mercedes, only for Vettel to go eight-hundredths of a second faster and grab P1 for Ferrari after the opening runs.
After returning to the pits for a fresh set of tires, Bottas and Vettel ventured out in search of improvements despite light rain starting to fall.
A mistake under braking at Turn 1 saw Vettel fail to improve his time on his final flying lap, giving Bottas the chance to sneak in and go faster with a lap of 1:08.322, finishing 0.038 seconds clear at the checkered flag.
The result leaves Mercedes’ cars at either end of the grid, with the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen set to line up second and third on the grid.
Red Bull failed to enter the fight at the front as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth and fifth respectively, with the latter set to drop 10 places on the grid due to an engine penalty.
Sergio Perez led the midfield runners in P6 for Force India ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, with the Renault duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. following in eighth and ninth respectively.
Felipe Massa qualified 10th in his final home qualifying in F1, but will take to the grid from P9 by virtue of Ricciardo’s penalty.
While Perez led Force India’s charge by making it through to Q3, Esteban Ocon suffered his first Q2 elimination since Singapore after a scruffy final lap left him P11 overall.
Haas got both its drivers through to Q2, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen taking 12th and 14th respectively, with the pair split by McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne. Brendon Hartley took 15th for Toro Rosso, and opted against setting a time in Q2 due to pending penalties.
Pascal Wehrlein narrowly missed out on Sauber’s first Q2 appearance since Baku, falling half a tenth shy of a berth in P16. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly followed in 17th ahead of Lance Stroll and Marcus Ericsson, with Hamilton propping up the order in P20.
The Brazilian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 10am ET on Sunday.
After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.
Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.
A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.
Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…
Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.
The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.
And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.
While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.
“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”
Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.
“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.
Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.
Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun
About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.
And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.
Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.
Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.
Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.
“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.
Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.
“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”
The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.