Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff says that the second run of the elimination Formula 1 qualifying format did nothing to change his poor opinion of it.
The addition of quickfire eliminations to qualifying in Australia resulted in a backlash from the majority of the paddock, with Wolff calling the format “pretty rubbish”.
However, as teams could not agree on a format to replace it, the eliminations were given a second chance in Bahrain on Saturday.
There was little improvement, though, as yet again the track was left empty for large parts of the session, with pole being settled with three minutes to run in Q3.
“My feelings about this qualifying format haven’t changed and there is nothing to add to what I’ve already said about it,” Wolff said after the session ahead of a meeting on Sunday to discuss a change for China.
It proved to be a successful qualifying for Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton led Nico Rosberg to a front-row lock-out, putting the Silver Arrows in a strong position for Sunday’s race.
“The actual battle today between our two cars, and also between ourselves and Ferrari, was very close and really exciting,” Wolff said.
“It was only in the final part of Q2 and Q3 that Lewis and Nico hooked everything up, and for Lewis it came down to his final Q3 lap after he ran wide on his first run.
“What he produced was a stunning lap, the fastest ever on this circuit – quicker even than the V10 era – and more than three seconds faster than last year’s pole. Really impressive.
“Nico came very close to beating it and fell less then a tenth short in the end after his fastest lap of the session.
“Now we focus on tomorrow’s race, on getting off the line well – and what I am sure will be a very tight battle with Ferrari.”
The Bahrain Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 10:30am ET on Sunday.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.