After the drama’s and tension of the Monaco GP weekend two weeks ago, the F1 circus was hoping for a much calmer weekend as they arrived at the ever popular Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. This race weekend is always popular with teams, drivers and fans alike and an interesting weekend was predicted. This circuit always provides competitive racing thanks to it’s unique nature with braking being crucial around this high speed stop lap.
The Q1 drama began before the session had even got underway as Sauber sophomore driver Esteban Gutierrez was forced to sit and watch Qualifying as the his car needed a new chassis after a crash in Free Practice 3. This meant only 5 drivers would be eliminated this time around, somewhat easing the pressure . As the cars trickled out slowly it was Williams driver Valteri Bottas who set the first competitive time with a 1.18.270 after 4 minutes.
Unsurprisingly this time didn’t last long at the top as AMG Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg subsequently smashed that time with his own 1.16.690 with 12 minutes left in the session. Canada specialist Lewis Hamilton wasn’t going to let Rosberg get too comfortable atop the times however as he soon chimed in with a 1.16.438. Then with 8 minutes to go he improved to a 1.15.750, a nice statement of intent on his part for qualifying. After this the session calmed down slightly before the intensity increased in the final minutes.
First Lotus-Renault driver Pastor Maldonado pulled off track at Turn 2 with a lack of power, in the process guaranteeing his elimination in Q1. Things did improve his slightly however, as Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson stuffed the rear end of his car into the outside wall exiting Turn 9 with 16 seconds left. The ensuring red flag would end the session and cement everyone in their Q1 positions.
Sharing the back row are the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez and the Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson. Caterham team leader Kamui Kobayashi lines up 20th, with Marussia driver Jules Bianchi 19th. Max Chilton out-qualified team mate Bianchi for the first time in 2014 in 18th alongside the unlucky Lotus-Renault driver Pastor Maldonado in 17th. Since qualifying things have got worse for Caterham however as Kobayashi has been forced to take a gearbox change, demoting him to 21st behind team mate Ericsson.
Q2 began with star Sahara-Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg being the first to set a competitive time with a 1.16.650 in the first few minutes. Both the Williams drivers looked hugely competitive this weekend and they soon flexed their muscles in Q2, with Felipe Massa quickly setting the pace with a 1.15.773 with 11 minutes to go in Q2. The major surprise of Q2 was the fact the two AMG Mercedes drivers were unable to beat Massa’s time, although this can be explained by the fact they didn’t run the softer tyres which Massa did.
The final minutes were frantic as always but the biggest surprise again was that the AMG Mercedes drivers went out for a final run when they appeared safe for Q3. Nevertheless, their softer tyre runs rewarded them with Rosberg first with a 1.15.2 before Hamilton eclipsed him with a 1.15.0 to top the Q2 session. From Q1 and Q2 the advantage AMG Mercedes enjoyed a 0.7s gap to the rest, ensuring Q3 would be another intense battle between the two.
Those who sadly wouldn’t be making Q3 were a disappointed Sahara-Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg in 11th, alongside McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen in 12th. Sahara-Force India’s disappointed day was completed a Hulkenberg’s team mate Sergio Perez only managed 13th, sharing row 7 with Lotus-Renault driver Romain Grosjean in 14th. The 8th row would be shared with Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat in 15th alongside Sauber driver Adrian Sutil in 16th.
The final Q3 session began slowly with Valterri Bottas the first to venture out after 2 minutes. His first lap time was a 1.15.550 with 7.30 left on the clock. His reign at the top was short however as Nico Rosberg soon eclipsed him with a 1.14.946 lap, which even team mate Hamilton couldn’t match. As the cars settled in the garage’s ready for their final run, Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen gambled on setting a quick lap whilst the track was quiet. This gamble didn’t work however as he only managed 8th on his one flying lap.
The final run’s were an anti-climax as a bad lap from Hamilton handed Rosberg pole on a plate, with Rosberg improving by a tenth just to make sure of pole. Reigning world champion Sebastien Vettel produced the lap of the session to steal 3rd from the Williams drivers in an inferior Red Bull car. William sophomore Bottas usurped experienced team mate Massa for 4th and 5th, with Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo disappointed with 6th. Fernando Alonso qualified 7th from an impressive Jean Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso in 8th. The 5th and final row of the top 10 would be shared by Jenson Button in the McLaren and Raikkonen completing the top 10 for Ferrari.
Qualifying set up the race later on today perfectly in what should be an impressive race long fight between the two AMG Mercedes drivers. Behind them the battle for the final podium spot should be just as interesting between the Red Bull and Williams cars. Also watch out for the two Sahara-Force India cars, as they are always more competitive in race trim with their car notoriously soft on it’s tyres. Watch out for their progress during the race.