In sport, what sorts the great from the very good?
In sport, what sorts the great from the very good? It might be a rather lengthy debate, resulting in an equally lengthy list of attributes. But likely the ability to deliver when it really counts would be close to the top of a few minds.
And it is this attribute that Lewis Hamilton, not for the first time perhaps, demonstrated that he has, and has over his Mercedes team mate, in today’s qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix. In a rather scrappy hour disrupted by two red flags for much of the time it looked like it might be the day that Nico Rosberg struck back, as he consistently beat Lewis’s times in the first two sessions. Lewis even in response had an off-track moment that seemed to indicate his being rattled at it all.
But we should have known better. It’s Q3 that decides the order for those at the top, and it was then that Lewis stepped up. In a final part truncated in-effect by another red flag Lewis struck first; on used medium tyres beating Rosberg’s mark by 0.273s.
Then with new boots both emerged for their final efforts. Nico went top with a 1m 25.4, but long before that lap was out all knew that his place was to be but temporary. Lewis had gone two tenths under Nico in the first sector alone, and set about lighting up the timing screens with purple sectors. Sure enough he snatched pole back, and definitively, with a 1m 25.232.
Of course, the race yet awaits tomorrow and no one will be as determined to arrest Lewis’s forward march as will Nico Rosberg. But he’d be forgiven for beginning to have suspicions in a mental recess somewhere that no matter what he pulls out Lewis will be able to pull that tiny, but massive, amount more.
And such burgeoning frustrations possibly were betrayed by Nico in his words afterwards: ‘Definitely very disappointed’ he said. ‘I don’t particularly enjoy coming second to Lewis. But in the end it was a good lap from me so Lewis just did a better job.’
But Nico still looked ahead to the race with optimism: ‘It’s all to play for tomorrow, second place is only a little bit away from optimum, all it takes is a good start tomorrow and I’m in the lead again…’
Lewis meanwhile again had a sunny disposition at winning a scrum apparently against the head: ‘It’s been a tough day and Nico’s been driving really well…I didn’t know whether I would be able to get it (pole) but right at the end I just had to to eke out everything and more from the car.
‘Coming here this weekend we didn’t know where everyone was going to be, but to see the development that’s gone on and the hard work that’s gone into getting the car ready for this weekend, it inspires me.’
And for all of the excitement of this being the commencement of the European season and the associated ‘big round of upgrades’ having the ability to change things, over the first two places at least nothing changed as Lewis intimated. The Mercedes remains in a class of one.
Indeed if anything the Merc was further ahead here than was the case before. And perhaps it shouldn’t be a great surprise. Partly because the Brackley team isn’t going to be stranding still; but mainly because this circuit has time-honoured status as one that rewards a car that’s working well, and the W05 is one such car. If reputations are correct and the Barcelona track is indeed a barometer of where cars really are at, then there’s rather a lot of heat emanating from the Mercedes. While all its rivals must be feeling a rather bracing chill wind right now.
In another recurring theme of 2014 Daniel Ricciardo once again was the next up, rarely looking like troubling the Mercs but with a clean pair of heels on the rest. But even he was taken back by the Mercs’ advantage.
‘Best of the rest, but not quite good enough,’ said the Australian, ‘we’re still a second off, and I thought my lap was not too bad so I was expecting a smaller gap than that. We’re a clear third today, we had a pretty good buffer to P4, but sure we want to get closer to the front two’.
His team mate Sebastian Vettel might have been up there too at a track which is more suitable to the fine-handling but underpowered RB10. But in Q3 he experienced his latest dosage of wretched luck that seems rather his lot in 2014, this time stopping out on track not long after emerging from the pits with an apparent gearbox problem. Thus he’ll start tenth, perhaps lower if he has to take a gearbox penalty.
Next up were interlopers though. First off Valtteri Bottas starts in P4, and he was another whose team mate may have been in the vicinity but for circumstance, in Felipe Massa’s case an error on his final run which results in him starting in P9.
In P5 we have Romain Grosjean. Yes you read that right – that’s Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. The team that’s spent much of recent times being both a basket case with its finances and a laughing stock with its car on track (the two issues probably not unrelated) now it appears has gone a long way to recovering (with its car at least). It’s no great surprise either, as it was fairly clear that Lotus rather than designing a dog necessarily instead was woefully behind in its preparations for the new-spec machines.
Now it’s showing signs of having got with the programme, and there appears to be a not half-bad car there. Plus this is Team Enstone: it’s lost staff before; it’s been written off before; never before have such predictions been proved right.
Meanwhile, we were deprived of seeing whether Pastor Maldonado in the other Lotus could join Grosjean in a haughty slot as he managed to bin his E22 in the earliest stages of qualifying (causing the other red flag). He’ll now start last.
Then we have the Ferraris, with Kimi Raikkonen rather going against the rest of the weekend by squeaking ahead of Fernando Alonso for P6. Whatever the interest is however in the driver match-up it’ll be hard for all at the Scuderia to escape the fact that its best was the thick end of two seconds away from the pole time.
Neither it, nor anyone else, has any sort of answer for the Mercedes right now.
Author: Graham Keilloh
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