Mercedes on top, but the Lotus is Lurking

Perhaps the final result was not entirely surprising considering the previous results from the practice sessions, but by no means was qualifying a dreary procession.

With Lewis Hamilton taking pole position in only his third race for Mercedes, he has cemented himself as one of the standout performers of the season. With expectations still relatively low for the Mercedes team, now is the time for Lewis to sneak in some great performances.

There are three talking points from qualifying I feel are worthy of being singled out. The first concerns the performances of Raikkonen. Since his return to the sport in 2012, Kimi has not been renowned for his qualifying pace. His best grid position last season was 3rd, and that was after a penalty for a car ahead of him. Today though, he emulated his FP2 performance to go 2nd on the grid. No one really expected this speed from the Finn, as he was not as comfortable with the car in the first and last practice sessions. However, he proved to us that his problems were sorted by shooting to the top of the timesheets on his one and only flying lap of Q3. He was the first driver of the weekend to break the 1:35 barrier as well, with a blistering, and completely unexpected, time of 1:34.761. As the first driver to go out on track in Q3, his time was not expected to stand, especially with the likes of Rosberg and FP3 leader Alonso yet to finish their laps. Nevertheless, his time stayed at the top of the timesheets as both of those drivers crossed the line.

Indeed, Kimi’s performance warrants a lot of praise, but the championship rests on his performance on Sunday. If long-run pace in practice is anything to go by, then Kimi should be well-place for a great result. In FP2, the Finn had a great 10-lap run on the Medium tires with his times only increasing by two seconds by the end of the run. Considering the Mediums will be the tire of choice for the race, Kimi’s prospects for the race are promising.

Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button are the subjects of talking point number two. The two drivers were the only two of the group in Q3 to go out on the Medium tires. This could have huge implications for the race, as tire preservation has been at an absolute premium this weekend. Jenson Button is eighth on the grid with Vettel just behind in ninth. The former, however, made the better move on his flying lap. When he knew for sure that he would not get ahead of any soft tire-shod drivers, he backed off to preserve his own rubber. The difference though, was that he actually set a time. Sebastian Vettel pulled into the pits before the end of his flying lap, thus ensuring that Button secured a higher place on the grid. We don’t know for sure, but that could prove a costly mistake, especially since the two will be on the same strategy for the race. We should see the two leading the pack after the soft tire drivers make their first pitstops. Will they end up ahead of anyone at the end of the race?

The final, and perhaps most controversial, point of the day was Mark Webber’s mechanical failure in Q2. He stopped on track in the thick of the session but held the fifth fastest time of the session. With his stop coming before he could make his second run, however, there was no chance of him making Q3.

The problem was identified as fuel pressure issues, but that was the least of his concerns. After Q3, the FIA tried to get a fuel sample from Webber’s car, but was unable to get a sufficient amount. Webber will now start from the back of the grid. Will he be able to emulate his performance from 2011 and finish on the podium? It is highly unlikely, as the cars are much closer together in terms of performance than they were two years ago. Regardless, Mark will have a very tough race tomorrow. Maybe it will be better for him, as he won’t be around a certain German for much of the race. He can get on with his performance and not have to worry about being told to hold up or turn his engine down. One only hopes that this isn’t the start of another disappointing series of mechanical failures that derails Red Bull’s title challenge.

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