Lewis Hamilton looked like he was doing his best today to hide the fact he knows he’s already got this one in the bag. This race. And even this championship.
Qualifying this noon was wet (again!) but (again) there were no major upsets, certainly nothing to stop der silber-steamroller from cruising to its fourth straight pole position this year, and Lewis’ third. Teammate Nico Rosberg, who has been attempting to up the ante all this week, was hoist by his own petard, screwing up both his quick laps in Q3, the second time with a spin that could have taken him over the line backwards. He’ll start fourth and very much on the back foot.
Between the two W05s are the two Red Bulls, and once again it’s Daniel Ricciardo who’s in front. He’ll start alongside Hamilton on the front row — the closest he’s ever been to the first corner at the start. It was some way to bounce back, having formally lost his second place on Australia at appeal this week. So the boy’s got spine as well as speed. Sebastian Vettel will have to make do with the second row alongside Rosberg, while he contemplates what on earth to do with Ricciardo. It’s hard to think he’s not wobbled by it. Sure, Mark Webber was often faster across a single lap, but Ricciardo has proved consistently so this year. And unlike Webber, Ricciardo is clearly not the political animal; go out there, drive it fast, smile. It’s easy, mate!
Ferrari’s 2013 line-up occupies row three, Felipe Massa having his best session yet in the pretty Williams that really doesn’t seem to like getting wet. Ex-teammate Alonso might have gone faster still has he not stumbled across Rosberg’s gyrating Merc at the last corner. Still, at least he managed to get his F14-T in to Q3. Kimi Raikkonen didn’t make the cut and it was hard to know whether it was Kimi’ discomfort with the car or the team’s poor calls on wets versus inters. All the fast times were set on inters, but that didn’t stop nearly everyone trying a lap or two on wets.
Bottas, Hulkenberg, Vergne and Grosjean completed the top ten. Its great to see Lotus making this kind of progress. Don’t forget at the tail end of last year it was RoGros you expected to see trailing the Red Bulls to the podium. Lotus is however starting too look like a one-man team. Maldonado — who wrecked his car against the pit wall yesterday — had to sit this one out. Money aside, it’s very hard to understand what Lotus sees in Crashtor right now.
Looking utterly mystified and thoroughly hacked off with it all, Jenson Button will start alongside Kimi on the front row of the Q2 grid. Jenson and McLaren are supposed to be good at this stuff, remember? They certainly weren’t today, and Kevin Magnussen was also caught out. He’ll start 15th, meaning no McLaren’s in the top ten. It’s presumably starting to dawn on Ron Dennis just how far his team has slipped in his absence. It looks like it already preying on Jenson’s mind, we can only hope it doesn’t take the shine off Magnussen’s talent.
Paddy Lowe, architect of so much of McLaren’s success, almost looked lost for words when asked to illuminate just where his new team (Mercedes) and Lewis’s speed is coming from as, frankly, did Lewis. They have just done the job, taken the knocks and learned the lessons. Red Bull look in their best position yet this season to challenge, but it’s still not a strong position — Hamilton was six-tenths faster than Ricciardo, the W05 well over three seconds faster than the Lotus E22, the tenth faster car in Q3. Like we say, he’s got this one in the bag and if Rosberg can’t find his cool soon, he’ll have the title too.