Once again all eyes will be on Mercedes, with them leading every session this weekend. That said though Red Bull are also on the pace and Ferrari can’t be ruled out although rarely get it right. The fly in the ointment, rain before the start of the session which saturated the surface, with the downpour torrential at times.
With the rain still falling at the time of the scheduled session start, it was delayed by ten minutes with the clouds already looking like they were clearing despite the heavy rain. With rivers across the track, it was quickly pushed back by another ten minutes.
With a 20 minute delay the first of the three qualifying session started. Everyone went out on the full wet tyre with Felipe Massa leading the field away, a huge amount of spray behind the Brazilian. He held a big slide at the first corner, with the teams telling their drivers that more rain would be on its way, pushing them to be on the pace straight away. Massa led the way, before Hulkenberg went two and a half seconds faster. Rain kept falling with Lewis Hamilton getting blocked Kvyat, with Rosberg also having a bad lap. Vettel was struggling and only went 9th.
With rain falling even harder again Perez and Hulkenberg led the order with Alonso in third and Nasr in fourth. Ricciardo in fifth, with Bottas behind in sixth. The Mercedes drivers after getting held up with Daniil Kvyat were in the drop zone at the bottom of the order.
The restart of the session saw Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the front of the field, with teammate Nico Rosberg right behind. Force India remained in the garage. Force India were joined by Massa, and Button. Despite the wet circuit many of the drivers were going faster, Verstappen who had led the field went fastest by a second, Hamilton improving to 7th with Rosberg going fifth. Raikkonen went sixth in Ferrari, while Marcus Ericsson went off at turn 10 into the barriers. The Sauber wedged in the tyre barrier brought out another red flag. In the time leading up to the red flag it was actually Daniel Ricciardo who went fastest in the short spell, leading his teammate in second. They were a second faster than anyone else.
Although the sun was out at the time the session restarted, the field went out on the wet tyres again. It was Felipe Nasr that led the field away for the third time. Going out later than the rest of the field, it was Red Bull who would blink first for the intermediates, Sebastian Vettel following in the Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton stayed out on the full wet while Felipe Massa pitted in the Williams.
Hamilton went off at the chicane on his first hot lap and let through Kimi Raikkonen. At the front of the queue Nasr went quickest, while Felipe Massa went straight off on in the Williams. Damage to the front of the Williams which would bring out the red flag once again.
Nasr retained his lead at the front, ahead of Ricciardo, Verstappen, Kvyat, Perez and Hulkenberg. Those at the bottom of the order included Magnussen, Gutierrez, Sainz, Ericsson, Wehrlein and Haryanto. Jenson Button was right on the bubble.
Lining up at the end of the pitlane for the fourth time, Fernando Alonso led the field away this time ahead current fastest driver Felipe Nasr. This time the majority of the drivers went out on the intermediates, although Magnussen in the Renault was still on the full wet tyres. Magnussen pitted at the end of his first lap for intermediates, while Lewis Hamilton held back at the end of the lap to give himself space.
Alonso went fastest, but it was Hamilton on a 1:34.2 who went to the top of the pile with Vettel in third. Grosjean made his way up to fourth in Haas, with Rosberg then taking the top of the standings by nearly a second. Another red flag was brought out by Rio Haryanto in the difficult conditions. Palmer didn’t get the chance to improve in the Renault, with his teammate also going out after changing his tyres.
Those who would drop out, after the session was ended early included Palmer, Massa, Magnussen, Ericsson, Wehrlein and Haryanto.
The start of the second session saw Sebastian Vettel at the end of the pitlane this time, Ferrari deciding to be at the front of the queue along with Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton was behind Nico Rosberg and Felipe Nasr at the back of the queue in the pitlane. With the track drying quickly, discussion was starting to look at the slick tyre, although there were still puddles around certain points around the circuit.
Vettel set a 1:34.1, with Bottas a second slower than the German, Grosjean went even faster though before Rosberg and Hamilton led the way in the 1:32’s. The Haas was a second and a half down on the Mercedes driver. Ricciardo was three tenths faster than Rosberg on his first hot lap with his teammate Verstappen in fourth. Both Hulkenberg and Perez were off the pace and struggled to stay in the top ten. Alonso split them in the McLaren a couple of seconds away from the leading pace.
Sainz went sixth on his second lap, while Valtteri Bottas went out on the supersoft tyres, even though the times wouldn’t suggested slick tyres would be possible. The times were still tumbling though with Hamilton pushing that time out to half a second faster than Ricciardo. Verstappen improved to just behind Hamilton with Ricciardo pitting for a set of the super soft tyre. Grosjean, Raikkonen, Button and Gutierrez also pitted, Button thought it would be really difficult, and that came from a master in these sorts of conditions. Kvyat also pitted along with Lewis Hamilton.
Bottas was pushing, but couldn’t match those times on the intermediate, at least in the first sector for the Williams driver, before making more of an advantage in the middle sector. He did go quickest at the end of the lap though, and fastest a second from Hamilton, still not a dry time from the Finn. Alonso then went fastest by a second, with Perez another couple of tenths faster, before Bottas pitted.
Vettel went fastest, again a second ahead again with Sainz fourth and Grosjean in second for Haas. His teammate only went seventh before Hamilton went a half a second slower than Alonso. Rosberg had a slow lap and was two seconds down on Fernando. Verstappen slotted between the two Mercedes drivers. Raikkonen improved to fourth fastest in the Ferrari, Ricciardo went wide at the first corner getting the tyres very dirty.
Both Red Bulls backed off up to the final corner with Ricciardo being told to push on the final lap with a minute remaining. The Australian was out in 16th at this point. Raikkonen went fastest in the Ferrari, before Sainz went to the top of the standings and then Vettel and Alonso on a 1:23.8. Bottas went fourth with Rosberg taking the top spot and Button in fifth. Hamilton was sliding down the order in 9th but would stay in the session. Verstappen ended up leading the times, while Grosjean, Kvyat, Perez, Raikkonen, Gutierrez and Nasr went out in Q2.
Q3 and the track continued to dry, Rosberg the first on the circuit to set a 1:20.5. Lewis Hamilton behind the German was quicker by three tenths, with Alonso in third but was quickly overtaken by Sainz and Button. Ricciardo nearly lost it in the final corner, but was still ahead of Verstappen. Vettel also got caught on that puddle and made a mistake. Ricciardo on his second lap was around a couple of tenths of a second off the Mercedes. Hamilton, Rosberg, Button and Hulkenberg pitted with four minutes remaining. Bottas also pitted in the Williams.
Verstappen said over the radio that he was struggling from gearbox problems. After pitting earlier than most, Carlos Sainz was the first on a second run. It was a personal best for the Toro Rosso driver to go sixth. Fernando Alonso had a spin in sector two ruining the laps for all much of the field. Rosberg wasn’t held up by the spin though with the German able to get pole position by a tenth.