There’s hardly been a more nail-biting Q1 session than the start of this afternoon’s qualifying in the suburbs of Sao Paulo. At least that was the case for Scuderia Toro Rosso.
As the light at the end of the pit lane went green, and light rain continued to fall, most of the pack was already queuing noisily, champing at the bit to get out on track. Our STR8s were still sitting in the garage. What did we know that the others didn’t? Not a lot apparently, as the rain intensified, putting our driver duo on the backfoot, with Daniel Ricciardo just outside the knockout zone, but Jean-Eric Vergne down in eighteenth. However, we kept calm, knowing another dry five-minute window was approaching, sent both drivers out again on another set of Intermediate tyres and both men just made it through to Q2. A big relief!
The second part of the afternoon’s proceedings was equally exciting as our two boys headed out again on Intermediates still. Every pair of eyes in the garage was glued to the timing screen and it was smiles all round as Daniel made it to eighth and Jev to ninth: we had both cars in Q3 for the first time since our home race in Monza.
As the cars came to the garage, the rain intensified and it was time to bring out the Extreme rain tyres. Off they went again but the rain continued playing Hide and Seek, so back came our duo for one last run on Intermediates. The mix of Daniel, Jev and the STR8 has always been an effective trio in the rain and so it proved today, even if Jev still feels the wet performance in Brazil has not matched that at previous rainy races. Let out towards the end, to ensure the track was as useable as possible, the Australian ensured he will start the last race of his two year time with us from the fourth row of the grid in seventh place, with the Frenchman alongside him.
Logically, you would say this is our best chance of scoring big points in a long time, as it is the first time since the Italian Grand Prix that both our cars made it to Q3. However, the rain that has been our friend so far can prove to be fickle and anything can happen. The key in changeable conditions is above all to stay calm, come up with a good and flexible strategy and concentrate hard. For the drivers, it helps if they keep the cars on the track and out of trouble.
Of course, Sebastian Vettel is on pole, by over half a second! The Red Bull man will share the front row with Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes and looking at their respective long-run paces on Friday, there’s a chance of a motor race rather than a Vettel procession. Fernando Alonso delivered one of those miracle laps the Spaniard is famous for, to qualify his Ferrari in third and he shares the second row with his good friend, the departing Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. The row ahead of the Toro Rosso line up features the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in fifth, with Romain Grosjean alongside him in the Lotus.