Spanish Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso rue qualifying errors

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Fernando Alonso on track in Spain
Follow the Spanish Grand Prix on the BBC website and app from 12:30 BST on Sunday, with the race under way at 14:00

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso both said they felt errors prevented them from joining Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the front row for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Both drivers made errors in Turn 10 on their final qualifying laps that they said prevented them beating Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to second.

Hamilton, who said he was “genuinely really happy” with the upgraded Mercedes, starts fourth.

Alonso said he could have been second even after damaging his car’s floor in an off-track moment, but then ran wide on his final lap when on course for a time good enough for second.

The two-time champion said he was “disappointed” with his own performance.

Alonso will start eighth – both men were promoted a place because Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who qualified fourth fastest, was hit with two three-place grid penalties for impeding Verstappen and Sainz in separate incidents.

Hamilton said: “To be fighting for P2 was a big surprise. We did some great work overnight and the car felt so much better this morning.

“So these upgrades have definitely worked so a big thank you to everyone at back at home. Massively encouraging.

“If I was fighting for a championship, maybe I would be a bit more frustrated that I lost 0.2secs in Turn 10 but I will try to get it back tomorrow.”

Mercedes introduced a major redesign of their car in Monaco last weekend but always insisted that Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya would give the first true indication of its performance because its combination of long corners of varying speeds is a comprehensive test for the aerodynamics of Formula 1 cars.

Team principal Toto Wolff described the performance of the revised Mercedes, which features new sidepods, floor and front suspension, as “solid”.

“I believe in the package,” Wolff said. “It is a new baseline. It is something to work on without needing to question certain parts of the car and this is what we are taking forward now.”

The new concept is an abandonment of the unique design philosophy Mercedes pursued for the new regulations that were introduced for 2022, but which Wolff said they would have to abandon at the first race of this season when it became clear the team had not made the progress they had planned.

“We had to discover the direction we went simply didn’t work,” he said. “We are a team who won eight consecutive world championships who just got it wrong last year.

“We tried to find out what it was we didn’t understand, things got better towards the end of the season, the regulations were changed which we misinterpreted and here we go, we start from zero.

“The learning is tremendously important going forward.”

Wolff described an incident in which Hamilton and his team-mate George Russell collided during qualifying as “all down to miscommunication”.

Hamilton was trying to pass Russell on the outside down the pit straight but did not know that his team-mate, who was also starting a flying lap, did not know he was there.

“It looks silly,” Wolff said, “but it wasn’t. It was just miscommunication.”

Alonso’s double error

Fernando Alonso's car takes a trip through the gravel in Barcelona
Fernando Alonso’s trip through the gravel in the final turn proved a costly mistake

Alonso said it “hurt” that he had made two separate mistakes in qualifying.

The 41-year-old has been virtually flawless all season after joining an Aston Martin team on the up after making major progress with their car, and lies third in the championship after five podiums in the first six races.

Alonso ran off track on his first lap of qualifying at the high-speed last corner and damaged his floor, on which his team were forced to carry out running repairs for the rest of the session. He qualified with the car sporting adhesive tape in various places to hold it together.

Aston Martin said the impact on the car’s performance was “significant”.

“Q1 did compromise everything,” Alonso said. “I did a mistake and went on the damp part of the circuit on the last corner and lost the car. That was very costly – the gravel completely destroyed the floor.

“It hurts even more because it was the out lap. I was not even pushing. Disappointed with my performance today and hopefully I can do a better Sunday.

“The car was behaving weirdly in a few corners but you never know if it is just the wind or track conditions.

“It was a strange qualifying to see [Ferrari’s Charles] Leclerc out in Q1 and Russell and [Red Bull’s Sergio] Perez out in Q2. We were struggling as well.

“It was tricky for everyone but in my case it was just my mistake. The car still feels competitive even with some damage to the floor so if we put everything together we are still optimistic we can score many points.”

Even with the damage, Alonso said he was on course for the front row on his final lap until running wide at Turn 10.

Asked what he could have achieved, Alonso said: “P2 probably even with the floor as it was because in the Q3 lap I was coming for a [one minute] 12.7 [seconds lap] until Turn 10 when again I ran wide into the damp part on the outside.

“So when I saw now that 12.7 is P2 and P3 I was surprised. That is why I am optimistic for tomorrow because the car still has a lot of pace.”

Aston Martin are allowed under F1 regulations to replace any damaged parts of the car, despite teams not being allowed to work on their cars between qualifying and race.

Leclerc mystified by qualifying pace

Charles Leclerc on track in Spain
Charles Leclerc qualified on pole position in Spain 12 months ago but retired with engine failure during the race

It was a qualifying session of shocks that could lead to an interesting race with a lot of quick drivers out of position.

In addition to Hamilton and Alonso being hopeful of making progress, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez starts 11th after making a mistake and running off track, Russell is 12th after struggling with his car but confident of being better in the race, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is 19th after a session that left him confused.

He had been pleased with the car in final practice, but said after being eliminated in the first quaifying session: “We’ll have to check the data but most of all check the car because there was definitely something strange.

“I nearly lost it during the red flag and I was at about 70km/h [44mph], and there was no warning.

“Left-hand corners were really, really bad on the rear right. And at first I thought it was tyres so we went for a new set of tyres and on the new set of tyres it was exactly the same feeling. Right-hand corners really good, left-hand corners completely off.

“We’ll have to check but I would be very, very surprised if we don’t find something on the data.

“I am quite confident that there is something not the way it should be.”

Norris stuns with third place

Lando Norris on track in Barcelona
Lando Norris’ qualifying performance was his best since last year’s Italian Grand Prix

Lando Norris surprised himself and McLaren with a stunning third place on the grid, his best performance of a season that has started in problematic fashion for the team.

Norris, who is 11th in the championship, said his team had been expecting it to be difficult to progress beyond the first knockout qualifying session after one of their “worst Fridays” of the season.

“We all sat down and we were thinking it’s going to be tough to get over Q1,” Norris said. “I really wasn’t that hopeful. But things just seem to come together, other people struggled a bit more today than maybe us over-performing kind of thing or being our true potential.”

Norris said he believed McLaren had been helped by the change of layout of the Barcelona track, where a slow-speed chicane has been removed at the end of the lap, which now concludes with two high-speed right-handers.

“We’re still pretty poor in many areas,” Norris said, “but high speed has always been one of our strengths for years and slow speed quite the opposite. So I think this layout has helped us, so it has benefited us a bit more.

“I think already FP2 was flat in Turn Three, flat in Turn Nine, probably one of the few guys apart from Red Bull who did that.

“We do struggle a lot in the slow-speed corners so that’s still the area we know we want to take big steps forward.”

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