A crazy low-grip, changing-conditions, wet Formula 1 qualifying session is always a great chance for underdogs in less competitive cars to spring a surprise.
And Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez certainly did that as they put Racing Point a remarkable first and third on the Turkish Grand Prix grid at Istanbul today.
But a host of other drivers who might usually be expected to thrive in those circumstances ended up disappointed – and all for similar reasons.
Williams is a team that needs unusual circumstances to get near the points, but Russell knew from the beginning of the weekend that Turkey was going to be compromised.
It emerged on Friday that he was having to switch on his fourth Mercedes internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H of 2020 – all of which exceeded the seasonal limit, meaning he’d have to start at the back.
He might’ve still fancied a crack at a star laptime in the qualifying conditions just to prove a point, but struggled to get the wet tyre into its working range. He was only 18th fastest in Q1, 12.5s off the pace.
“It was just incredibly difficult getting those tyres working,” said Russell.
“If you could it makes a hell of a difference.
“It’s all about getting those tyres working in the first 30s. As soon as you drop out of the window they’re just irrecoverable.
“Obviously I wasn’t pushing balls-out because I knew that I had the penalty but still I wasn’t hanging around either. Unfortunately we just didn’t have the pace today.”
Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris start 15th/16th
Like Williams, McLaren couldn’t get the tyres to perform – which the team found particularly puzzling as it hadn’t been in that position at the Red Bull Ring and Algarve on days when others were.
Both drivers compounded their problems with grid penalties. Sainz fell from 13th to 16th for impeding Perez, which became 15th when Norris was dropped from 11th to 16th for failing to respect yellow flags in Q1.
“I’ve never been so far off in the wet,” said Sainz.
“Normally it is the conditions I love and I tend to do very well but today it was just impossible to warm up the tyres.
“Towards the end, we were finally starting to feel some grip but we just went into the wets too late and we gambled on the inters and it simply didn’t work.
“By the time the temperature was coming up, the session was over.
“I’m very upset about it and I’m not going to lie.”
The McLarens’ grid penalties make the situation look better than it really was for Gasly, who was slowest in Q2 with a time 8.3s off pacesetter Max Verstappen and nearly 2s off 14th-placed Charles Leclerc.
AlphaTauri driver Gasly’s complaints were identical to those struggling around him.
“Since this morning in the wet, we saw that we just can’t get the tyres working and qualifying was the same story,” he said.
“I think we got lucky to get out of Q1, then in Q2, it was the same story.
“We tried to fit a fresh set towards the end but it’s just that we are losing massive temperature through the lap and then by the time we push, we’re just nowhere.”
For the first time since the Hungarian GP in July, Leclerc was outqualified by team-mate Sebastian Vettel – though both were a long way off the pace.
Vettel felt Ferrari was yet another team that couldn’t get the tyres into the zone.
But Leclerc said he couldn’t put his finger on any particular reason for the struggle, other than that wet conditions seemed to have become a real weakness for Ferrari lately – although he had been relatively competitive in morning practice.
“I have no explanations. Absolutely no explanations,” said Leclerc, who was 14th in Q2 before the McLarens’ penalties elevated him, and who lapped 6.4s off the pace and 1.5s off Vettel.
“We went in the heavy rain in FP3 this morning. We were competitive, we were probably one of the fastest cars out on track.
“Six seconds off… we are not speaking about few tenths, we are six seconds off, which is absolutely huge. I have no explanations for that.
“We really need to understand what we are doing wrong in the rain because this is not one time but it’s been a few times in the rain that we are struggling more than the others.
“And again, we are not speaking about small differences.”
Ocon at least made it into Q3, but to be nearly 5s from the pole pace in seventh was a disappointment.
While Renault team-mate Daniel Ricciardo used wets throughout as he took fifth on the grid, Ocon tried intermediates initially but couldn’t get them up to speed.
Having persisted for some time, he only had time for one lap on wets.
Had he had time to get the wets up to temperature, Ocon reckoned fourth or fifth was possible.
“There was a lot more in hand today,” said Ocon. “Seventh is a decent result but it’s not where we should have been.
“We should have been well inside the top five and potentially more than that.
“If I see just the improvement of all the other guys around on wets they go from 1m56s to 1m51s at the end of the run, and in one lap, I’ve done a 1m52s so it’s pretty decent.”
Renault sporting director Alan Permane agreed with that assessment. But he had no regrets about giving the intermediates a go with Ocon because “had we not run the intermediates at all and then seen what Racing Point and Max had done on them, we’d have been kicking ourselves thinking we should have put the other tyre on”.