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Mercedes EQ make their mark in Diriyah qualifying

After letting the dust settle on two practice sessions from earlier in the day, the teams came to qualifying eager to make get their championship fights off to a strong start. With 24 drivers now on track, there was little room for error but each of them felt they had plenty to prove. 

The low-grip and track quality were the focus of qualifying as the drivers in group 1 were reluctant as ever to run at the front and set the first time. Current champion Jean-Eric Vergne topped the group, followed by Robin Frijns. Vergne’s teammate, however, was around 2.48 seconds slower than him on final lap time, leaving him with a time fit only for sixth in his group.

After the session, da Costa said that he had been told to take his first lap on track as his time, explaining why he pulled over during the timed lap of his fellow qualifiers, saying it was “one to forget”.

Lucas di Grassi’s comments about track improvement proved to be correct as the lap times shrunk down into the 1:14s for group 2. Oliver Rowland experienced the true lack of grip, slipping into the wall on his timed lap. That didn’t stop him from moving himself ahead of Vergne in the timings. However, it soon became clear how much time he had lost when he hit the wall, finishing the session fourth with Sam Bird at the top.

In group 3, Alexander Sims who was a way off the rest of his group finished the session in fourth, with Edoardo Mortara and Stoffel Vandoorne slotting in between himself and Bird who remained on top of the timesheet. The real shocker of the group came from Felipe Massa who only managed 16th, despite the improvements in track conditions.

Current F2 champion Nyck de Vries was the first on-track for group 4 who instantly made his mark, putting his car into second. De Vries wasn’t the only rookie in this group as he was joined by Brendon Hartley, James Calado and Nico Mueller. Calado and Mueller both went off with Calado reporting a front lock-up and Mueller experiencing something very similar in the same place and time.

Coming into Superpole, there was a very positive feeling in the Mercedes EQ garage with both Vandoorne and de Vries having made it into the top six. First out was Mahindra’s Jerome D’Ambrosio, setting a time of 1:15.539. Sims surpassed D’Ambrosio’s impressive middle sector, setting the benchmark at 1:14.563. Mortara, determined to take pole and used every inch of the track but it wasn’t quite enough for the Venturi driver who finished the session in fourth.

Next on track was Vandoorne in the first of the two Mercedes EQs. He slid himself through the final corner and into a provisional second. His teammate de Vries took to the track next, looking to impress. All was riding on the final sector as he drew nearly equal with Sims. De Vries finished the session in third.

Sam Bird was the last to take to the track in the session, but he came out too fierce and almost hit the wall between turns 3 and 4, throwing up dust behind him. Bird finished the session in fifth, leaving Sims with pole, closely followed by the new Mercedes EQ team.


Picture source: FIA Formula E Media