Japanese Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Japanese Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Konnichiwa, Nihon e yōkoso! With much excitement, the Championship remains in the Far East for the Japanese Grand Prix The Suzuka Circuit is one of Formula 1 legend. Home to iconic corners; Degner, 130R, and Spoon, the 5.807km circuit is a highlight in the Formula 1 calendar for drivers and fans alike. Suzuka is a true racing circuit, it’s old school; high-speed, 70% of a lap at full throttle, only one corner taken at less than 100km/h, and a figure of eight loop. The long and fast corners put an incredible load on the cars, making it a rather technically demanding race. Suzuka’s coastal location means that the track is prone to sudden rain, in this year’s case, a super-typhoon.

Suzuka is comprised of challenging double apex corners, and varying radii*. The track narrows in several places translating into little room for error. One lap, well, every lap, requires commitment and complete concentration. Even with the DRS zone, overtaking can be a challenge, but possible (and awesome) at the chicane on the exit of 130R. There is a delicate balance between high downforce and stability at Suzuka, while not compromising on speed. Adding to the setup consideration, super-typhoons call for a little more grip than the average shower. The chance of a safety car is officially around 60%, but again given the super-typhoon this is set to change. The circuit isn’t particularly modernised, the asphalt is abrasive, and tyre wear is an issue. To accommodate the high-speed corners and wear, tyre allocation for the weekend is the hard prime and medium option compound tyre, the two hardest compounds Pirelli offer.

Sector 1 is technically very challenging, a lot of complex maneuvers and double apex corners. Turn 1 and 2 just happens to be a perfect example of a double apex corner. At 300km/h on the entry into turn 1, as soon as drivers have past the first apex, it’s a quick downshift to fourth gear, slowing the car down to 160km/h. Leading into the ‘S’ Curves, this complex requires continuous momentum and downforce, taken in fifth gear for some mechanical grip. The Esses (turns 3-6) test drivers’ neck strength, good news for Esteban here.

Sector 2 begins with turn 8, Degner Curve. To get the apex, a little clip of the kerb is needed on the entry, but too much and its straight into the gravel trap. The run down into turn 10 is an opportunity for drivers to sneak up to full throttle, but barely as the Hairpin at turn 11 will sneak up pretty damn quick. The Hairpin is a mere 70km/h and has caused a few lock ups over the weekend so far. Turn 12 opens to a smooth right-hander into another Suzuka classic, Spoon Curve.

Then its time 130R**; the fastest corner on the Formula 1 calendar at 310km/h. The final complex of corners, turns 16-17-18 make up the Casino Triangle. The braking point for Casino is crucial for a good entry for the chicane to power towards the start/finish straight. Already there have been two incidents coming out of Casino, Ricciardo met with the barriers in the second free practice on Friday, and Hamilton copied the move on Saturday morning for practice.

– Alex

* Good word

** Squee!

Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the championship tonight after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver stormed his way to victory from pole position, and the retirement of his teammate left the way for the two Red Bulls to stand either side of Hamilton on the podium. Vettel stole an early position from Ricciardo to finish second, with his teammate just behind in third. The Singapore Grand Prix had a reasonably high rate of attrition, with Kamui Kobayashi not making it past the formation lap. Nico Rosberg also failed to get away, but managed to start his F1 W05 from the pit lane.

At lights out, the twenty remaining cars on the grid stormed down into turn one. It was a predictably quick getaway from Hamilton, who led the pack. Sebastian Vettel immediately went left onto the racing line, squeezing out his teammate for second. Alonso, starting behind Vettel on the grid in P5, capitalised on the empty track left by the Red Bull, and went full throttle into the first corner. The Spaniard was a little over excited by the prospects of a competitive grid position it seemed, as he went too deep, locking the brakes, and completely missing turn one. Alonso gave his track position back to Vettel, though arguably he should have handed a place back to Ricciardo as well. Further back, the rest of the grid snaked through the first complex of corners in a remarkably orderly fashion, followed up the rear by Nico Rosberg, who had managed to get away from the pit lane.

Rosberg’s race was already off to a bad start before he’d even left the garage for the grid. Control system issues to his steering wheel meant the team had to replace his wheel not once, but twice. The team couldn’t figure out the problem, meaning only the gearshift paddles were working. The F1 W05 sat stranded on the grid as the rest of the pack shuffled around him on the formation lap, forcing him to start form the pit lane. To make matters worse, Rosberg’s radio wasn’t working for the opening laps of the race. Perhaps the Mercedes garages were taking the team radio ban a little too seriously. Rosberg eventually settled into a rhythm and began to make his way through the field of back markers. His race came to a premature end when he came in for his first pit stop. Having to switch the car off for the stop, Rosberg was unable to get it started again. Deciding to save the miles on the engine, Rosberg called game over and retired. Not ideal for defending the championship lead. This left the door open for Hamilton to cruise his way to victory and take the championship lead for the first time this season. However, his race to victory would prove to be far from a cruise. The apparently inevitably appearance of the safety car at the Singapore Grand Prix brought the grid back together at two thirds race distance. There was a moment of panic in Hamilton’s voice when he realised that the seven cars behind him were all on the prime tyre, compared to his worn option. The team pushed and encouraged Hamilton to build a twenty seven second gap over seven laps to Vettel in P2, to allow the Mercedes to make his final pit stop. Hamilton was convinced his tyres were on the brink of sheer explosion. Though with a little coaxing from his race engineer, built up a twenty-five gap and was called in. He emerged just behind Vettel, but critically, in front of Ricciardo and Alonso. Vettel wasn’t about to put up a fight for the lead knowing Hamilton was on fresh tyres, so he let him through.

The second step on the podium was Vettel’s best race result of the season, so it is unsurprising that he allowed Hamilton through so easily. The battle was never there, Hamilton was on fresh primes to Vettel’s twenty-nine lap old primes. So Vettel was happy to collect his eighteen points in second place. The Red Bull was fairly aggressive on his teammate at lights out, squeezing him out for a position before the first corner. Perhaps this was Vettel’s way of showing Ricciardo, who again out-qualified him, that he should still be considered as a threat, or perhaps Vettel wanted a bit of competitive rivalry between teammates. Either way, Vettel’s aggression paid off, he made the position and remaining in front of Ricciardo for the rest of the race. Ricciardo was never in the position to fight back as his RB10 was running on limited power. The team radio ban on driver coaching meant that the pit wall couldn’t talk Ricciardo through the issue, even if they had worked out the problem in the first place. The fact that Ricciardo finished in third is testament to his performance on track tonight. The safety car hurt both the Red Bulls strategy, and Ricciardo was left managing a weak RB10 on seriously degraded tyres during the final laps. Ricciardo couldn’t simply bring it home, he had Alonso right on his tail.

Alonso wasn’t penalised for his adventure off track on the opening lap having given the place back to Vettel. The F14 T had looked competitive all weekend through practice and qualifying, and Alonso was happy to deliver a more than competitive race. The Ferrari was lucky in their race strategy, managing to undercut Vettel in the second round of pit stops, moving into P3. Though the appearance of the safety car, similarly to the Red Bulls, was not a good thing for the rest of Ferrari’s strategy. Alonso was left fighting Ricciardo for the final podium step with twenty-three lap old prime tyres. Alonso sized Ricciardo up, not knowing that the RB10 was struggling for power (and on thirty-two lap old primes), but waited too long to put any real pressure to the Red Bull, eventually finishing P4. Kimi Raikkonen somewhat fell away during the race. Kimi was stuck behind Massa in the first stint, and the safety car didn’t do much to improve his efforts. He still picked up points, four of them, finishing in P8.

Williams’ race fell apart when the safety car came out. Massa’s strategy had benefited him in the first pit, exiting on fresh rubber ahead of Raikkonen. Massa managed to hold the Ferrari up and lay down some good laps. Score one, Massa. The rest of the race didn’t go to plan, with the safety car forcing Massa to drive like his grandmother (his words not mine) to save the tyres until the end of the race. Clearly want to wanting to unleash more from the FW36, he obliged, and finished a healthy P5. Bottas was on the same strategy and enjoying a healthy run in P6, however his tyres completely fell off the cliff on the final lap, dropping from his P6 to outside of the points in P11.

Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, picked up a five second stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits when he gained a position on Bianchi. The Frenchman had two options; either take the penalty in the pits and lose valuable grid positions, or, have the five seconds deducted from his lap time and overtake a good five or six cars to make up for it. Vergne chose the latter option, and powered past Perez, Raikkonen, and Hulkenberg to cross the line in P6. Even with his penalty in place, Vergne retained his finishing position, having built enough of a gap to Perez in P7. It looks like the pressure of being left without a confirmed race seat for 2015 is agreeable for Vergne, he’s doing a lot in his race to build up his resume for a seat. Kvyat had a difficult race. The conditions in Singapore are hard at the best of times, but the rookie was left without a drink for the whole race, literally having to be peeled from his STR9 at the end of the race. Kvyat asked to retire, feeling issues with the Toro Rosso, but the team kept him out. Eventually he crossed the line in a dehydrated P14.

Force India managed a double points finish, despite Sergio Perez’s VJM07 losing it’s front wing to Sutil. The contact with the Sauber occurred on lap 30, when Perez was trying to overtake Sutil for P12. Sutil completely unaware of his surroundings, moved straight across into Perez’s path clipping his right rear on Perez’s wing. A moment later, the Force India’s wing was underneath the car, and littering debris all over the Singapore streets. Cue safety car. Luckily no one picked up a puncture, though the track to several laps to clear. Perez was understandably unhappy, not only did he face the hefty fine of littering in Singapore, but also Sutil’s carelessness had seemingly cost him his race. Or saw we thought, Perez was on form again for the remainder or the night, recovering to pick up points in P7. Hulkenberg had less of a dramatic race, and finished with two valuable points in P9.

McLaren had a competitive pace, and a strong MP4-29, and a good strategy for both drivers. Their race didn’t go to plan though. Button was on a two-stop strategy, keeping him within the points. Earlier in the race he’d been one of the front-runners, though his strategy was going to see him finish around P6 or 7. Alas, on lap 54, Button’s MP4-29 lost drive after going over the kerbs on the Anderson Bridge. After one of Button’s best races of the season, he parked up and retired. Magnussen was on a three-stop, to take the last point in P10.

Lotus nearly scored points on the Marina Bay Circuit, although the race didn’t come together as planned for Maldonado or Grosjean. Maldonado’s first pit wasn’t as smoothly as the team would have liked. The green light for the Lotus pit malfunctioned, sending him away with the front left wheel gun slightly attached still… slightly. The team also had to pit Maldonado a fourth time after fitting the E22 with the wrong tyres under the safety car. Luckily this didn’t affect his position, but the supersofts he was on ran out of grip in the last ten laps and he fell out of contention for his first points of the season. Eventually, Maldonado finished P12. Grosjean lost out on the race restart, pushing too hard and losing two positions. Without enough grip for the end of the race, Grosjean couldn’t pass back into the points, and finished P13.

Marcus Ericsson had his best race of the season, finishing ahead of the two Marussias in P15. His teammate however had one of his worst races, in that he didn’t race. Kobayashi suffered a total loss of oil pressure on the formation lap, recording his first ever DNS. Bianchi once again finished ahead of Chilton. The two MR03s finished in P16 and P17 respectively.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Sauber, and the Singapore Streets didn’t do much to aid their woes. Gutierrez was an early race retirement after his C33 battery wouldn’t charge, leaving him without any ERS*. Gutierrez was understandably upset, he had been on course for a competitive race. Sutil received on a five second penalty for his contact with Perez, though he never served it, coming into the garage on lap 40 made it a double retirement for Sauber.

Hamilton now leads the championship by three points, a margin that is by no means great. The title battle remains! Round 15 remains in the South East for the much anticipated Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. In complete contrast to Marina Bay, Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. The track has a lot going for it too, double apex corners, elevation changes, a figure of eight so the trap loops over itself… Not to mention 130R. Only two weeks to wait. Until then, selamat malam.

– Alex

*Remember how you need a lot of ERS on a street circuit?

Position No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 60 Winner 1 25
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +13.5 secs 4 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +14.2 secs 3 15
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 60 +15.3 secs 5 12
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 60 +42.1 secs 6 10
6 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 60 +56.8 secs 12 8
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 60 +59.0 secs 15 6
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 60 +60.6 secs 7 4
9 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 60 +61.6 secs 13 2
10 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 60 +62.2 secs 9 1
11 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes +65.0 secs 8
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault +66.9 secs 18
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +68.0 secs 16
14 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault +72.0 secs 10
15 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault +94.1 secs 22
16 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari +94.5 secs 19
17 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari +1 Lap 21
Ret 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +8 Lap 11
Ret 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari +20 Laps 17
Ret 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +43 Laps 14
Ret 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +47 Laps 2
Ret 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault + secs 20

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

It is once again a Mercedes front row lockout ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix*. Under the streetlights, Hamilton managed the snatch pole position from his teammate, who in turn stole the top spot from Daniel Ricciardo. The absence of aiding drivers over team radio had caused confusion during practice, but seemed a little more settled for qualifying. With only a 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, the track remained warm at a toasty (but sweaty) 33°C.

Both the Mercedes were slow to get on their usual competitive pace. Having finished FP3 further down the timesheets, many were left wondering if the team were sandbagging. Apparently, yes, possibly? While both the Mercedes clearly had the single lap pace, Hamilton was consistently scrappy, missing the apex and locking throughout the evening. Rosberg’s session immediately got off to a poor start by completely out-braking himself into turn 8 in the opening minutes of Q1. The Mercedes were never in contention of being knocked out before Q3, proving to be able to unleash a little more of their ERS. However it remains to be seen if both the F1 W05s can make the race distance tomorrow.

Red Bull lockout the second row, with Ricciardo once again out-qualifying Seb. Ricciardo had a near perfect qualifying, managing the right amount of downforce and pace in his set up. Demonstrating his ability by moving to P1 on his first flying lap in Q1. It looked as if Ricciardo would secure pole position in the session that counted, posting a 1:46.854 on the chequered flag. The momentous cheers for Ricciardo were short lived and replaced with cheers for Rosberg and then Hamilton. Vettel had a less than perfect session. In Q1, his first attempt of a flying lap was hindered first by driver error in sector one, and then completely spoiled by traffic. The perils of a street circuit, eh? When he finally found some space on the track, the RB10 was easily through to Q2, and then Q3. Vettel’s evening improved as his tyres came up to temperature, but pushing too hard on his final flying lap, he lost critical time through the twisty street circuit. On the Singapore streets, the reigning world champ managed to qualify P4.

Ferrari have been the surprise of the weekend, with both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finding not only grip, but speed from the F14 T. Alonso had been quicker than the Mercedes through Q1, and though he starts from P5, proved to have much cleaner laps. Kimi Raikkonen is unfortunately out of position, having not being able to complete the final qualifying session. Kimi had finished the second session on top of the time sheets, something he’s not managed all year in the Ferrari. However, while Kimi was making space for himself on track in Q3, the F14 T decided that 14 laps for the night was enough, and lost power. Promisingly, Kimi’s lap time was still enough for P7.

Williams made some radical changes to their balance overnight, with their street circuit setup clearly paying off. Felipe Massa lapped quicker than his teammate all evening, and spent a brief spell at the top of the timesheets in Q3. Williams were looking in strong contention for the front row, however at the end of the session and the usual scramble of times took place, Massa was bumped down to P6, where Bottas starts P8.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen made a Q3 appearance, though that’s about all the MP4-29 could muster. Magnussen could only improve on his second session time by four hundredths of a second, putting him P9. Button meanwhile just missed out on the top ten shoot out, qualifying P11. The Briton got all he could out of the McLaren, though needed more downforce. Unfortunately for Button, he’d already maxed that out in Q1.

It was a similar story to McLaren for Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat was the only Toro Rosso in Q3, having found a solution to the brake issues that had plagued him during practice. Like the Red Bull, the Toro Rosso’s STR9 is better suited to a street circuit. The Russian rookie’s lap of 1:47.362 sees him round out the top ten. Vergne, who remains without a confirmed seat for 2015, qualified in P12, six tenths of a second behind Kvyat.

Strategy bit Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who like Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo, had returned to the garage in the final minutes of Q2. It was a risk, was Hulkenberg’s 1:47.308 on supersofts enough to see him through to Q3? No. As the remaining cars on track set their final laps, Hulkenberg was pushed down to P13. Perez didn’t make it past the second qualifying session either, despite being one of the remaining cars out on track. The VJM07 has been competitive so far over the weekend, but Perez appeared to run out of steam and grip in Q2, running wide at turn 11 and only managing to extract 1:47.575 for P15.

Gutierrez was a surprise in the early stages of qualifying, putting his C33 up into P2 with a 1:47.970 on the supersoft tyres. Last year, Gutierrez made his first Q3 appearance at the Singapore Grand Prix, this year he’d only make it to Q2, and P14. It shows at least some promise for the Sauber. On the other side of the garage, Sutil was having no such luck. His C33 lost all power at the end of Q1, relinquishing him to start P17. Perhaps, it is time to give your seat to Giedo for 2015… Just saying.

It was a frustrating evening for Lotus. The E22 and Singapore Streets should be getting along a lot better than they are at the moment. Whatever advantages the E22 has in downforce on the circuit, the Renault turbo seems to squash. Romain Grosjean had the potential to qualify much higher than P16, though spoiling his flying lap in Q2 by running completely over the kerbs. Maldonado, running with a new chassis after his FP2 crash, was unable to run at full power and qualified P18. On the plus side, both Grosjean and Maldonado have fresher tyres to play with tomorrow.

The usual suspects round out the back of the grid. Marussia went against the grain in Q1, coming immediately on the supersoft compound tyres while the rest of the track were on softs. Bianchi out qualified his teammate and the two Caterhams for P19, while Max Chilton got his turbo back after losing it momentarily in FP3 to qualify P21. Splitting the two Marussias, Kamui Kobayashi qualified P20 in a very reluctant CT05. Ericsson only made it out of the garage for two laps in Q1 due to work being done on the car, so unsurprisingly lines up P22.

The 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, quickly changed to 100%, as it bucketed down shortly after all twenty-two cars were safely tucked into bed (their garages). However, it has never rained on race day in Singapore, so once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sprinkling tomorrow night. The results from qualifying give some indication of who will remain cool in the Singapore heat. Ferrari are finally competitive, while Red Bull (like in Monaco) stand in the best position to challenge Mercedes. Despite their front row lockout, Mercedes have suffered from over heating issues on high downforce circuits before.

– Alex

* I’m running out of different ways to phrase that sentence…

Position No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.7 17
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 01:47.2 01:45.8 01:45.7 19
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.5 01:45.9 12
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.6 01:45.9 15
5 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.9 16
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 01:47.6 01:46.5 01:46.0 20
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 01:46.7 01:46.4 01:46.2 14
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.6 01:46.2 18
9 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 01:48.0 01:46.7 01:46.3 18
10 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 01:47.7 01:46.9 01:47.4 21
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.9 12
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 01:47.4 01:47.0 14
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 01:47.4 01:47.3 13
14 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.0 01:47.3 9
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 01:48.1 01:47.6 13
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 01:47.9 01:47.8 14
17 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.3 6
18 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 01:49.1 8
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 01:49.4 7
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 01:50.4 8
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 01:50.5 7
22 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 01:52.3 5
Q1 107% Time 01:54.2

 

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Selamat datung ke Singapura! Round 14 of the 2014 Formula 1 Championship takes us to the 5.065km Marina Bay Street Circuit for the night race; the Singapore Grand Prix. This is quite possibly one most physically demanding races on the calendar. While the Singapore sun is nowhere to be seen, the Singapore heat likes to linger, keeping things nice and warm (not to mention muggy). Humidity is around 80%, coupled with track temperatures around 35°C for the race. Drivers lose around 3kgs in sweat during the two-hour race… charming.

The Monaco of the East can be a rather unforgiving circuit. Already a low grip circuit, the various humps and bumps on the Singapore roads, coupled with the beautifully narrowing barriers, translate into very little room for driver error. Consequently, a similar Monaco setup is used, put on all the downforce, and pray for grip. Gear ratios are also a lot shorter at the Singapore Grand Prix to give a little more mechanical grip through the twisty street circuit, and power out of each turn. Brake stability and balance becomes a focus, as well as engine wear. At this point in the season, most teams are reaching their limit for engine changes. A lot to focus on really… On the plus side, there is opportunity for energy recovery, and lots of it. A total of 23 corners mean a lot of braking zones. This is not a circuit where you want an ERS failure. Tyre allocation for the race is the soft and supersoft tyre, with around a 2.5-3 second difference between the compound. So expect a two-stop or three-stop strategy for the race.

Sector one offers a few opportunities to overtake, particularly in the braking zone on turn one. The first DRS activation zone runs just after turn five along Raffles Boulevard; expect more opportunities to overtake here. Entering into sector two at turn seven is another hard braking zone. The Singapore Sling at turn 10 has been reconfigured to give drivers better traction through the corner. The hairpin at turn 13 is the slowest section on the track and is all about downforce. Sector three is the most technical part of the circuit. Raffles Avenue is the bumpiest sections of track, proving to be not the most comfortable ride, let alone the risk of losing traction. The series of corners from sixteen to nineteen past the football stadium are right-left-left-right, and blind entry, just for fun. Turn eighteen has been particularly tricky in the past, with many a driver pay a visit to the barriers. If you’re Fernando Alonso, you’re going to want to power slide through turn twenty-three and onto the start/finish straight.

A fun fact for the Singapore Grand Prix, the lighting along the circuit to replicate daylight is the equivalent of 3,000 candles. Candles, while more environmentally friendly, would significantly raise the temperature, so I’m glad the FIA opted for light bulbs. The Singapore Grand Prix is probably my favourite race on the calendar, and though I might be bias in saying that, it really does have a lot to offer. Racing under lights, on narrow, low grip, and bumpy street circuit. All the race is missing is rain*.

– Alex

* and me.

Italian Grand Prix: Mercedes are friends now, apparently…

Italian Grand Prix: Mercedes are friends now, apparently…

Hello everyone! Tom Grantham here for my final report for this weekend’s edition of Alelbuth while Alex continues to settle in to Madrid. The results of today’s race seem to reflect upon the positions posted at qualifying. Mercedes in the front row, Williams in the second row, and Red Bull Racing finally finding some pace during the race and securing a fifth and sixth place finishes for Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. While McLaren were pushed down to eighth and tenth place. Magnussen would have finished in front of Perez’s Force India, however the Dane incurred a 5- second penalty against Perez during the race.

First off, I would like to apologise for bringing up the Hamilton/Rosberg situation, as by now, everyone is tired of hearing about it. It is however, still very clear that there is a division in the Mercedes garage even though when asked if he and Rosberg were friends again, Hamilton replied, “Of course we are, we are teammates and always will be!” with the biggest smile he could muster. His actions in the drivers room post race showed an entirely different story as he faces away from the camera and the conversing Rosberg and Massa, fiddling with his cap. It would be a safe bet to say that they two are still not friends but are maintaining a professional relationship, which was demonstrated with a clean race by both drivers today.

It might have been easy to keep all eyes on the Mercedes duo today, however the real entertainers in today’s were Williams’ Bottas and Massa, McLaren’s Button and Magnussen, Force India’s Perez and Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo who all kept up a constant competitive pace with multiple duals for position with or without technical issue.

Against all odds at the start of his race, Hamilton worked his way up through the ranks to get to a very well deserved first place this weekend. All did not go as planned from the race start as Hamilton’s energy recovery system malfunctioned causing him to lose power and places from the line giving way to Rosberg to begin his speedy lead. Within three to four laps his ERS was reconfigured and he was able to race at full pace again, quickly working his way up the field to begin a multi lap battle for first with his teammate. Eventually overtaking Rosberg at turn one, where he proceeded to keep his lead right until the end of the race.

Rosberg held a very convincing lead from the start, beginning with a quick take-off and building up to a 2.8 second lead over Massa. This lead did not last long when by lap 9, Rosberg broke too late at the start of the Rettifilo chicane and had to steer between the bollards to rejoin the race, losing 1.8 seconds to Hamilton and 1.7 seconds to Massa. Eventually Rosberg’s pace slows and Hamilton began to battle for Rosberg’s position, lapping faster than his German teammate. Eventually Rosberg had another mistake again by breaking late at the same spot at the start of turn one having to turn through the bollards again giving time for Hamilton to take first place. Rosberg comfortably held his second position for the rest of the race after a pit stop to hard compounds.

A definite contender for driver of the day in my eyes will absolutely be Bottas due to his fantastic constant over takes during the early race. Bottas came into the media’s eye from lap 9 as he is noticed being followed by Hulkenberg and Ricciardo. During the next few laps Bottas took ninth, overtook Perez for eighth, Alonso for seventh, and Button for fifth in a very convincing duel, at the approach to turn one. After a pit stop, Bottas continued his streak by taking Perez for eighth; he worked his way up the grid to hold a very comfortable fourth until the end of the race.

Massa also joined the Bottas battle in a race down to turn one, leapfrogging both his teammate and Magnussen in the early stages of the race to run in second at the start of lap 5. Hamilton also overtook Magnussen shortly after the first chicane. Massa finally pit on Lap 24, and fought to maintain his position. Williams definitely ran a fantastic race strategy today.

Button and Magnussen ran a very well managed team race today with some slight positioning issues. They both did well to secure a third row starting position during qualifying but they had to fight hard to keep within the top ten during the race, with a car that (yet again) did not seem to have enough pace to fight for position. Both McLaren drivers were in the spotlight today as Button entered an climatic dual with former teammate, Sergio Perez, lasting for many laps to finally reach a conclusion on lap 39, where Button overtook Perez at turn one, defended fiercely and eventually going wheel to wheel with Perez into the second chicane. Perez went off of the road and cut the second apex of Della Roggia essentially gaining position over Button. It is accepted that Perez was able to regain possession by driving too deep into the apex, however he is not penalised, as Button was found to not left enough room and forcing Perez off the track. Magnussen had a fantastic race finishing seventh over the line, but incurred a 5-second penalty causing him to come in at tenth place. This incident occurred during lap 31 where Magnussen caused Bottas to go too wide out of turn one. The commentators comment that there was nothing that Magnussen could do, however the Stewards later penalised Magnussen with a 5-second time penalty. This certainly was a very exciting race for McLaren as they produced two improved results with competition points for both drivers.

There were only two retirements during today’s race. The first of which occurred on lap 6, when Marussia’s Max Chilton broke too late entering the Della Roggia chicane, causing him to oversteer off of the track, through the gravel, and into the wall… When asked about the incident Chilton replied that he had a slight lock-up and that he pushed the braking distance, causing him to go off track. The second race retirement was the Scuderia’s Fernando Alonso, much to the Tifosi’s dismay. At the beginning of lap 29 near the entry to turn one, Alonso’s gearbox failed, refusing to downshift, leaving him no choice but to park up and retire. Before today, Alonso had enjoyed 89 races without a mechanical retirement since Valencia 2010.

Due to recent political situations within the world of Formula 1, Rosberg did not receive a cheery reception on the podium during the interview, however both he and Hamilton made it clear that they are “friends” now, and are working together as teammates… Despite Hamilton earlier ignoring team advice, and increasing his fuel usage, and pressuring Rosberg, and eventually reaping the rewards by overtaking for first place… Best friends. Even though Massa is no longer racing for Ferrari, the Tifosi gave him the warmest welcome as he returned to the podium after finishing a fantastic third. Massa was visibly elated to finally have his first podium finish of the season after a run of bad luck and poor choices in strategy.

Finishing Positions:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
7. Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
8. Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
9. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
10. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
11. Daniil Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
13. Jean-Eric Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
15. Adrian Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
17. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham-Renault)
18. Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Ferrari)
19. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
20. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)
RET. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
RET. Max Chilton (Marussia-Ferrari)

Both Mercedes and Williams displayed a fantastic team performance today to get 1-2 and 3-4 finishing positions, followed by Red Bull Racing who showed vast improvement during today’s race. While the Italian Grand Prix was almost a problem free race, with a few minor incidents, it was still a competitive race with well earned results by the leading drivers and teams. Despite the bad publicity that certain drivers on the grid receive, they all worked very hard to get the result they received today and I would not have seen it go any other way.

Thank you everyone for reading my pre race and post race analysis this weekend! I shall now let you resume normal programming by passing the baton back to Alex now that she will be settled in by the time the Singapore Grand Prix arrives! As a passing food for thought and discussion, there are rumours that due to financial constraints, there will be eight teams on the grid next year each with three cars on the circuit. What do you think about this new rumoured change to Formula 1?

– Tom Grantham

 

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Hello everyone! It’s Tom Grantham here filling in for Alex for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at the legendary Monza! One of the hottest topics on the grid this weekend has been the replacement of gravel with Astroturf around the Parabolica corner. This has generated several drivers’ excitement at the decreased risk of damaging their cars if they go too wide off the corner. This is certainly a safer change, but let’s be honest, it adds some excitement to this corner as drivers will now attack it with a braver pace…providing they don’t brake too late!

It has also been revealed that Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat has incurred his first engine penalty for this season after his engineers put a new V6 engine into his car on Friday evening to fix issues with his car. Kvyat will now start with a ten-place grid penalty.

Now, before I continue on to talk about qualifying I would like to take a moment to talk about the rough diamond* and the prince, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The two former friends now have a schoolboy tiff that has now surpassed the likes of Vettel and Webber, thanks to an exchange of team orders and car parts on the circuit. It is clear that while there is an obvious division in the garage, Mercedes are not going to let this split the team up as heard by Hamilton’s and Rosberg’s responses during Thursday’s drivers conference. It is clear as the championship reaches its climax, all eyes will be on the feuding few while other drivers (see Ricciardo/Alonso/Bottas/Massa/Anyone on the grid) may take the advantage and slip by under the radar.
A quick mechanical note: Different drag combinations on Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren cars have taken place pre qualifying to help manage the cars on the circuit and a change to the Mercedes engines has been noted which will make it easier for the Williams duo to submit more competitive laps. This showed during Qualifying. It is also worth a mention that during pre-qualifying it was discovered that Hulkenberg once again encountered electrical issues with his Force India.

Onto qualifying!

Q1:
A very mechanically interesting qualifying session from the word “go”. After some gear box issues, Rosberg exited the pits a few minutes later than he wanted to, however he did not let this fracture his pole chances. Both Mercedes went out on the circuit on hard compounds making commentators question if a one-stop strategy would be on the cards for the troublesome duo. Sutil drives out on to the circuit with hydraulic problems while Kobayashi enters the first recorded lap with a time of 1:28.299. Shortly after the tifosi loose themselves with fiery red Ferrari filled emotion as Alonso hits pole position with 1:26.514, Rosberg flies through taking pole with 1:24.862. Queue a qualifying battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, where Hamilton hits 1:25.571 and Rosberg narrowly gets 1:25.607. Massa sneaks his way into second while the two McLarens each hit a starting 1:30s time. Ricciardo stole ninth while Massa stole pole with 1:25.528 with eight minutes of the session to go. Thirty seconds later Rosberg steals first again with 1:25.493 travelling 353.9 km/h through the speed trap while Lotus F1 Team’s Grosjean returns to the garage after springing a leak. With just over six minutes to go Vettel became reckless by going too wide through the apexes of Ascari chicane and then too wide onto the brand new Astroturf at Parabolica, loosing time. With just under 6 minutes left Hamilton steals first again with 1:25.363, while Rosberg considers a gearbox change with his engineers, the risk is too high.

In a last ditch effort; Hulkenberg flies out in the last few minutes of Q1 with a very shaky performance under pressure running a time of 1:26.665 placing him in ninth position. Bianchi also rushes out onto the circuit after experiencing issues and places eighteenth between Lotus’ Maldonado in seventeenth and Grosjean in nineteenth while passing the chequered flag. At the end of Q1 Hamilton describes his final pole lap as poor with his front right wheel locking up into turn one and again into Ascari chicane pushing too wide into the second apex. I guess you cannot be perfect while shooting a Pharrell Williams music video at the same time as driving an F1 car.
Knockouts at the end of Q1: Maldonado, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Bianchi, Chilton, and Ericsson.

Q2:
Hulkenberg exits the pits first and places a time of 1:31.488, which is later beaten by Kvyat with 1:26.265. Rosberg flew out of the pits and set a lap of 1:24.682, then followed by Bottas, Alonso, Perez, and Raikkonen. Massa then captures second place with a 1:25 flat showing the start of a weekend long battle between Mercedes and Williams. Meanwhile, Alonso oversteers on Parabolica and discovers the new joys that is the Astroturf and regains control of his car back on the circuit. With seven and a half minutes remaining Rosberg is told to come to the pits to conserve his car while Ricciardo and Vettel both place sixth and seventh respectively while Hamilton steals first with 1:24.540. Button pushes for fifth in a show to try to keep his contract at McLaren pushing his teammate into the bottom six.

With just over five minutes to go, Rosberg re-enters the circuit in an attempt to beat Hamilton’s time, but is unsuccessful but still shows to be the fastest through the speed trap with 353.9 km/h. With four minutes left Rosberg returns to the pits. With just over one minute and twenty seconds remaining Raikkonen pushes for a better lap but makes a mistake through Ascari chicane. With a last ditch effort Vettel secures seventh place and Raikkonen misses out on Q3.
Knockouts at the end of Q2: Kvyat, Raikkonen, Vergne, Hulkenberg, Sutil, and Gutierrez.

Q3:
From the start of Q3 it was clear that it was going to be a time battle between Mercedes and Williams, with both Williams drivers pushing hard against the sturdy boshe and the prepubescent Brit. All cars go out from the start of the ten-minute session to get their laps out, Perez goes first with a time of 1:26.230, one second slower than expected of him, while Rosberg and Bottas hit 1:25.552 and 1:24.697 respectively putting Massa in pole position. It looked good for Williams as Massa gains 1:24.845 securing second place. By the five-minute mark, Hamilton and Rosberg had already beaten Bottas and Massa’s times and everyone went back to the pits.
With just over two minutes left of Q3, Rosberg, both McLaren drivers and a few more go back out onto the circuit again in a last ditch effort to improve lap times. Rosberg continues to secure his second place position while not managing to snatch pole from Hamilton while McLaren’s collective efforts show Magnussen taking fifth place from Button, pushing Button to sixth, creating an all Mercedes front row, all Williams second row, and all McLaren third row.

Results from Qualifying:
1. Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
6. Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
7. Alonso (Ferrari)
8. Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
9. Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
10. Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
11. Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
13. Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
15. Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
17. Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
18. Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
19. Kobayashi (Caterham-Renualt)
20. Bianchi (Marussia-Renault)
21. Chilton (Marussia-Renault)
22. Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)

While there were no major race incidents during qualifying it was a clear show of good competitive driving and team management ending with a first row of Mercedes, second row of Williams and third row of McLaren which is exactly the sort of start that both Williams and McLaren need right now. The results and general performance of Vettel and Ricciardo show that Red Bull Racing seems to have dropped a little in pace which will hopefully be addressed by their engineers tonight before Sundays race. But that said, with Red Bull dropping their pace and McLaren stepping up, it is clear to me that we are all in for an interesting race at the classic Monza circuit tomorrow.

– Tom Grantham

* Actually a HAM sandwich.

Italian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Italian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Ciao amici, e benvenuti al Gran Primio d’Italia! The 5.793km Autodromo di Monza requires a completely different aerodynamic setup compared to any race on the calendar. Adding to atmosphere, the unique blend of long straights, and slow corners pose a circuit that is seriously hard on the brakes.
A lower downforce package for straight-line speed is favoured for Monza, resulting in some slippy cars on track (especially out of Lesmo) and a greater risk of locking the wheels into the braking zones. Hard and medium compound tyres are therefore the tyre allocation for the weekend.

In sector one, the first chicane at Rettifilo is a difficult braking zone, one of the tightest corners on the F1 calendar, and the slowest point on the circuit. Watch for the opportunity to overtake at turns four and five into the second sector. A good exit from the second chicane is needed to carry the momentum into Lesmo. Overtaking is easy in the DRS zone on the back straight before heading into the final sector. Using the kerbs on the exit of the Ascari chicane (turns eight-nine-ten), drivers approach the Parabolica at a pretty quick pace (330km/h). The iconic gravel trap at the Curva Parabolica has been replaced with a tarmac run-off area, removing an ample amount of risk from running wide into turn 11. Previously, running off-line into turn 11 and putting a foot on the grass would see drivers pulled off track and into the gravel trap. It was a corner where drivers’ dared to brake late, to push just that little bit further. This year, the tarmac run-off doesn’t save time, but it does save bodywork, and allow drivers to safely re-enter the track. Safer –yes, exciting – well…

But at least for what the Parabolica lacks in amusement this year, the Tifosi will make up for, I’m sure. To match the distinctive circuit, only the distinctive Tifosi can deliver such enthusiasm (understatement) from the grandstands.

In other news, I’m very happy to introduce a guest blogger for this weekend. Tom Grantham* is an experienced blogger and friend who has very kindly agreed to take over alelbuth for the Italian Grand Prix. Tom will be writing the Pre Race Thoughts and Race Post for Round 13, as I rather ingeniously organised to move to Madrid over the race weekend. Idiot.

– Alex

* Otherwise known as Lord Grantham

Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Daniel Ricciardo took out his third win of the season at Spa-Francorchamps after a faultless drive allowed him to pick up the pieces of Mercedes disastrous race. Nico Rosberg somewhat controversially took the second step of the podium, while the quiet achiever at Williams; Valtteri Bottas came home to finish third. From lights out, Hamilton got the jump on Rosberg on the run down into La Source, but so too did Vettel. Starting from P3, the Red Bull was quick off the line to challenge the two Mercedes down into turn 1. Rosberg reluctantly conceded two positions, until a too-eager Vettel ran wide, letting Rosberg back through to challenge Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through La Source relatively unscathed, with the exception of Bianchi, who ran wide down to Eau Rouge and was clipped by Romain Grosjean as he re-entered the track. The tone for the rest of the race however, was set on the second lap after a very clumsy tussle between the two Mercedes. As Lewis Hamilton led his team-mate* into Les Combes, Rosberg went off the racing line to have a look around the outside of Hamilton. Hamilton continued on the racing line to make the apex of the corner, only to find Rosberg still there… Rosberg’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s left rear, causing a puncture (and soon a full blow-out) and a considerable loss of downforce to Rosberg’s car. All of this, and only on lap two.

Daniel Ricciardo was there to pick up the pieces of the scrapping Mercedes. Ricciardo was calm and calculated, not to say he wasn’t pushing. Making it somewhat of a habit, Ricciardo took Alonso into Les Combes on lap 4 to hunt down Vettel. He didn’t have long to stalk behind his team-mate before another mistake on Vettel’s behalf forced him wide, allowing Ricciardo to pounce past, and scamper away. The young Australian led for most of the 44 lap race, defending his top step finish right down to the last lap. Ricciardo finished the race on 17 lap old medium compound tyres, just 3.3s ahead of a fully recovered Rosberg on 10 lap old soft compound. A brilliant drive, and a well deserved win for Ricciardo and his “big homies” (his words, not mine). Vettel, though somewhat outshined by the young-gun, put in an impressive drive (though clumsy in areas) to finish P5. Vettel’s race came to a climatic finish following his final pit stop for soft compound tyres with just 10 laps remaining. The strategy put Vettel right amongst the battle in the midfield between Magnussen, Button, and Alonso. The wheel-to-wheel action saw Vettel capiltalise on mistakes made by Button and Alonso, moving himself up to P5 on the final lap. Despite a solid finish, Vettel’s race was a little shabby, exceeding track limits at the Curve Paul Frere, and running wide through Les Combes on the opening lap.

Valtteri Bottas completed the podium line-up, making up three positions to finish third. The Williams, clearly much more competitive in the dry conditions made progress early on in the race, making an easy pass on Rosberg before remaining steadily on the gearbox of Vettel. Following the Finn’s pit on lap 38 for the harder compound, Bottas breezed past Vettel on the run into La Source, and never looked back. Having no such luck, Felipe Massa picked up damage from Hamilton’s tyre debris, spoiling his race from early on. Massa spent most of the afternoon well outside the points, though finished his race in the 1:54s in P13.

Kimi Raikkonen looked in strong podium contention at Spa, though in the end, the F14 T didn’t have the pace to challenge the Williams. Still running the smaller wing, Kimi was lapping within the 1:54s compared to Alonso’s 1:56s, showing that hopefully the Finn is becoming more comfortable in the Ferrari. Alonso’s race got off on the wrong foot, with team personnel still on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Alonso was awarded a 5 second stop-go penalty, which he served on lap 13. Though the penalty could have been worse for Alonso, it did bring him out behind Magnussen, who proved not as easy to pass as Alonso would have expected. The F14 T looked very scrappy, lacking considerable grip and even speed against the MP4-29 (which is slightly embarrassing). In the final laps, the Ferrari was in the midst of the battle for P5, 6, and 7. Though spoiled his chances by running wide, allowing Vettel through. Eventually Alonso finished P8.

McLaren had one of their best results of the season of a double points finish, with Magnussen P6 ahead of Button in P7. Magnussen had already shown he could hold his own against Alonso, though managing a two stop strategy finishing on 20 lap old medium compound tyres is rather something in your rookie year. Jensen Button waited until the final stages of the race to do something exciting, keeping himself ahead of the Ferrari, and for a time the Red Bull as well. Alonso had eventually made it past Button, though running wide on the final lap allowed the McLaren through for P7.

Force India had a better race than qualifying, though only managed to get one car into the points. Perez made up four positions in the race to finish P9 on a two-stop strategy. Hulkenberg, on the same strategy, made up a full nine positions to finish just outside the points in P11.

Danill Kvyat took out the final point of the race, finishing P10. Kvyat had a quiet, but positive race. Vergne was unlucky to score a point at Spa, lapping in the 1:53s, albeit in clean air and with no one behind him. Perhaps the pressure of losing his Toro Rosso seat will push Vergne the same way it pushed Massa last season?

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with neither driver picking up a point. Sutil finished ahead of his team-mate in P14. Gutierrez at least had a better race than he did qualifying, though he did only manage P15.

Max Chilton was involved in a rare occurrence of racing in challenging Ericsson for P16. Hats off to Max though, who after having stalked down the Caterham once, lost considerable ground in the final few laps due to blue flags as the scrap between Magnussen, Button, Vettel, and Alonso moved through. The Marrusia managed to let everyone past, and close the gap back to Ericsson in less than a lap, to eventually overtake the Caterham. Jules Bianchi was forced to retire on lap 41, though his race was ruined from the opening lap. Following his contact with the Lotus, Bianchi never managed to make up his lost grid positions.

It was not the best day at the office for Lotus, with neither driver reaching the chequered flag. Maldonado retired on lap 2, due to exhaust issues on his E22 calling it quits. Grosjean made it to the final ten laps before damage from debris forced him to retire.

With the number of cars that picked up damage from debris during the race, it is a wonder why at no point the Stewards thought it might be a good idea to deploy the safety car and clear the track. That being said, if the track had of been cleared, Nico Rosberg wouldn’t have picked up with very snazzy decal around his antenna (a piece of Lewis’ tyre). The safety car would have however, brought the grid back together, saving a few races. All in all, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the top step result, as Ricciardo remains the only driver able to win a race against the Mercedes this season. It’s the Tifosi’s turn to host Formula 1, as the championship moves to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time, so until then, bonsoir.

– Alex

* That term is used very loosely now

Belgian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Mercedes lock out the front row of the grid ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, though it was Nico Rosberg who could hold his own in the tricky track conditions, to out qualify his team-mate for pole position. Lewis Hamilton, therefore settles to start alongside in P2, with Sebastian Vettel still two seconds behind for P3. The Spa circuit lived up to its reputation of varying track conditions during qualifying. A massive downpour in the hour before the first session ensured that the already challenging track was, shall we say; moist. The slippy track resulted in many an off-moment for most of the grid.

Mercedes still clearly have the lead on the rest of the grid, qualifying a full two seconds ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull. Nico Rosberg kept a level head during all three sessions. While playing the usual game of cat and mouse between his team-mate for provisional pole, it was a more calculated racing line that saved Rosberg time, securing him pole position. Hamilton suffered several off-moments during qualifying, mostly around the Bus Stop Chicane, though he could be seen twitching through Eau Rouge in Q2. With no mechanical issues for the F1 W05* , Hamilton has nothing to fall back on, he just wasn’t quick enough for Rosberg today.

Red Bull appear to be closing the gap to the Mercedes, albeit, not by much. Vettel stayed on the intermediate tyres for all three sessions, a risky choice as rain continued to spatter the track, but a risk that paid off nonetheless. In the final session, Vettel ran wide after swapping to fresh intermediates and not having his tyres up to temperature. It took three laps on the new tyres for Vettel to set a time of 2:07.717 for P3.

Ricciardo continues to challenge his team-mate, briefly pushing him into the drop zone in during Q2. Also choosing the stick with the intermediate tyres, Ricciardo recovered from a rather thrilling twitch through Blanchimont to sit just behind Vettel with 2:07.911. The Australian sat in P4 until Alonso crossed the line, settling him to start P5 on the grid.

Alonso had a few moments throughout the day, suffering a right front lock up in Q2, and a few twitches at Eau Rouge in Q3, though overall had quite a positive qualifying. The Ferrari driver put his F14 T through its paces; with slightly better straight-line speed for P4. Raikkonen ran a different wing to Alonso during qualifying, choosing a higher downforce setup to give advantage in sector two. Kimi was rather slow to get going in the first session, venturing out first for two laps on wets, then diving back for inters. When he eventually set a lap time it was more than enough to see him through. Not wanting a repeat of qualifying in Hungary, the team kept Raikkonen out to ensure his passage to the next sessions. In the second session, Kimi catapulted himself from P14 to P5 on the inters, finally coming to rest in P8 in the final session with 2:08.780, 0.994s behind Alonso.

Williams had an interesting qualifying, with the FW36 almost running out of steam towards the end of Q3. Starting strong in the early session, Bottas and Massa challenged for the top end of the time sheets behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls. Though as the day progressed, the Williams didn’t appear to cope as well with the varying conditions. In the wet, Bottas coped well compared to the rest of the grid, though as the track began to dry and the team swapped to the intermediate tyres his advantage diminished slightly. Still very comfortably making it through to the final qualifying session, Bottas steadily found his way back to manage a lap of 2:08.049, for P6. It was a similar story for Massa, finishing the day still 1.7s behind his team-mate, in P9.

McLaren will no doubt be hoping for another dampening of the track during tomorrows race, with the MP4-29 clearly preferring the wet weather. Magnussen did manage to out-qualify his team-mate once again for P7, pushing Raikkonen down to P8 in the final moments of Q3. Jensen Button was under pressure at the end of Q2 after falling into the drop zone (with a lap set by Magnussen), Button pulled it out of the bag and managed to safely make it through to the final session. However, his pace didn’t continue in Q3, failing to improve on his Q2 time, Button will round out the top ten with 2:09.776.

Kvyat was unlucky not to make it to the top ten shoot out, though had a positive qualifying all the same. On his first out lap, the Russian went off at turn 9, with the Spa circuit biting back at the rookie. This was Kvyat’s only real moment, and he went on to set 2:09.377 for P11. Vergne’s pace started off stronger than his team-mate’s, lapping faster in the first session. In the second session however, Vergne couldn’t find the extra 0.5s that Kvyat could, making 2:09.805 on intermediate tyres his best effort for P12.

Force India had a very bipolar qualifying as Nico Hulkenberg didn’t make it out of the first session. Sergio Perez was luckier, lapping a second faster to make it through to Q2. Only improving his Q1 time by half a second, Perez eventually qualified P13 with 2:10.084. It appeared to be a strategic error that cost Hulkenberg his qualifying, with the VJM07 sitting in the garage for the first half of the session. Hoping for a dry line to have emerged, Hulkenberg ventured out on intermediates, though lost time in sector two on cold tyres (and no dry line). The result was 2:11.267 and P18.

Adrian Sutil managed to make it through to Q2, improving over the afternoon to set a lap time of 2:10.238 for P14. However, Sauber suffered from a lack of luck for Esteban. His C33 crawled to a stop during the first qualifying session. Despite only getting in four laps before losing drive, Gutierrez still out-qualified the Caterhams, so you know, small victories.

There were more small victories for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean made it through to the second session. Maldonado didn’t quite make the cut, being pushed out by Magnussen in the final moments of Q1. Pastor was one of the first to feel Spa’s sting, losing the back of his E22 into the Bus Stop Chicane, (you’re not actually meant to park there). The Enstone team therefore starts a little further back than they would have hoped for with Grosjean in P15, and Maldonado P17.

Bianchi continues to impress Marussia (and myself) after another strong performance in qualifying. On the intermediate tyres, Bianchi ended the first session in P14 on the time sheets, ahead of Magnussen and equal with Sutil. In Q2 the MR03 couldn’t keep up, with Bianchi failing to improve on his earlier time to qualify P16. Still, a Marussia in Q2 is a rather impressive achievement. Max Chilton has resolved his contractual issues, though I would have rather seen Alexander Rossi take the MR03 for a spin. Chilton delivered his usual qualifying performance, no real incidents, no real pace for P19.

Caterham have changed their driver line up for the Belgian Grand Prix. Standing in for Kobayashi, Andre Lotterer made his qualifying debut in Formula 1. Lotterer had a slow start to the session. Taking his time to lap within the 107% rule, though managed 2:13.469 after nine laps, out-qualifying Ericsson for P21. Marcus Ericsson therefore rounds out the grid in P22.

It’s difficult to know what to expect at Spa. There has been many a first lap incident on the run down to La Source, with the safety car making an appearance at eight of the last twelve Belgian Grand Prix. Whether tomorrow will deliver such carnage of the past is unknown. However, at a circuit like Spa-Francorchamps, it will undoubtedly be a beautiful race to watch.

– Alex

* And nothing in his eye