Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Updated with Pirelli Strategy Predictor
Hamilton Capitalises In Mixed Conditions
After a gruesome four week break away from the race track, Formula 1 finally returned to perhaps the most glorious circuit on the calendar. In deadly mixed weather conditions typical of Spa, Lewis Hamilton continued his fine qualifying form of late to claim his fourth consecutive pole position for Mercedes. Second and thirds was the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
A large band of rain had descended the track for the first part of qualifying and it forced all drivers on to the intermediate compound tyres. With the weather potentially getting worse as the session went on, all drivers were out early in order to maximise track position and get an early banker lap in.
Lap times were up and down like a yo-yo as different drivers at varying times found and lost lap time depending on what the track conditions were up to. The Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton looked comfortable up front after the first runs; however they were quickly displaced by both Vettel and Webber, who in turn were pipped to P1 by the Ferrari of Alonso with a time of 2.06.2 with 10 minutes of the session left to run.
It was at the end of the first long run stints on the Intermediate compound that the rain was starting to ease and track conditions were starting to vastly improve. For many drivers, the track was simply too wet to risk slick tyres, with the majority opting for fresh inters once again.
However three drivers who did not follow that rule were the Marrusia’s of Chilton and Bianchi, as well as the Caterham of Van Der Garde. With nothing to lose all three decided to take the gamble as the track continued to improve.
Alonso and Massa had a scare, with the final couple of minutes ticking down; both were in the bottom 6 however, once on fresh intermediates managed to get themselves up into the top 10.
The big shock however came when Van Der Garde as well as Chilton and Bianchi all managed to jump into the top 16. With one minute left, the track had improved to the point slicks became the optimum tyre. Bianchi managed 10th, Chilton 15th whilst Van Der Garde pulled off a great lap for 3rd.
Out went the disappointed duo of Vergne and Ricciardo who were completely caught out by the track evolution, the frustrated Williams pair of Bottas and Maldonado, as well as Guttierez and Charles Pic in 22nd and last.
For Q2, slick tyres were the weapon of choice and most drivers were out for early banker laps. The first early runs were dominated by both Alonso and Webber; however Raikkonen after making a mistake on his first run displaced both drivers on his second to go top with a 1.49.3.
The Mercedes of Hamilton waited a long time to venture out on to the track as it continued to rubber in and evolve, however sat comfortable in the top 6 after his first run. Van Der Garde was continuing his fine qualifying session by being comfortably sat in front of both Marussia’s, the three occupying 12th 13th and 14th during the latter stages of Q2.
One man who did look to be in trouble however was Rosberg. With only a couple of minutes left of the session, the German had yet to set a competitive lap time. With one lap to nail it, the Mercedes man jumped straight up into the top 5.
As the times continued to tumble, Hamilton had a close call as he finished the session down in 10th amongst the grid shuffle. Those who missed the cut were a frustrated Hulkenberg in 11th, the Force India of Sutil in 12th, a struggling Perez in 13th, followed by Van De Garde, Bianchi and Chilton.
For Q3, the rain had arrived once again. All drivers except Paul Di Resta left to get early banker runs in before the conditions worsened on slick tyres, however by Pouhon the track had deteriorated to the point where all drivers were forced to an almost crawl and had to return to the pits on their outlaps.
This is when Di Resta pounced. With 8 minutes left of the session, the rain steadily falling and with a clear track the Force India driver bolted on a set of Intermediates went straight out and posted a 2.03.3.
As the rest of the top 10 came round for their first timed lap on the intermediates, the track conditions had worsened to the point they were 3 seconds off the pace of Di Resta’s time – apart from an incredible lap by Rosberg who got within 5 tenths of a second.
At this point in time, Di Resta thought the pole position had been sealed and returned to the pitlane early. With drivers still scampering for grip on their second timed laps it looked to have been a genius move by Force India.
However, the only 3 drivers to cross the line before the chequered flag dropped on their second runs were Hamilton, Vettel and Webber. At this point the rain had stopped and the track had dried incredibly fast, especially out the back near Stavelot.
All three drivers were upwards of 1 second faster than both Di Resta and Rosberg. First across the line was Webber, who was immediately displaced by Vettel. But the last man to cross the line, Hamilton, was the man who seized the chance to claim yet another pole position. By keeping it on the island and having the best track conditions of the whole of Q3 at his disposal he made no mistake in putting it on P1.
Those who crossed the line after the flag had dropped included Vettel’s two closest challengers. Raikkonen and Alonso could only manage 8th and 9th leaving them a lot of work to do for tomorrow’s Grand Prix. It is going to be a fascinating race.
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
Belgium is one of the hardest races to predict a strategy for, due to the long lap and very variable weather as we saw today, as well as the fact that the drivers will have a free choice of starting tyres tomorrow.
Under normal circumstances, one or two stops are possible for the 44-lap race. A two-stop strategy is faster than a one-stop by three seconds, but only over the last five laps. So if there’s a safety car period for more than three to four laps, teams could revert to a one-stopper.
A two-stop strategy could be: start on the medium tyre, switch to medium again on lap 13 and hard on lap 25. Alternatively, start on the medium tyre, stop on lap 19 and then run to the finish on the hard.
|5||di Resta||Force India|
|14||van der Garde||Caterham|