Formula Racing

Belgian GP Qualifying

Nestled in a deeply wooded and forestry area with some of the most beautiful surroundings, Spa Francorchamps is one of the best circuits to drive on. It is never ending and has the most challenging corners as compared to any other F1 Circuit in the world .The Eau Rouge corner ( one of the fastest series of corners in the world ) for one can be quite daunting if the car is not at its best or if the track conditions are a bit damp. But for sure it is the best sequence of corners that presents itself to any racing driver.

One has to keep their concentration level at 100% all the time as the 2nd sector of the circuit can either make you or break you. Many a time, drivers go for set up’s to master Eau Rouge and be the quickest in the 1st sector which is the low down force sector of the track, but then find themselves loosing out in sector 2 which has a series of medium speed corners leading into one another requiring a very good handling car.

Qualifying at Spa in Formula 1 is always an interesting debacle. It all starts with how kind the weather is to the drivers in the 3 Free Practice sessions. As we saw today, the 1st and 2nd free practice session was literally washed out with heavy rains and most teams did a few installation runs. Thus it was down to the last practice session which started off damp and then dried up towards the end for all the Teams to get to grips on what qualifying set up they would run, though most of this is done on the simulator and the final small changes are made based on the track temperatures and grip levels.

Mark Weber threatened to be very strong for Qualifying as he was quick in FP 3 with the Hard Compound Tires. However, all this went out of the window when it came down to actual Qualifying.

Qualifying 1 which is a 20 minute session is for the top 17 cars to move on to Qualifying session 2. The remaining 7 cars do not make it to Q2. Most of the top runners get through this on the Hard compound tires and do not go out and out for pace as they need to save their medium compounds for the final Qualifying session and for the strategic part of their race.

Rosberg from Team Mercedes had a technical problem in Q1 and thus could not go into Q2. Apart from him the predicted back marker teams such as HRT, Marussia Cosworth and Caterham Renault did not make it to Q2. The Caterham Renault Team with Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov are definitely yards ahead of Team Marussia and HRT in what you would call the back markers group.

Qualifying 2 is a 15 minute session and this is where all the action takes place as it is here that the unexpected happens and you find drivers whom you would normally expect to be in the Top 10 suddenly not making it at all and this is exactly what happened today too. In fact this Q2 session swallowed World Champion Sebastian Vettel who posted a time of 1 Min 48.792 secs and was off by 500th of a second to Paul Di Resta from Force India and thus had to be content with 11th place for tomorrow’s race. The other shockers were Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa from Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Here again, the choice of tires is crucial and most importantly getting the right tire temperatures before the start of the qualifying lap. The other factor that also plays a crucial role is the amount of Aero Down force a driver chooses to run. Low down force will get you quick times in the faster sections of the circuit where there are long straights, but will cost you a lot of time when it comes to the fast and medium speed corners. Kimi Raikkonen for example was slow in sector 1 but very quick in the medium and high speed sectors as he ran with quite a lot of down force and Qualified P2 in the 2nd Qualifying Session. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg also narrowly missed out moving on to Q3, but Force India’s other driver, Paul Di Resta made it with a hair’s breath out qualifying World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

Qualifying 3 is a 10 minute session and all drivers generally take 2 cracks at it as there is enough time for 2 stints. To get more basic, every driver does just one qualifying lap and then pits to change tires and make a small change to the aero or mechanical set up and then head out again. Generally the first run is to get the brakes warmed up and also for the drivers to get their concentration levels and adrenalin pumped up to the highest level. The 2nd and final run is flat out and a sort of a do or die run without compromising on the finesses and neatness that is required to put a quick lap in.

It is here that Jenson Button excelled and he just ran away with the times. Jenson was a clear 3 tenths quicker than the 2nd fastest car. Jenson is a driver who is extremely smooth and extracts the best out of his tires and when the car suits his style is very difficult to beat. In contrast Lewis Hamilton qualified 8th and was a good 8 tenths off his team mate Jenson Button. Not surprisingly Lewis tweeted just post Qualifying “ Damn, WTF. Jenson got the new wing and I got the old one.” The nice part of Q3 was to see Kobayashi from Team Sauber-Ferrari qualify in P2 fractions ahead of Pastor Maldanado from the Williams Renault Team. Fourth fastest was Kimi Raikkonen followed by Sergio Perez ( Sauber ), Alonso ( Ferrari ), Webber ( Red Bull ) Hamilton ( Mclaren ), Grosjean ( Lotus Renault ) and Paul Di Resta ( Force India ) which completed the Top 10 Line up.

Force India have been pretty good at Spa and Q2 suggested a higher place for them in Q1. However a good Top 10 finish for both the Force India Cars in the race is well on the cards. It is also important to note that no changes can be made to the aerodynamic and suspension set up of the cars after qualifying and thus the quickest car today need not be the quickest over a full race distance as the heavy fuel load will play a part in the handling of the car and how the car adapts to the hard compound tire is also significant.

Predictions for the race are always difficult, but I may just take a deep breath and say that if Jenson gets a good start, he will run away from the rest. He could well be followed in on the Podium by Raikkonen and Alonso who look pretty strong for the race.

Armaan Ebrahim

Germany GP

31st July 2016

  • Driver Team Time/Lag
  • Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30:44.200
  • Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing + 6.996s
  • Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing + 13.413s
  • Nico Rosberg Mercedes + 15.845s
  • Sebastian Vettel Ferrari + 32.750s
  • Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari + 37.273s
  • Nico Hulkenberg Force India + 70.049
  • Jenson Button McLaren + 1 lap
  • Valtteri Bottas Williams + 1 lap
  • Sergio Perez Force India + 1 lap

Belgian GP

26th - 28thAug 2016

  • Practice 1 Fri 26th Aug 2016

  • Practice 2 Fri 26th Aug 2016

  • Practice 3 Sat 27th Aug 2016

  • Qualifying Sat 27th Aug 2016

  • Race Sun 28th Aug 2016

standings

Formula One World Championship 2016

  • Driver Points Team
  • Lewis Hamilton 217 Mercedes
  • Nico Rosberg 198 Mercedes
  • Daniel Ricciardo 133 Red Bull Racing
  • Kimi Räikkönen 122 Ferrari
  • Sebastian Vettel 120 Ferrari
  • Max Verstappen 115 Red Bull Racing
  • Valtteri Bottas 58 Williams Mercedes
  • Sergio Perez 48 Force India Mercedes
  • Felipe Massa 38 Williams Mercedes
  • Nico Hulkenberg 33 Force India Mercedes