Nikki Grubb-Clarke kicks off those F1 holiday blues and welcomes us to Spa and a phenomenal Qualifying. This is where our delightful Lewis Hamilton knocked bleached-out Sebastian Vettel off the pole. Even as Vettel scrambled for 2nd on the grid, the awesome Australian, Mark Webber, took 3rd place. All this of course, in rain. On to race day, we say!
Hello you! Gosh I’ve missed you terribly – what a long 4 weeks it has been! Hope you had an absolutely splendid holiday.
Well here we are! Back and raring to go, and it’s Spa! The track that has my 2 favourite named corners in the whole wide world. Firstly, ‘Eau Rouge’. The mere mention of it has the Chris Rea song Auberge playing in my head – never a bad thing. And ‘The Bus Stop’. I love the normalcy of that name. ‘What are you up to?’ ‘Oh I’m just at The Bus Stop’. Simplicity at its finest!
Now I’m not one for talking about Drivers’ personal stuff. Indeed I lost 3 whole followers earlier this week on Twitter for saying that I would only care a hoot about a racing driver’s new hairdo if they went for A) the full James Hunt a la BTCC Racing Driver, and Star of Rush Rob Austin (he plays James Hunt in the driving sequences and you can follow him on Twitter @RobertoAustini) or B) a full on Fellaini Afro, the like of which is sported by Everton and Belgium Footballer Marouane Fellaini.
And then, I saw it.
Custard, Lemons, Sunflowers, Bananas, Daffodils, and Sebastian Vettel’s new do. A feast of yellowness for the casual observer to behold. According to Seb, he’s been in the sun a lot and that’s what happens when he sits in the sun. I too recently went blonder just from sitting in the sun a lot. Of course, when I say ‘sitting in the sun’ I mean ‘Sitting in The Hairdressers with bleach on my bonce’, but that’s obviously just me. As for the inspiration, well thanks to the amazing detective work of the beautiful Catalan Princess @Sandra_Ponti, I can exclusively reveal: Seb is paying tribute to Beyonce. Some run on stage and upset Taylor Swift to achieve the same aim, but not Seb! He goes for the hair hommage.
So back to business. Silly season is in full swing with RBR, I don’t doubt, having decided already to give their vacant seat to Ricciardo. But hey, as soon as they announce it, the media attention goes away. I think the phrase I’m looking for is ‘Dragging it out’.
As for Qualifying, there seems to be a certain element of Status Quo. The people who know are all suggesting it’s Mercedes v RBR for the front row, but McLaren has FINALLY made some moves forward, with Jenson suggesting a podium isn’t out of the question. With rain starting to fall some 10 minutes before the start of Quali, anything could happen. And probably will.
With 2 minutes still to go until Q1 got underway, the cars were queuing at the end of the pit lane, eager to get a ‘banker’ lap in case the conditions got worse. As the light went green, 6 cars eased their way onto the track. Action from the start. Love it!
Within minutes, all the cars were on track. On a track the length of Spa, in wet conditions, timing is everything.
With conditions continuing to change, and the rain easing as the session continued, the times starting coming down. And with 6½ minutes left, the call was for Intermediates. Unless you were Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, Guido Van Der Garde or Charles Pic. In a ‘what the heck!’ kind of a move from the teams, who traditionally take up the back 2 rows of the grid, they popped on dry tyres. Gulp. It was a big old gamble, given the number of cars that were tiptoeing around on wet tyres.
And oh my goodness me, did it ever pay off for the Marrussias!! An AMAZING 11th for Bianchi and 16th for the Walking Wallet, and out of Q1 for the first time this season. But please, be upstanding for a certain Mr Van Der Garde. An absolutely BRILLIANT 3rd fastest behind Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Bravo, Sir. Take a bow.
Those 3 safely made it to Q2, but there were some surprises in the bottom spaces. None more so than Daniel Ricciardo! The man with the loveliest smile in the paddock timed it horribly, and ended up 19th. Youch. Not the best place to be if you are this close to being announced as the number 2 driver in the number 1 team.
On the plus side, normal service has resumed for the Williams team, and points look unlikely. Phew.
17 Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
18 Jules Vergne (Torro Rosso)
19 Daniel Ricciardo (Torro Rosso)
20 Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
21 Esteban Guttierrez (Sauber)
22 Charles Pic (Caterham)
So with the weather changeable and no one knowing what on earth was going to happen with rain, the majority of cars went out early – the rain wasn’t falling and the track was pretty dry, so getting in a banker definitely made sense. Unless you were a Mercedes. In which case, you were biding your time and watching everyone else’s data before making your move.
With the conditions continuing to improve and the track continuing to dry, it all came down to the last 2 minutes. It felt like the end of Q3 in a lot of ways, and it was brilliant!
The Ferrari which, for the whole of the first half of the season seemed to be really struggling, was going well – Alonso plopping his Stallion right at the top of the timing sheets, before The Ice (Cream) Man Cameth and pipped him to the top spot.
The promise we’d seen in FP from the McLarens seemed to almost show itself. Kinda. Button managed 5th fastest, which was great news, but Sergio Perez couldn’t make it out of Q2 and lines up 13th. I guess half happy is better than not happy at all!
And what about Lew-Lew? JUST scraped into Q3 down in 10th position. As immaculate as his Quali performances have been recently, its difficult to see how he can pull it back from there!
11 Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber)
12 Adrian Sutil (Force India)
13 Sergio Perez (McLaren)
14 Giedo Van Der Garde (Caterham)
15 Jules Bianchi (Marussia)
16 Max Chilton (Marussia)
Some days, I am sure Qualifying is written by a Hollywood screenwriter. Just as the 10 minutes of the session started to tick down, the rain started up again. The cars streamed onto the track – all except Paul Di Resta. Were Force India determined to make him last again?
Some 2½ minutes in, with the cars peeling back into their pit boxes to change off their slick tyres, Di Resta whacked on some Inters, and went out. On his own. The whole track to himself…now THIS could be an interesting gamble! With just under 5 minutes to go, Di Resta sets the first time and takes provisional pole.
Felipe Massa, who came out onto track a little while after Di Resta, but significantly sooner than everyone else, went 2nd with a time 1.7seconds slower than the Force India!
With the rain starting to get harder, and more moisture ending up on the track, it seemed that Force India had FINALLY got their game heads on and timed their run to PERFECTION to take the pole, and so it was as the chequered flag flew, he was provisional pole.
But wait a second. As the flag flew, the track conditions came in, and on those last gasp laps, people start hooking it up. First Nico Rosberg goes fastest, then Mark Webber takes it, followed closely by Finger Boy who stole the pole.
Until…a certain someone came along. He has been hooking it up like no one else on the grid on these last gasp laps recently. Indeed, a particular Gent has been timing these things to perfection. And so he did again: An absolutely STORMING lap from Super Lew to take his 4th successive pole position. After 3 practice sessions and 2 Qualifying periods where he had really struggled with the balance of the car, he put all of that behind him and AGAIN took his driving to another level, to absolutely stamp his authority on the session.
Will it be straightforward tomorrow? Oh blimey no! Spa is renowned for having its very own little microclimate and it would be more of a surprise for the conditions not to be changeable, if we’re honest. And let’s face it, there’s nothing like a bit of rain to spice things up a bit, is there!
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)
3 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing)
4 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
5 Paul Di Resta (Force India)
6 Jenson Button (McLaren)
7 Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
8 Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
9 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
10 Felipe Massa (Ferrari)