Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
- Sebastian Vettel still master of qualifying
- Strong performance by Alguersuari
- Disappointing qualifying for Ferrari
Following the summer break and statutory two week shut down of factories, the Formula One 2011 season got back to business today. Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel resumed his normal grid slot, as he secured pole position ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday. On his way to taking his ninth first place so far this year, the Red Bull driver had to fight off close competition from his neighbouring rivals, the on/off soggy track conditions known at Spa, and the red flag situation in Q2.
Vettel commented on the day’s events and how it felt to pick up another pole position. “I didn’t feel comfortable at the beginning of qualifying, but for Q2 I think we made a big step forward and I rediscovered Spa in a way! In the last session, I used the first two laps of Q3 to get temperature into the tyres and then for the last two I tried to push as hard as I could”, explained Vettel.
The aim to become pole sitter was hotly contested by Vettel’s team mate, Australian driver Mark Webber, and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. With less than two minutes remaining on the clock, just three tenths of a second separated the top three drivers. However, with Vettel remaining the master of qualifying at present, Hamilton had to settle for second place, and Webber will line up just behind the Englishman in third position.
Before Q1 had barely begun, the rain started to fall which caused early incidents on the track. The first driver to bow out of the session and who failed to qualify was Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. The seven times World Champion is celebrating 20 years racing in Formula One this weekend, but would not have predicted marking such an occasion in this way. The German was on his out lap in Q1, when one of his rear tyres detached itself from his car. This left Schumacher in a fragile position on three wheels, as he approached the Rivage corner and crashed into a barrier. Consequently, the former Ferrari driver and six times a winner at Spa-Francorchamps, could take no further part in the day’s events.
Due to the treacherous conditions on the track with the deluge of rain, the initial lap times were recorded in the two minute range. The Toro Rosso drivers topped the timesheets at this point, with Spain’s Jaime Alguersuari taking the lead. His Swiss team mate, Sebastien Buemi then had his turn to be at the front temporarily. However, it was not long until the true front-runners came to the forefront of the action. Hamilton was the first of them to provisionally hold first place. The 2008 World Champion set a time of 2.09.506secs. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso’s attempt to better this time failed, as he took second place at the time. The pair then had to make way for the charging Red Bulls to make their presence known. Vettel’s first effort led him to the front of the field, with a lap time of 2.07.723secs. Meanwhile, Webber in the sister car surpassed Vettel’s first lap, as he crossed the line to leap ahead with a time of 2.06.872secs.
Mid-way through the first part of qualifying, the rain showers began to fade which altered the track conditions. With this in mind the lead and general line up throughout the field was constantly changing. When less than 10 minutes of the session was remaining, Webber got himself back to the front again. The 2009 World Champion also got involved and ran in second place for a while. This led to Vettel temporarily dropping down to third place, and accompanied by some of the midfield runners along with Alonso. Force India’s Paul di Resta seemed to make good progress early on, as he got up into fourth place at the time. The Scotsman was showing impressive form, as he got ahead of Alonso and his own team mate, Adrian Sutil.
During the middle part of Q1, as well as di Resta being in the mix, he was joined by Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. Due to the change around in the team for the next two races, Petrov is now partnered with the Brazilian driver Bruno Senna. The former Hispania Racing driver, and current test and reserve driver for Lotus Renault, is temporarily racing in Nick Heidfeld’s seat. Senna performed well in qualifying as a whole, but made a good impression into Q1. He managed to get into the top 10, and landed sixth place in the middle of the session.
While the usual proceedings at the front were competitive, the line up with the drop zone drivers was changing rapidly. As the clock was ticking down with less than eight minutes to go, Petrov had dropped way down the field. The Russian driver fell to 18th place, and was ahead of Sauber’s Sergio Perez, Marussia Virgin Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio and Timo Glock. The last of the line up were the Hispania Racing duo of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo. Schumacher was behind them, as he had already written himself out of the session.
When the drivers had less than eight minutes to put their cars to the test in Q1, Button came through to knock Webber off his perch. The first attempt the Englishman went top with was a time of 2:03.882secs, which left his team mate Hamilton in second place, and Webber in third position. Button temporarily gave the lead to Hamilton though, before taking it back with a time of 2:01.813secs. At this point of the first session, Vettel was in third place ahead of Alonso. Webber was in fifth place alongside Senna in sixth position. Petrov was running in seventh place in front of Williams driver Pastor Maldonado and his Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello. Alguersuari had slipped down the field to 10th place, but he got just ahead of Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari. Sutil dropped down the field to 12th place next to Perez in 13th position.
The feisty Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi was holding onto 15th place in the other Sauber. Meanwhile Nico Rosberg was the sole Mercedes running, as the German was holding 14th place. Buemi had fallen out of the top 10 positions and was left down in 16th place ahead of Di Resta. Both drivers had demonstrated their good form initially, but the situation had changed by the end of Q1. This was particularly the case for di Resta, who then found himself in the danger zone in 17th place. He was just ahead of Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen who maintained 18th position. Di Resta’s chances of getting through to Q2 looked bleak and did not improve. He went off the track momentarily at one stage, and shockingly ended up in the drop zone and did not recover. Miraculously, as the clock had stopped to end Q1, Kovalainen was able to pip di Resta and get into Q2. Unfortunately, Di Resta could do no more to improve his position. As a result of this, di Resta’s final qualifying slot was 18th position.
The other drivers to bow out of the session included Jarno Trulli in the second Team Lotus. The Italian managed to secure 19th place for himself. Meanwhile, Glock was the last of the back markers and the field as a whole to set a time overall in qualifying. The German ended the session in 20th place. It was a slightly different story for his Belgian team mate d’Ambrosio, who will be racing on home soil tomorrow. He joins Liuzzi, Ricciardo and Schumacher, who failed to set a time and did not qualify within the 107% ruling. Since the teams and drivers have appealed to let the four of them race, the stewards have confirmed that they will take part in the Grand Prix.
As the first seven drivers had been knocked out in the first stage, Q2 was able to commence but under the same weather conditions as Q1. The early front-runners keen to set the pace were Button and Alonso. Both drivers seemed to be on a mission, despite the battle they had with the wet track. Button pipped Alonso to first place with a time of 2:07.233secs. As the other championship rivals came through, Alonso slipped down to fifth place. Vettel took the top spot at the time, and Button went down to second position ahead of Webber. Hamilton followed next in fourth place, ahead of Alonso and Massa on his tail. The line up shortly after this in the top few places had a minor change. Sutil made an appearance as he grabbed fifth place. This good effort was short lived though when he went off the track just after the Eau Rouge corner.
He seemed to take too much kerb which saw him lose control of his car. As a result of the mishap Sutil had, the session had to be red flagged. The marshals were then able to rescue the debris on the track, despite his car being safely out of the way already. The line up with less than seven minutes of the second session remaining read as follows: Webber was leading from Vettel, Button was next in third place and ahead of Hamilton in fourth position. At the time of his accident, Sutil was running in fifth place, and in front of Rosberg. Massa, Buemi, Petrov and Alguersuari rounded off the temporary top 10. Sadly, Alonso was experiencing a few difficulties as he slipped into 11th place, and found himself in the drop zone. Perez was alongside him in 12th place, with Senna in 13th position, Barrichello was ahead of Kobayashi, and Maldonado and Kovalainen maintained the other places.
After a short delay to the second session, race control announced that it would resume at 14:14 local time. It appeared that before this qualifying period had been stopped, Alonso may be at a disadvantage. He had just been into the pits for a tyre change, and opted for a new set of intermediate ones. There was a concern that with the session not in full swing, the Spaniard might fall down the field if he did not warm up the tyres soon. The initial uncertainty in the Alonso camp then came true when qualifying started again. Time was also against Alonso, with less than four minutes to go. He reported via his team radio that he had a lack of grip. Suddenly Alonso then got back on track and showed his World Champion style. He managed to jump from 11th to fourth place on his flying lap. Alguersuari and Senna were also at the heart of the action. The pair were running well, and Senna was in sixth position at one stage. However, due to the leaders of the pack coming through, Senna did drop to eighth place.
As the clock displayed less than a minute until Q2 was over, the drop zone was of interest. Sutil was the first in the line up to possibly be in danger. Perez was alongside him in 12th place. Maldonado came next in 13th position, and Rosberg was behind the Venezuelan in 14th place. Barrichello was maintaining 15th position ahead of Kobayashi. Kovalainen was the last of the seven drivers in the bottom places. Shortly after this though, Hamilton dropped into the mix in 12th place, and he was scrapping for position with Senna who was ahead in 11th position.
Despite doing well to get from 16th place to seventh position, Kobayashi’s hope of making the top 10 did not last. Other midfield drivers also gave him a run for his money. Rosberg was one of them to dash his hopes, as he got into fourth place temporarily. Meanwhile, there was controversy to come, when Hamilton had a coming together with Maldonado. Hamilton had already passed Maldonado after the Bus Stop corner, but Maldonado came through at La Source and appeared to drive into the side of Hamilton.
Following an investigation by the stewards, Maldonado was issued a five place grid penalty for the race. Hamilton’s punishment did not quite go that far, but he was given a reprimand for the incident. Hamilton did not let the collision affect him and repairs were made to his car, but he went on to take the lead at the end of that lap. His lap time to top the timesheets was a 2:02.823secs. The final line up of drivers going into the top ten, started with Alonso who led from Hamilton at the end of Q2. Webber finished in third place ahead of Vettel, Petrov, Rosberg, Senna, Massa, Alguersuari and Perez.
On the other hand, seven other drivers were not quite so lucky, as they were not going through to the final stage. Buemi narrowly missed out on a place in the top 10. He qualified in 11th place in front of Kobayashi. The shock of the day was Button, who also missed out on Q3. Afterwards, he put it down to confusion between the team and himself. He thought he would have enough time to do another run, but the misunderstanding led him to make an early exit from qualifying. As a result of this, Button finished Q2 in 13th place, but ahead of former Brawn GP team mate Barrichello. Sutil was just behind him in 15th place, and Maldonado ended up in 16th position.
As the final stage of qualifying got underway, the outlook seemed brighter weather-wise. This led to swift changes in tyre choices. Rosberg was one of those to opt for the slick compound, when his run on the intermediates did not work well. Alonso appeared to reap the reward of being on the dry tyres. Initially, Perez pipped him to the top spot, but Alonso came through shortly after with a 1:54.350secs. Webber also muscled in on the competition to lead, as he took the pole slot temporarily. He recorded a time of 1:53.798secs. At that stage, Vettel appeared to be out of the picture in fourth place. With less than four minutes until the end of Q3, Webber improved on his earlier time. He crossed the line with a time of 1:50.875secs. Hamilton was in second place, but dropped to third position, when Vettel made his move on his rivals. Webber then matched his team mate’s pace with a lap time of 1:49.376secs.
In the final minute when the lap times and positions counted, only three tenths of a second separated the top three drivers. Vettel took provisional pole from Webber, and Hamilton was in third place. When the final 30 seconds arrived, Hamilton snatched provisional pole, and Webber remained in second place. Vettel then showed his usual qualifying pace, as he grabbed pole position with a final time of 1:48.298secs. The German was almost half a second faster than his team mate Webber who ended up in third place. Hamilton completed the session in the Red Bull sandwich in second place.
Massa missed out on the top three to secure fourth place, ahead of Rosberg in fifth position. Alguersuari was a strong performer all the way through, and was rewarded with sixth place ahead of Senna who also drove well. Alonso is just a few places back from team mate Massa to start in eighth place. Perez and Petrov make up the last two top 10 grid slots for the race. Buemi finished the day and will line up in 11th place, alongside Kobayashi who took 12th position. Button and Barrichello are in 13th and 14th place respectively.
Sutil out qualified his rookie team mate and will start from 15th place, while di Resta will make his way from 17th position. Kovalainen is in between the Force India pair. Trulli and Glock will battle it out in 18th and 19th position. D’Ambrosio will be racing his home Grand Prix and begin from 20th place, with Maldonado facing his five place grid penalty in 21st position. Liuzzi will be just behind him in 22nd place, and is accompanied by Ricciardo in 23rd position, while Schumacher takes up the final grid slot in 24th place.
Not for the first time this season, Vettel conquered the qualifying battle to secure another pole position. Remarkably, he broke another record in doing so, especially for his track record at the Spa circuit. Until today’s result came along, he had not qualified there in the top three before. However, he demonstrated his Champion performance, and overcame the obstacles of the weather and red flag situation to pip his closest rivals in the Driver’s Standings. As today’s conditions and occurrences have proved to be today, the same could be said for the race tomorrow. There is the uncertainty of the weather and track conditions, which may play a part in the possible events to take place in the race. It is certain though that polesitter Vettel, will be looking to extend his lead in the Championship, and come back from his holiday with a bang.