Spa-Francorchamps - “It’s the same for everyone” is the usual mantra trotted out over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend whenever the rain arrives. The famous saying therefore made an extremely early appearance in the Ardennes, as rain was a feature of the very first free practice session of the weekend.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t even a useful sort of rain, which gives drivers time to collect data on both the Extreme rain tyres and the Intermediates.
However, with more rain bound to appear at some point over the next two days, both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa ventured out in the damp this morning, to get a feel for the greasy track. The real work had to wait for the afternoon, when it was actually hot and sunny.
Therefore, over the course of the three hours, the Spaniard and the Brazilian completed a total of 69 laps and if that doesn’t sound like much of a day’s work, remember that each lap of this fantastic rollercoaster of a track is just over seven kilometres in length, the longest by far on the calendar.
Having been fastest in the morning, the Spanish Ferrari driver did not get the best out of his flying lap on the softer Medium compound and was classified seventh, while his Brazilian team-mate showed that the F138 is looking quite competitive compared to the front runners, with a fourth fastest time, eight tenths slower than the “Friday pole” time. Again, taking the lap length into consideration, that is not a big gap here.
That fastest time came courtesy of the car and driver that lead both classifications at the moment, namely Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. His team-mate Mark Webber was second, while Romain Grosjean was third for Lotus. Behind Felipe, Jean-Eric Vergne was fifth in the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso, with Kimi Raikkonen, one of the undoubted Spa maestros, completing the top six.
Fernando Alonso (Best Time: 1:50.510 - P7): “This was a good day, even if in the morning we, and in fact everyone, lost time because of the rain and so in the afternoon we found ourselves facing double the workload.
Before drawing any conclusions, we need to wait for the analysis of the data acquired this afternoon from both cars. Felipe and I tried different aero configurations, with more and less downforce, which will be the real key to this race, along with the weather.
In terms of today’s times, we have got closer to the favourites, but I’m not sure which weather forecast I would prefer. It’s true that in the rain, the cards on the table can be shuffled up, but in the wet there are as many chances to benefit as there are to lose.
It will be important to have a good understanding of how the tyres are behaving in the dry, as well as finding out what happened to the Caterham, to Vettel and also to me on my in-lap. I don’t think it’s a similar problem to what we saw in Silverstone, maybe more of a random set of circumstances, but all the same, it needs careful analysis”.
Felipe Massa: (Best Time: 1:50.164 - P4) “Today, the changeable weather had a big effect on the way free practice was run, with minimal running in the first session. But if we want to look at things in terms of a glass half full, then at least the few laps we managed in the morning were important, to give us an idea of the behaviour of the car in the wet, which is always useful here in Spa.
In the afternoon, in the dry, we managed to get through our programme, testing some new parts and both types of Pirelli tyre. The outcome of the race simulation tells us that we have what we need to be on the pace and we will definitely do all we can to fight with the leaders of the classification”.
Pat Fry: “The race at Spa has always been a great challenge for the drivers and also for us engineers and this year, that seems to be very much the case, partly because of the uncertainty of the weather, which today was inclement enough to affect the running of our programme.
Having a track that is only partially wet is the worst possible condition to start working on car set-up, because it limits the time available to test the balance and driveability with different aerodynamic loads.
In the afternoon, we only partly made up for the time lost because of the rain as we evaluated all the possible scenarios on a track that requires an aerodynamic compromise that is one of a kind. Here, the rain is the big unknown and it certainly won’t help anyone”.