Nancy Knapp Schilke
Rain on Circuit Spa-Francorchamps on Friday practice day for the Grand Prix of Belgium saw the FIA Formula One Championship cars slide sideways on the slippery track and in pit lane. Today the heavy rain won!
Kamui Kobayashi laid down the fastest lap in the morning practice with a 2:11.389 for the Sauber-Ferrari team on a wet track. In the second practice with the deteriorating conditions, no one ended up with a timed lap. It turned into more of a practice day of preparing for a possible wet race. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa said it best: "Massive aquaplaning on the straights”.
Welcome to Spa – and welcome back to reality.
Kobayashi said, “I feel very sorry for the spectators here in the grandstands. We did some running in the first session, but in the afternoon we basically stayed in the garage. There wasn’t anything to learn out there and it is obviously pretty easy to damage the car in these conditions. I can’t say much except: Welcome to Spa – and welcome back to reality. I didn’t see a drop of rain for the five weeks I have just spent in Tokyo and Hawaii.”
Sauber driver Sergio Perez at one point entered pitlane sideways during the second practice but did not damage his car. His best lap was a 2:13.861 for sixth.
Many of the teams elected to run installation laps as the drivers dealt with the conditions. With just over 40 minutes remaining in practice 1, the drivers were starting to stay out on track to put a time down.
Pastor Maldonado was second fast with a 2:11.941 in his Williams-Renault. His teammate for today was Valtteri Bottas, and what a test for the team’s reserve driver. His best time of 2:14.660 placed him eighth -- one position above the current champion!
Maldonado commented: “It was quite a frustrating day, not being able to get much running, but it’s the same for everyone and we will all just be thinking about tomorrow now. It looks like it’s going to be dry so we need to be ready for that and do the best we can.”
Both Toro Rosso-Ferrari drivers dealt with the situation, and ended up in the top five during first practice. Daniel Ricciardo put down a 2:12.004 as third fastest while teammate Jean-Eric Vergne was a tad slower with a 2:12.824.
Ricciardo seemed to like the weather as he said “The morning session went pretty well and right from the start, we had a good feel for the car in the wet. In fact, it’s been like that before when we have had wet race weekends and the car gives us confidence in these conditions immediately. We were able to do some good lap times and even with all the rain, it was nice to be out on this great track.”
Australian Mark Webber was the fastest of the top teams, and landed his 2:13.191 in his Red Bull-Renault in fifth on the timesheets this morning. His teammate is the reigning two-time world champion and like the Aussie, one of the top contenders for this year’s crown. Sebastian Vettel’s best was ninth.
“It’s a shame because we love Spa and it would be nice to do some more laps, but in the end you can’t really learn much in these conditions. We got some info from FP1, but you can’t race when there’s so much standing water on track and you probably wouldn’t qualify in this, so in the end we just put the car to bed tonight and come back tomorrow,” Webber said.
Vettel’s best was a 2:14.860, and he stated: “It’s a shame for fans around the track – it’s quite windy and probably not so nice out on the grandstands. Hopefully they can come back tomorrow with dry clothes and we’ll have some sunshine – that’s the forecast anyway! You can’t race in these conditions, as the tyres can’t get rid of the water.”
For the Mercedes team, Nico Rosberg clocked a lap time of 2:14.210 which put the German in seventh, three positions ahead of the rain-mister, and his teammate, Michael Schumacher whose best was a 2:15.402. However the seven times world champion had a very close call at the famous Eau Rouge.
Even the points leader in his Scuderia Ferrari only was out on track in the morning practice for only a few laps, and Fernando Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa did not complete a timed lap. However for Massa, he might have had an engine problem as he was smoking so he pulled to a stop at the chicane. In the second practice, both Ferraris were out but like the rest of the Formula One drivers, they did not turn in a single lap time.
Both McLaren-Mercedes drivers did turn in a lap time. Lewis Hamilton said, “It’s going to be challenging tomorrow, but everyone is in the same boat – no joke intended! If it dries out, the track will be green in the morning, so you’ll be setting the car up during a couple of runs in FP3.” The Briton added, “Nevertheless, it’s great to be back out on track. A Formula 1 car would be fun to drive even if it were snowing, so I just enjoyed every little bit of lap I had.”
Jenson Button said that he and Hamilton only did in and out laps in the afternoon. He also commented on the conditions: “For most of the lap, you’re not really pushing – then, halfway down the Kemmel straight, it suddenly gets wetter. It’s a different type of asphalt, which doesn’t drain as well. As soon as you hit that, you feel the car slow down and then it starts to spin its wheels.”
The main goal of the drivers was to test starting line starts in the conditions, and to run a few laps to prepare for possible rain during qualifying tomorrow. If the weather is calm tomorrow morning, they will all venture out to fine-tune their setups in preparation for the pole fight.
Basically today can only be considered a total wipe out. What a way to return to racing action after the summer break. Button stated, “Hopefully, the worst conditions have blown over and we can get down to business tomorrow. It’s been such a long break that we just want to get out there and enjoy ourselves.”