Ferrari painted Spa Francorchamps red during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix to lock out the front row, Kimi Raikkonen snatching pole position from Felipe Massa by less than two hundredths of a second. Raikkonen clocked 1:45.994 on his final...
Ferrari painted Spa Francorchamps red during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix to lock out the front row, Kimi Raikkonen snatching pole position from Felipe Massa by less than two hundredths of a second. Raikkonen clocked 1:45.994 on his final flying lap to edge out his teammate, while Fernando Alonso's McLaren was a narrow margin behind Massa, eight hundredths adrift in third.
It wasn't the hottest of afternoons as the cars headed out onto the circuit, the track temperature in the high twenties and the air temperature around 17 degrees, but it was fine and dry. BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica will have to take the 10 place grid demotion penalty after an engine problem in the morning practice that led to a change.
Spyker's Sakon Yamamoto crashed in practice but he was first out on track for the initial 15 minute session. Teammate Adrian Stuil followed on, along with the Renaults of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella. Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota joined them, and Kubica then the Super Aguris of Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato.
The Williams pair of Nico Rosberg and Alex Wurz, the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello and the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coulthard weren't far behind. Meanwhile, Trulli was at the top of the time sheet with a 1:47.787, followed by Kovalainen, Fisichella and Schumacher, then Kubica clocked 1:47.654.
Davidson managed sixth and Rosberg was next on a flier; he slotted into second, a tenth off Kubica. Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso popped up in fourth and teammate Sebastian Vettel was 10th, while Webber posted fifth. The second BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld went fastest with a 1:46.923 but the big guns were coming up behind him.
Hamilton's McLaren clocked 1:46.437, teammate Alonso was four tenths quicker, then Raikkonen's Ferrari slotted into second. However, in the Ferrari garage Massa's mechanics were swarming all over the rear of his car with some urgency; the Brazilian managed to get on track with just four minutes remaining.
He didn't hang around; a very neat and tidy lap put him second, just two thousandths behind Alonso. Elsewhere the positions were changing rapidly as the minutes ticked down; several drivers managed to reach the top 10 only to be demoted back out again almost straight away. Rosberg, Kovalainen, Webber and Trulli finally made it stick.
At the other end of the field, Vettel in 17th only just missed making it through by half a tenth from Liuzzi in 16th. Barrichello followed Vettel, then Sato, Sutil, Davidson and Yamamoto, so Barrichello was the biggest name to lose out in the first session. Alonso's 1:46.058 remained at the top from Massa, Raikkonen and Hamilton.
The Renaults led out in the second session and Fisichella quickly set off on a flyer. Kovalainen followed and they traded purple fastest sectors, with Raikkonen steaming along behind and lighting up purple in his wake too. Fisichella clocked 1:46.693, Kovalainen 1:46.240 and Raikkonen 1:45.070 all in quick succession.
Hamilton and Alonso slotted into second and third then Massa took the third spot, the top four all in the 1:45 bracket. The BMWs were lapping in formation and clocked the time sheet in fifth and seventh, Kubica ahead of Heidfeld. Kovalainen was between them while Webber, Rosberg and Schumacher made up the top 10.
Everyone headed back to the pits and there was enough time for one more run, although the top four didn't go back out. Webber missed out on another lap as he failed to cross the line before the chequered flag fell, while Kovalainen aborted his lap after scrappy first two sectors. Heidfeld took fifth and Trulli ninth, then Rosberg nabbed the ninth spot.
Fisichella didn't make it in 11th, then came Schumacher, Coulthard, Button, Liuzzi and Wurz. Despite Webber not getting his lap in, his previous time was enough to keep him in contention and he finished eighth, Kovalainen likewise staying in the top 10. It was business as usual at the front, Raikkonen from Hamilton, Massa and Alonso and the BMWs behind.
In the last 15 minute session Hamilton headed the queue as the cars went out for the fuel burn period ahead of the pole shootout. Massa nipped past Hamilton as the McLaren had a little bit of a wide moment but Hamilton still set the faster initial lap, 1:47.556. Raikkonen was second, Massa third and Heidfeld fourth in the early stages.
As Spa is a long track it was only a couple of laps fuel burn before cars were back in the pits for tyres ready for hot laps. Massa was first on a serious flyer, with Raikkonen and Hamilton on his heels, Raikkonen getting the best first sector. Massa was on it but Raikkonen was quicker, 1:47.038 for Massa, 1:46.533 for the Finn.
Hamilton took third but Alonso spun at Rivage; the Spaniard managed to escape the gravel but it was a close call. Kubica was fourth and Webber fifth then it was all back to the pits for fresh tyres and another go. Raikkonen had a half second advantage after the first efforts and seemed the most likely candidate for pole.
Massa and Hamilton matched first sectors but Raikkonen was quicker. Massa posted 1:46.011 and managed the quickest middle sector but Raikkonen's fastest last sector pipped the Brazilian to pole. The Finn clocked 1:45.994, less than two hundredths up. So it's an all Ferrari front row, surprisingly the Scuderia's first qualifying one-two of the season.
"Obviously, I am happy with this pole position, obtained on one of my favourite tracks and also happy with the overall result for the team," said Raikkonen. "On my first run in Q3, the car was very good but I felt something was not quite right with the rear end on my in lap. Apparently everything was okay and so we decided to continue with the second run. Even if it wasn't perfect, it was still good enough to improve and take pole."
Massa was satisfied with second. "My second quick lap in Q3 was perfect right up to the final corner, where I locked my wheels and might have lost just enough time to cost me pole," he commented. "But second place is a good one to start from for the race. I hope to have a good race tomorrow. Here, we are back to being competitive at the highest level and we have a package that can allow us to fight for the win."
Alonso recovered well from his spin to be such a small gap behind Massa but while Hamilton completed the familiar top four he was three tenths down on Alonso and four on Raikkonen. It promises to be a close fight at the top on Sunday and the Ferraris need to keep the one-two to the end, in either order, to realistically stay in the title hunt.
Alonso is not daunted by Ferrari's pace. "Everything went very smoothly for my final lap today, which was good as I was a little worried after I spun on my first attempt," he said. "I am pretty confident for the race even though the Ferrari's seem quick. This track is quite similar to Turkey so we expected them to be strong, but we have made some definite improvements since then, and it will not be an easy victory for them, that is for sure."
Kubica was fifth (but will drop to 15th due to the engine penalty) while Heidfeld was demoted to seventh as Rosberg sneaked in between the BMWs for sixth. Webber stayed put in eighth place and Trulli was an average ninth. Kovalainen ended 10th. It was quite an exciting battle for pole and although Raikkonen was favourite he only just made it.
A lot can happen at Spa and so far the weather forecast for Sunday is not entirely promising -- depending on which way you look at it. The performance difference between Ferrari and McLaren is minimal so strategy and tyre handling will play their part. Final top ten classification: Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, Kubica, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Webber, Trulli, Kovalainen.