Saturday, 23 August 2014

Belgium: pre-qualifying

There were a lot of driver stories in the days running up to P1, and even during the first practice session itself.

Max Verstappen, 16 year old son of ex-F1 driver Jos, is to replace Vergne next year. Bit rough on Vergne, who is beating talented newcomer Kvyat and was basically equal to Ricciardo. At least the early announcement gives him time to try and secure a drive, unlike when Toro Rosso tossed Buemi and Alguersuari overboard with so little notice neither could get a seat elsewhere.

Lotterer replaces Kobayashi in the Caterham this weekend. It appears to be a one race deal. Bit odd, frankly. Even more weirdly, Alexander Rossi (a Yankee doodle that Gene Haas reportedly wants for his team in a couple of years) replaced Max Chilton for the whole weekend, due to ‘contractual’ difficulties. Only he didn’t as, halfway through P1, it was then reported Chilton would race as usual and Rossi would only get the seat for P1.

Sounds like Chilton wanted a better deal in some manner, and Marussia played hardball, causing the Briton to back down.

Anyway, tyres for the weekend are soft and medium. Two stop is likely but (if it’s dry and there’s a long safety car period) a one stop is not impossible. At the last check, rain was probable for qualifying and possible but odds-against in the race.

In P1 Rosberg was less than a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Alonso was close behind in third and Button was a more distant fourth. Raikkonen, Perez, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Bottas rounded out the top 10.

P2 had Hamilton fastest, but I do not believe the 0.6s gap to his team mate reflects actual pace (Rosberg screwed up his fast lap). Alonso was again third, followed by Massa, Button, Bottas, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Hulkenberg.

Maldonado crashed in P2, bringing out a red flag, and Vettel never got to set a time (his engine had to be changed). One of the Sauber drivers suffered some sort of failure and brought out another red flag.

At this stage, it looks like Alonso could be good for a podium. McLaren seem to have made progress and I’ll see what their odds are (depending on how they line up on the grid) for a double points finish.

Williams were off the pace a bit but they often seem to sandbag during practice.

P3 started very slightly wet so a few went out with intermediates and wets, but it was mostly dry (rain forecast for qualifying, though). Bottas was fastest, followed by Ricciardo and Rosberg, then came Raikkonen and Hamilton. However, I think Mercedes were massively sandbagging. After Hamilton was Alonso, Button, Massa, Vergne and Perez.

Given the rain forecast for qualifying I decided against betting. Rosberg being 3.5 or so for pole (for the third race in a row) tempted me, and if it had been forecast to be dry I think I might’ve backed it.

Should be tight, if Q2’s dry, to see who gets into the final session.

My suspicion is Ricciardo will do well, and Alonso. Probably but not definitely between the two Mercedes. In the dry, Williams might pose a threat. In the wet, I don’t think they will. Force India and McLaren (and maybe Vettel) will struggle to break into Q3.

Morris Dancer

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