Regardless of what Valtteri Bottas or Nico Hulkenberg did during qualifying, they were going to start from the back of the grid due to engine change penalties (yay, aren’t these fun). A dry but cool qualifying session through the Ardennes Forest on Saturday would offer conditions that may favor certain teams over others.
There were calls for rain and that’s always a game-changer at Spa Francorchamps for the Belgium Grand Prix. Could Ferrari make the most of their new engine? Could Max Verstappen deliver the good with his very small rear wing or would the lack of downforce hurt him too much in sector 2? All would be revealed.
After a strong FP3, the Ferrari’s were out early looking for banker laps. Kimi Raikkonen set the initial pace at 1:42.585s followed by his teammate Sebastian Vettel. With calls of possible rain at the end of Q2, getting in early laps was going to be the goal early on.
With seven minutes left in the session, Valtteri Bottas had yet to set a flying lap while his teammate, Lewis Hamilton clawed his way up to second just ahead of Vettel. Both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez pushed their new Racing Point Force India cars up to 5th and 6th respectively. A good omen for a team who has only nine races to score enough points to get decent prize money for next year.
With two minutes to go, Bottas made his hot lap and moved into second place behind Raikkonen. Fernando Alonso and team Stoffel Vandoorne struggled to get out of the bottom five elimination positions even though they were towing each other around the track. The team seemed locked in a fight with Williams F1 for slowest on the grid. Charles Leclerc put his Sauber in 7th with his teammate, Marcus Ericsson, up to 10th and into Q2. Stunningly, Carlos Sainz was out saying he had no rear grip and perhaps not shockingly, Williams drivers were last but Sirotkin out qualified Lance Stroll once again. Sergey has had Lance’s number for most of the season which made Otmar Szafnauer’s praise for Stroll during the FP3 broadcast a bit hollow.
Out in Q1: Alonso, Vandoorne, Stroll, Sirotkin, Carlos Sainz
The teams all launched into Q2 on Supersoft tires and clouds look rather soft themselves as the sky grew darker grey and Martin Brundle narrowly avoided delivering the dog-eared commentary that sometimes it can rain on one part of the track and not others. He chose wisely and simply said that Spa has its own weather system in this area. Well done Martin.
Ferrari were gunning for their 500th front row start with Kimi setting initial pace with a 1:41.627s setting a new lap record. Vettel went wide at Stavelot and ruined his stunning first sector. Lewis Hamilton pushed his way into 2nd and both Red Bulls slotted 4th and 5th.
Initially struggling in all Free Practice sessions with a lack of balance, Haas F1 managed to get through Q1 and on initial runs, put their cars 6th and 7th with both Racing Point Force India’s in 8th and 9th. The Sauber teammates were struggling to find any pace to keep them out of elimination on their first runs. Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley managed to keep their Honda-powered Toro Rosso’s on the edge of elimination in Q2 but given where McLaren is, the Honda’s seem to be doing very well all things considered.
With three minutes left, Valtteri Bottas came out despite the penalty he is facing so perhaps he was scrubbing a set of softs for the race? Lewis Hamilton was also out even though he was securely in 2nd place.
On final laps, Marcus Ericsson got out of his car while Charles Leclerc made a final attempt. The battle to go through to Q3 was on with Toro Rosso getting both cars through but both Toro Rosso’s were out in Q2 leaving Force India and Haas F1 all in. At the very end of Q2, the rain arrived at the pit lane. It was light and brief.
Out in Q2: Hulkenberg, Ericsson, Leclerc, Hartley, Gasly
Despite the sprinkling of rain at the end of Q2, the cars queued up at the start on dry-weather tires. Bottas out ahead of Lewis, perhaps for the tow, and Ferrari’s behind them. Red Bull’s struggling with heat in their tires and Bottas slides off track at Blanchimont. All cars come in as the rain get harder. Both Force India’s continue on for another run while all the other teams pit for intermediates. Perez nearly put it in the wall at the top of Eau Rouge but some great driving saved the car.
Ferrari weren’t looking for rain and they’ve struggled on the intermediates as well as full-wets which seem to favor the Mercedes. Vettel has struggled in the rain while Hamilton has amassed 50 points in the last two races. Max Verstappen set the first time with a 2:02.849s on Inters and a small rear wing. That time was eclipsed by Raikkonen with a 2:02.671s.
Finding the grip was incredibly difficult but Daniel Ricciardo was running quicker with 3:30s left to play and seemed to have some heat in his inters. Vettel moved up to top spot with a 2:02.446s and Lewis Hamilton ran wide ruining his shot but had enough time for a final lap.
Two minutes to go and Vettel was still on a not lap but his teammate, Raikkonen, was not out for a final lap. Vettel set a slightly faster lap while Kimi stood next to his car shaking his head while Lewis set up for his final run on what seemed to be a slightly drying track. Could Lewis convert struggling weekend into gold with a Mercedes-favoring rainy session for pole position? Could Vettel find enough time to hold off the Mercedes?
Perez jumped into second and Lewis moved into first as the track was drying. Vettel didn’t have enough to take pole position, but he managed to keep the Force India duo behind him in 3rd and 4th. Esteban Ocon in his best qualifying performance ever while Kimi slid down to 6th after leading most of the weekend.
The changing conditions didn’t favor the Red Bulls down in 7th and 8th on the grid. For a team who was in administration a week ago to put their cars on the second row at Spa is quite an achievement. For Lewis, Ferrari had the power advantage all weekend so the rain came at just the right time and it gave him pole position which is what he needs to retain his lead.
|3||Esteban Ocon||Force India/Mercedes||3.672s|
|4||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||3.715s|
|7||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Renault||4.590s|
|8||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||4.760s|
|10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||-14.335|
|11||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso/Honda||-14.314|