Only four weeks ago, the chequered flag had dropped on the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, since that a lot has transpired as teams get ready for the F1 Grand Prix in Belgium tomorrow. For the past two of those weeks, every factory has been working overtime, shut away under lock and key, to get tuned up for what should be an exciting race. Honda came to Belgium with bold predictions about the potential of its upgraded power unit. Mercedes is returning to the scene of last year’s controversial collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg all pumped up though plagued by fears of losing a championship after witnessing Sebastian Vettel’s amazing win in Hungary. Ferrari is also touting its upgraded power unit.
Earlier today, World champion Lewis Hamilton unleashed his power racing to win pole position for tomorrow’s race. The Mercedes driver beat out teammate Nico Rosberg by a huge gap of 0.698 seconds, proving he is back on top after Formula One’s summer break. Rosberg went into qualifying suffering a high-speed tire blowout during Friday practice which has caused a lot of concern about tires. But for Lewis, the weather was perfectly serene today, who clocked his best lap of one minute and 47.197 seconds at the dizzying Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It’s the longest track of the season distancing at seven kilometers.
“My last two laps were my best two laps of the weekend,” Hamilton, who grabbed his sixth pole in a row, told the media. “I’m really happy with the performance of the car.”
Valtteri Bottas placed in third place for Willams and should line up on the second row alongside the Force India of Sergio Perez. Romain Grosjean had qualified third for Lotus but took a grid penalty for changing a gearbox before qualifying which instead put him in 5th place. There will be a lot of unknowns for the teams in Belgium, but the biggest will be the change in rules for starting procedures. Drivers will no longer be allowed to adjust their clutch bite point after leaving the garage on their way to the grid. They also will no longer be given information from the pit wall about which clutch settings are the best to choose. As was evident in Silverstone and Budapest, slower starts from the front row qualifiers mean more entertaining races and the new rules will add an interesting dimension to tomorrow’s race.
“I’m very concerned,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after the results in Hungary. “Maybe it will be better for us in Belgium. We got jumped by two Williams last time and then jumped by two Ferraris. We need to get on top of the situation. It is not acceptable and needs to be analysed.” It’s one of the biggest issues Mercedes engineers have pondered on most during the summer break.
“It’s going to be very interesting,” – Lewis Hamilton
“It’s going to be very interesting,” Hamilton told media today. “The starts might not change or they might be disastrous. It could make for more weaving, who knows? I expect more unpredictable starts. I imagine it is going to get worse. But it’s not dangerous, it’s racing.”
It seems that Hamilton and Rosberg have the most to fear with the new rules, but the regulation change could create problems for others too. For whom? Kimi Raikkonen for one, who got another year at Ferrari despite a less-than-satisfactory season thus far. He’s in bad shape going into Belgium having less than half the points his team-mate Sebastian Vettel has. There is also a lot of speculation that Ferrari could sign Valtteri Bottas to replace him in 2016. But his performance in Hungary qualifying appears to have been enough to save his job. Maurizio Arrivabene, the principal of the Ferrari Formula One team’s told media after they extended him that, “we expect this faith will be well rewarded.” A podium for Raikkonen at his favourite circuit, Spa-Francorchamps, will be an excellent way to repay Ferrari’s recent show of faith in his driving skills.
Sauber too is in need of pointsm and has struggled since its fantastic start to the season. They have made no significant upgrades to the car all year until recently. It only got one point in the closing stages in Hungary won by Marcus Ericsson but are looking to see both its drivers fight for points now that it finally has its hands on Ferrari’s upgraded engine. Sauber’s upgrade is even making McLaren look worse.
McLaren should be looking intently on building momentum from the points it scored in Hungary, even though many predict that it won’t get the best from its upgraded Honda power unit until F1 visits the curving confines of the Singapore street circuit later on. Pastor Maldonado hasn’t scored any points in the last two races and needs to to maximise its potential this season by turning his raw speed into consistent results for the Lotus outfit.
The weather could also play a role as it’s notoriously treacherous in Belgium. The chance of rain could spice up the action tomorrow. But it’s forecasted to get showers one Sunday, and that could work out well for non-Mercedes teams winning in Spa.
Last year, Nico Rosberg has pole position here but, drama overt the perceived injustice of Hamilton not heeding a direct Mercedes team order in Hungary, and subsequently colliding with his team-mate in attempts to regain the lead on lap two, the German was reprimanded by Mercedes for the incident that transpired after the race. And consequently incited Hamilton to his second championship. So Rosberg will have a lot to prove in Spa this year, and that’s why we are choosing him to make that point by beating Hamilton to the final flag. Even though Championship leader Hamilton is the favourite to win the Belgian Grand Prix, the odds are at 9/4 for Nico Rosberg, 11/1 for Sebastian Vettel and a longer shot of 16/1 for Kimi Raikkonen to win. McLaren duo Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are 8/1 and 9/1 respectively.
Our Pick: Nico Rosberg