Grand Prix of Belgium – Qualifying


It feels like an eternity since the Grand Prix of Hungary, even though it was less than a month, so here are some posts to remind us what’s going on πŸ™‚ [Points standings] [Calendar] [Drivers and Teams]

Despite it being an enforced break from F1, there have been a variety of announcements:

  • “Red Bull have taken the shock decision to drop Pierre Gasly and replace him with their Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon” [F1]
  • Mercedes retain Bottas alongside Hamilton for 2020 [F1]
  • Ocon secures F1 return with Renault for 2020, replacing Hulkenberg [F1]
    (No confirmation on where Hulkenberg will be next season)
  • Record-breaking 22-race F1 calendar set for 2020 [F1]
    They’re adding Vietnam(!) and the Netherlands; dropping Germany; moving a few dates to fit it all in.

And so on to Belgium. As much as I love Spa as a circuit, the video of Ayrton Senna jumping out of his car to save Erik Comas’ life (in 1992) still unsettles me. [F1] [video+photos] [interview with Comas]
There’s also the disasterous start of the 1998 race in the rain [video] – it’s also the one where Michael Schumacher drove into the rear of David Coulthard, then MS goes crazy and storms off to pick a fight with DC!

Ahead of Qualifying:

  • ALB set to start from the back of the grid with an upgraded Honda engine [F1] [BBC]
  • Ericsson on standby for Alfa Romeo after RAI pulls muscle [F1]
    When asked how he did it, RAI replied: β€œSport. Injuries. Getting old.” πŸ™‚
  • NOR happy to have shaken off foot injury before Belgian GP [F1]

Free Practice:

  1. FP1: VET (1:44.574), LEC, VER, ALB, BOT (HAM=P6)
    KVY & KUB both spun in La Source hairpin
    STR’s Racing Point lost its engine cover, but HAM lost power due to a throttle pedal issue
  2. FP2: LEC (1:44.123), VET, BOT, HAM, PER
    HAM missed part of practice due to engine issues, and then when he did get on track he had a problem with dust & sand entering his helmet
    PER was on fire, setting P5 time but also literally when he had to stop with flames coming from the engine
    BOT said Ferrari are “killing us” on the straights
  3. FP3: LEC (1:44.206), VET, BOT, RIC, VER (HAM=P7)
    GAS reported his Toro Rosso had lost the left mirror
    HAM touched the kerb, lost the rear and a big impact in the tyre wall; red flag (session stopped) while the car’s recovered; he’s OK but his Mercedes will need some work [F1] [BBC]
    VER struggling with brake balance

Will Mercedes rebuild HAM’s car in time for Quali? Will VET manage to win exactly a year after his last one?

What about penalties? As mentioned earlier, ALB starts right at the back in his first race for Red Bull; RIC and HUL have 5-place penalties for new ICE (internal combustion engines); SAI also has 5-places for an engine upgrade, and KVY gets 5-places too for a new gearbox. Oh, and STR after his engine went bang in FP2.

Qualifying starts shortly…
Mercedes mechanics still working on HAM’s car

Qualifying session 1 (Q1)
RUS and KUB are first out of the pit lane
RUS returns to the pits; he’s reporting a problem with the dash screen changing colours
KUB pulls off track with smoke pouring from his Mercedes-powered Williams
Red flags – Q1 suspended
Fortunately KUB is out of the car but there are zero marshals to be seen, so the Williams continues to burn
Reminder: PER’s Racing Point also had a new Mercedes engine go up in flames in FP2
Mercedes have finished rebuilding HAM’s car – the red flag gave them a few more minutes
Q1 about to restart, with 12mins remaining; cars are starting to line up at pit out
Radio from VER – “Argh, problem – same problem!” (I think the team may need a bit more information)
Radio from HAM – “Small vibration in the front tyres”
GIO 1:45.637
RIC 1:45.560
HAM 1:45.260
BOT 1:45.141
LEC 1:43.587 – yes, 1.6sec faster than BOT!
(VET P2)
Everyone’s now set a lap time (except KUB, of course)
5mins left of Q1; bottom 5 are SAI, KVY, RUS, VER, KUB
Incidentally, everyone is running on the soft compound tyres
VER back on track – hopefully they’ve fixed the problem
Almost everyone on an out lap as VER is trying to set a quick time
VER P3
GIO pulls off track – looks like another engine going bang, a Ferrari (in the Alfa Romeo) this time
Red flag – session ended because there’s just 43secs left on the clock
Back of the grid: GAS, SAI*, KVY*, RUS, KUB
*Penalties to be applied for KVY, SAI

VER was lucky to post that lap time just before the red flag – if he’d been 5secs slower getting out of the garage, he wouldn’t have made it!

Qualifying session 2
The weather forecast for tomorrow is cooler temps, so the top teams will need to think about which tyres to use in Q2 (Track is currently 41°C; air 29°C)
RAI 1:44.140
(RIC P2)
VER 1:44.132
HAM 1:43.592
(BOT P2)
LEC 1:43.376
(VET P2)
Everyone on soft tyres
6mins left; bottom 5 are HUL, GRO, NOR, ALB, GIO* (*won’t run, given his fire at the end of Q1)
Time for a final run; ALB and STR are staying in the pits because of their penalties; looks like VER’s staying put too
Radio from LEC – “bit of a lag coming out of the garage”; they reply a moment later to tell him it was the turbo
Chequered flag; bottom 5 are GRO, STR, NOR, ALB, GIO
NOR P12
LEC 1:42.938
Middle of the grid: GRO, NOR, STR*, ALB*, GIO
*Penalties to be applied for ALB, STR

GRO taking his time on the way back to the pits but HAM wants to get back to prep for Q3; surprises GRO as he dives inside the Haas
Radio from NOR – “That wasn’t a great time, but I didn’t think there was much left in the car”; “No that was a very good lap from you”

Qualifying session 3
Top 10 shootout is between LEC, VET, HAM, BOT, RIC*, VER, RAI, HUL*, PER and MAG (*RIC and HUL each have 5-place penalties awaiting them)
HAM almost rear-ends BOT as they jockey for position on their out lap, and then have to let RAI and MAG on their quick lap pass them
Radio from HAM – “this is affecting our out lap”, “ridiculous”
RAI 1:45
RIC 1:44.257
BOT nearly rear-ends HUL – this is dangerous!
PER P2
BOT 1:43.576
HAM 1:43.282
LEC 1:42.644
VET P3
Order after first run: LEC, HAM, VET, BOT, VER, RIC, PER, RAI, MAG, HUL
Radio from LEC – “I don’t need the slip stream; let’s just go when you’re ready”
2mins left; time for a final run
Radio for VER – “let’s just get on with it”
HAM passes VET so he can be behind LEC on the fast lap
HUL P7
VER P5
LEC 1:42.519
HAM P2
VET P2
BOT P4
Front of the grid: LEC, VET, HAM, BOT, VER, RIC*, HUL*, RAI, PER, MAG
*Penalties to be applied for HUL, RIC

Radio from VET – “what a mess”
LEC has now out-qualified VET more times than vice versa

Provisional grid: LEC, VET, HAM, BOT, VER, RIC*, HUL*, RAI, PER, MAG, GRO, NOR, STR*, ALB*, GIO, GAS, SAI*, KVY*, RUS, KUB
*Penalties to be applied for ALB, HUL, KVY, RIC, SAI, STR
I’m not going to try to guess what the grid will look like – too many penalties!
There were also 2 engine fires in Quali, so KUB and GIO might also get penalties.