Grand Prix of Belgium – Qualifying

The second half of the 2021 season kicks off in Spa Francorchamps, the first part of a triple-header with the GP of the Netherlands and then a second visit to Italy (this time it’s Monza).

I posted last weekend with links to the situation at the mid-point: the current points standings, the as-yet-unchanged teams and driver line-up, and the current calendar … although that last one is a bit tricky – the original 23 races now include one “to be confirmed” (Nov21) and the cancelled Japanese GP (Oct10), so it may only be a 21-race season.

Because Hungary was so long ago, here’s a quick recap:

  • The rain started just before the grid ceremonies; everyone started on inters. BOT was swamped off the grid; he locked up into turn 1, hitting NOR, VER and PER; separately, STR hit LEC and RIC.
  • The race was suspended at the end of lap 2 in order to clean up the debris. NOR, PER, STR, LEC & BOT are all out; VER and RIC have a lot of damage.
  • So only 14 cars leave the pits for the restart; however, as HAM heads to the grid everyone else dives into the pits for dry tyres. An unsafe release for RAI causes a collision with MAZ, breaking the Haas’ suspension. HAM pits at the end of the lap (the first lap of the restart = lap 5 of the race) and rejoins P14, dead last; OCO is P1 followed by VET, LAT, TSU and SAI.
  • HAM fights his way up to P5 by lap 35/70. Lap 48 HAM pits for new slicks; the front 5 are OCO, VET, SAI, ALO, HAM. It took about 12 laps for HAM to pass ALO, but he makes short work of SAI.
  • OCO takes the chequered flag followed by VET, HAM, SAI, ALO, GAS*, TSU, LAT, RUS, VER, RAI, RIC, SCH & GIO. (*GAS recorded the fastest lap.)
  • There’s some confusion on the victory lap; OCO and VET both park on track and have to run back to the pits for the podium ceremony.
  • But it’s not over!
    • Four drivers were given reprimands for failing to remove their T-shirts before the national anthem ceremony
    • VET was “disqualified from the results of the Hungarian Grand Prix after race officials were unable to take the required fuel sample from his car following the race.” [FIA]
    • BOT and STR each have a drop of 5 grid positions for the next race (Belgium) and two penalty points for “causing an avoidable collision in Turn 1” [FIA]

So this means HAM is just 8 points ahead of VER in the Drivers’ Championship (NOR is 3rd, a further 74 points back), and Mercedes are 12 points ahead of Red Bull (with McLaren and Ferrari join P3, 128 points behind).

Free Practice:

  1. FP1: BOT (1:45.199), VER, GAS, LEC, SAI, PER, VET, NOR, OCO, ALO (HAM P18)
    There’s rain forecast all weekend; although the track was damp it didn’t actually rain during FP1
    RAI spun at La Source (turn 1) and then TSU did the same
    RAI also managed to hit the concrete wall at pit-in
    HAM’s quick lap was ruined when he tried to pass LAT into the chicane
    RUS was frustrated by STR
    LEC put two wheels in a gravel trap but managed to pull his Ferrari back onto the track
  2. FP2: VER (1:44.472), BOT, HAM, ALO, GAS, STR, OCO, VET, NOR, PER
    ALO’s helmet-cam video is fantastic [FIA]
    OCO spun out of Turn 14 but recovered
    LEC spun in T5, clipped the tyre wall and spread parts of his Ferrari across the gravel at T6, causing the session to be suspended with 10mins left
    VER spun in T7, dragging gravel onto the track and then putting the Red Bull in the tyre wall; red flags this time meant the end of FP2
  3. FP3: VER (1:56.924), PER, HAM, NOR, OCO, STR, GAS, VET, RUS, ALO (BOT P11)
    The track’s wet; air 13°C; track 16°C; humidity 94%
    HAM reports “Left brakes not working that well”
    RAI tops that, “My brakes have failed” but makes it back to the pits safely
    SAI’s weather report, “The track is back to full wet”
    Meanwhile, Ferrari tell LEC “No more rain expected”
    The track does indeed appear to be drying
    GAS spins but rejoins the track ok

The FIA have published an update to this season’s calendar: the next 3 races (Netherlands, Italy, Russia) are unchanged; Turkey moves from Oct03 to Oct10 (which was Japan’s slot); USA remains as-is; Mexico moves from Oct31 to Nov07; Brazil moves from Nov07 to Nov14; the Nov21 weekend still says To Be Confirmed but the rumours are this will be Qatar; Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are unchanged. My 2021 calendar post is updated accordingly.

45mins before the start of Q1, it’s pouring down – will Quali be delayed?
15mins before Q1; still raining and seems to be getting heavier
As expected, “Start of the qualifying session will be delayed”, but no mention of for how long.
5min warning – “Q1 will start at 15:12” (local time)

Qualifying session 1 (Q1)
Air temperature 15°C; track 19°C; humidity 93%
Cars start lining up at the pit exit; the first couple of cars (LAT, RUS) are on intermediates but most on full wets
Pit lane is now empty; only the Williams pair on inters
LAT spins off; yellow flags, so that’s ruined RUS’ lap too – they were both setting good times
RUS 2:11.727
GAS 2:10.881
(HAM P2)
PER 2:10.135
VER 2:07.574
RUS 2:02.068
Why isn’t everyone else switching to inters?
HAM’s tail steps out, and he’s on full wets
Pit lane filling up as many drivers switching to inters
Radio for BOT, “Rain imminent in the next 2 minutes”
SAI 2:02.057
5mins left of Q1; bottom 5 are TSU, GIO, RIC, MAZ, RAI
VER 1:59.606
NOR 1:58.776
2mins left; bottom 5 are TSU, SCH, MAZ, RAI, VET
(HAM P2)
VET P10, relegating GIO to P16
Chequered flag
VER 1:58.717
RAI P19
GIO P16
NOR 1:58.301
Back of the grid: GIO, TSU, SCH, RAI, MAZ

Qualifying session 2
Everyone going out on inters – only HAM on a used set though
HAM pits for new inters
NOR 1:57.235
(VER P2)
NOR hits the kerbs, gets two wheels off the ground
LEC runs wide
7mins left – HAM and BOT are bottom of the timing sheet!
NOR 1:57.041
(HAM P7)
(BOT P9)
5mins left of Q2; bottom 5 are STR, SAI, LAT, OCO, ALO
STR P7, pushing BOT to P11
VER 1:56.559
HAM and BOT pit for new tyres
SAI P7, LEC P11
LEC P4, HAM P11 so now Mercedes are P11 and P12
Incident involving SAI and OCO “noted”
(VET P2)
Chequered flag; bottom 5 are HAM, BOT, LAT, OCO, ALO
LAT P7, RUS P11
NOR 1:56.025
(HAM P2) SAI P11
(BOT P3) RIC P11
OCO P9, LAT P11
RIC P8, LEC P11
ALO P14
Middle of the grid: LEC, LAT, SAI, ALO, STR*
*STR will drop 5 grid places due to penalty from the previous race, so he’ll start P20

Qualifying session 3
Top 10 shootout is between NOR, HAM, BOT*, GAS, VER, VET, OER, RUS, RIC and OCO
*BOT will drop 5 grid places due to penalty from the previous race
The rain is hammering down again
Radio from VET, “They should red flag” and he’s on full wets
NOR reports aquaplaning
NOR spins in Raidillon, hits the tyre wall, keeps spinning – that’s nasty!
Red flags – there’s 8:59 left of Q3
NOR is out of his car, but he’s holding his left arm
VET was quite emotional on the radio, “What the f**k did I say? Red flag! It’s unnecessary! Is he ok?” and then VET stops alongside NOR to check on him
Replay shows NOR touched the drivers-left tyre wall in Eau Rouge, ripping off a wheel and spinning multiple times; his engineer asks if he’s ok; “Sorry boys we should’ve had a good one. I’ve let you down.” [video]
The marshals and track workers are busy putting down cement dust to absorb the car’s fluids and rebuilding the tyre wall
No ETA for the restart as yet
McLaren tweet confirming that NOR “is currently undergoing checks at the trackside medical centre.”
Berndt Maylander putting in a few more laps in the safety car, throwing up lots of water
Session will resume at 16:45
OCO waits at the end of the pit lane; he’s on full wets
Air temperature 14°C; track 17°C
Q3 restarts with 8:59 left on the clock, and no lap times set as yet
Mercedes and Red Bull send their cars out on inters
Radio for HAM telling him to pit if he’s not comfortable
OCO pits for inters
HAM fighting to keep control of his car
HAM 2:01.552
BOT P2
VET P3
VER P2
PER P5
GAS P5
RIC P7
OCO P8
2mins left of Q3; order is HAM, VER, BOT, VET, GAS, PER, RIC, OCO; no time for NOR, RUS
RUS P9
PER P2
RUS fastest in sector 1 and sector 2!
OCO P7
Chequered flag
RUS 2:00.086 – provisional pole for the Williams!
HAM P2
PER P3
BOT P4
VET P3
VER 1:59.765
GAS P5
Front of the grid: VER, RUS, HAM, RIC, VET, GAS, PER, BOT*, OCO, NOR
*BOT will start P13

Wow! RUS was so nearly on pole!

Interviews:
RUS: “I thought we did well to get out of Q1 and then we end up on the front row. We had nothing to lose, tomorrow’s the important one so let’s go out there and score some points.”
VER: “When we switched to the intermediate – they couldn’t handle a lot of water so it was quite tricky. Just happy to have a qualifying like this after the break.”
HAM: “It’s been a very difficult day for everyone, just tried to stay positive and calm. My first lap was really good, my second one ummm… Well done to Max and to George. If it’s like this tomorrow it’s going to be tricky to balance straight-line speed and downforce. Tomorrow is another day.”

Andreas Seidl reports that NOR has gone for an X-ray on his elbow

Provisional grid: VER, RUS, HAM, RIC, VET, GAS, PER, BOT*, OCO, NOR, LEC, LAT, SAI, ALO, STR*, GIO, TSU, SCH, RAI, MAZ
*BOT and STR will each drop 5 grid places due to penalty from the previous race

[2021 calendar] [2021 line-up] [Points standings]

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