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2015 Belgian GP Qualifying Report

Posted on 23 August 2015

By Bob Constanduros

After its three week break, Formula One has moved from its shortest permanent circuit to its longest and perhaps expecting a somewhat less frenetic race than that experienced in Hungary three weeks ago. The frustration of trying to overtake where it’s only just possible made for a thrilling event before the break; Spa is a longer legged, wide open traditional circuit where overtaking is easier.

Spa is many drivers’ favourite circuit. It is seven kilometres long and has two distinct characters: the very fast first and third sectors where 340kph was spotted during practice (by young Max Verstappen, no less) and a twisty middle sector. Therefore you can find some cars excelling on the straights (probably those with poorer downforce) and others going quickly in the middle sector, where handling and downforce are so important.

But then there is the possibility of the whole field being shaken up by the modifications that have been introduced since the mid-season break. Spa is followed two weeks later by another high speed track, Monza, so if teams develop something for Spa, it can also be of benefit in Italy. They are constantly developing the cars anyway and the fact that engineers and mechanics are not allowed in their team bases during the break doesn’t stop a raft of improvements appearing afterwards.

So how much was the grid shaken up in Belgium? The answer is not much. Sure, there were teams that had brought modifications and indeed, had been bringing mods for several races beforehand, but if anything, there were some real surprises here, that those teams that were expected to improve didn’t.

So at the head of the field were still the two Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton having taken the upper hand from Nico Rosberg. The Finn had a rotten time on Friday – amazingly the weather stayed excellent for at least four days – when he first of all had an engine problem and then an exploded Pirelli rear tyre at over 300kph, thankfully not hitting anything. But in each session he was still quickest.

But then Hamilton sorted out his car to take the upper hand on Saturday and to pip his teammate by some 04.s for his 48th career pole position – Mercedes one-two again.

Ferrari might have been expected to be next, but four time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen stopped out on the circuit with a mechanical problem and will start well back, and Sebastian Vettel just didn’t improve in Q3 as others did and will start in the lower part of the top ten.

So bouncing back up to the front after disappointing recent races is Ferrari’s championship rivals Williams with Valtteri Bottas in third and Felipe Massa seventh. It took them a while to show this form – as it often does – but this is a circuit that suits them – provided it doesn’t rain.

Both Lotus and Force India (the latter in particular) benefitted from their Mercedes engines where power is so necessary. Perez set several fastest sector times although Hulkenberg was disappointingly far back in 11th. Lotus’s Romain Grosjean would be penalised five places for a new gearbox but qualifying fourth although teammate Maldonado was in eight, in spite of a practice accident.

No surprise that last year’s winner Daniel Ricciardo was in sixth place where Red Bull Racing have done so well, but their power deficit was costly; Sainz had the next Renault engine in tenth ahead of Kvyat in 12th and Verstappen 15th.

But all is not lost for any of them. New start procedures could provide a fascinating getaway tomorrow; it limits the amount of help gained from engineers on the bite point of the clutch, and the weather is due to break too. So Belgium could still provide some surprises as it frequently does. It’s just that it won’t be anything like Hungary – or Singapore!

Bob Constanduros is the on-circuit commentator at most Grands Prix worldwide. After a career in motor sport journalism dating back to the late sixties, he was officially asked to provide English language commentary at Grands Prix in the mid-eighties and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix since 1985, totalling over 550 Grands Prix. Despite his Greek name, he was born in England and lives there, not far from the Goodwood circuit where he saw his first motor sport in the fifties. He has taken an interest and worked in all forms of motor sport from karting through rallying to sports and touring cars, and has commentated at every Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix since the race began. He has worked in all forms of media, and still works for the FIA and FOM as well as individual race promoters.

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