Hamilton delivers when it matters
The qualifying for the Belgian GP on Saturday was a complete contrast to the Friday practice sessions the previous day. Rosberg was comfortable behind the wheel of Mercedes W06 that earned him the fastest lap with a three tenths advantage over Hamilton despite embroiled in a high-speed crash while heading towards Blanchimont due to tyre failure. He reckoned of himself being “one step ahead” so much so that Hamilton might adopt to his set-up overnight.
But as ever in F1 momentum had quickly switched from one Mercedes garage to the other. Hamilton was the first driver to dip into the 1m48s as lap times tumbled down consistently. In doing so, he pipped Rosberg by almost half second setting the tone right up for a one-sided qualifying that would reassure him the 2015 pole position trophy. However, Rosberg was not making life easier for the Briton as he and his team-mate were covered within 0.015s in Q1.
Hamilton started to stretch his legs in the final ten minutes decider following Rosberg heading the timingsheets in Q2. With the lap he acknowledged as “incredible positive feeling” certainly came out of nowhere as on the final attempt the reigning champion articulated a near-perfect lap to sit on pole by nearly half second. Making a mistake in the middle sector, Rosberg attempted to outsmart the unstoppable Hamilton but was left “surprised”.
Defending his spate of sub-par qualifying performances, the area in which he excelled last year, the German conceded that some compromises had always been made to take the fight to his runaway team-mate, revelling on sixth pole position in a row, on Sunday.
Mercedes engines stamp authority
At well over a second gap to third-placed Bottas, Mercedes’ phenomenal distance to the rest of the field will give them a considerable advantage should they make a better start to the 265m long run into Turn 1. But, with the clampdown on race start procedures and the unpredictable nature of the fast-flowing 7.004km circuit nothing can be taken for granted.
The sectors 1 and 3 comprise of long straight and some flat-out fast corners like Eau Rogue and Blanchimont where the Brixworth-built Mercedes power units disrupted the competition from Ferrari and Renault-powered cars. Of the top eight fastest qualifiers, only Ricciardo’s Red Bull was strapped with Renault engine. Nearly a second and half off Hamilton’s pace, a strong middle sector time boasted the Australian to be in the mix with a slew of Mercedes customer cars shrouding him.
As traditional it has been lately, Williams sandbagged on Friday only to put themselves well in contention for a podium position with the slippery and Spa-suited FW37. The other Mercedes-powered team Force India benefitted from the advantage in long straights as Perez qualified on his season-best fifth while Lotus made an impact with Grosjean reminding what he can cultivate given a faster car in hand. From fourth on the grid, the Frenchman has been demoted to ninth because of a penalty incurred for gearbox change.
Ferrari need plan “B”
The only non-Mercedes driver to stand on top step of the podium thus far is Sebastian Vettel who has long been considered as the dark horse in the drivers’ championship after his composed drive to victory in Hungary. Despite having an outside chance of winning his fifth title, expectations have grown long and strong on Ferrari at the summer-break to finally come up with something to rattle off the dominant Mercedes but the qualifying at Spa has been an indication of proceedings the other way around.
Vettel made a costly mistake at the last corner and went too deep relegating him to be only the ninth fastest driver. He suggested that he could’ve slashed another two tenths off his time which would have put him only in the realm of Perez and Ricciardo. On the other hand, Kimi Raikkonen suffered technical issues with his SF-15T and parked up in Q2. If the Maranello-based team fancies a go at Mercedes, they definitely cannot rely on just the luck factor despite having made massive strides in terms of chassis and engine developments during the course of this year.
McLaren and Honda take another blow
McLaren and Honda’s renewed relationship has so far been nothing but tumultuous. Having spent three development tokens to bring an upgraded engine dubbed as MK3 to Spa, the Japanese manufacturer have already endured reliability issues on Friday and Saturday. To top off all that, they are the second-worst performing team next to Marussia as the gap between Button’s 17th place to the car ahead was over a second in qualifying.
Speed traps did show the extent in which McLaren were suffering as Button found himself over 10kph off Mercedes’ straight line speed. Honda confirmed that they did have engine power but somehow in the high-speed circuit of Spa their issues were only exacerbated. Either way, it won’t take long before both the reputed companies put the blame on each other if the results do not come along before the end of this season. Accumulating a shameful 105-place grid penalty for Sunday, thanks to the rules change they won’t be punished beyond the back of the grid demotion, Alonso summed up the situation sardonically as “we should get a cake”. (Suren M)