F1 – Belgian GP – Qualifying
Bonjour, MiniFans! Summer break is over and what better way to get back into the groove of things that kicking off the second part of the season in Spa Francorchamps? The rain had already made an appearance on Friday and earlier on Saturday, but a very sudden and heavy discharge of water meant that the start of qualifying would be delayed until the track was deemed safe, especially after the WSeries crash that saw six drivers walking out unscathed from a terrifying incident.
Qualifying kicked off with a twelve-minute delay from the scheduled time and the radar didn’t predict more rain, but it wouldn’t be the first time it became an uninvited and unexpected guest. Full wets and intermediates were both fitted on the cars, but the only ones making a bet since the beginning on the green tyres were the Williams, despite the water spray. Their times were good, but Latifi missed a corner, proving they may not have been the best choice for the first part of Q1 for him, but Russell proved himself in them, going three and five seconds faster than his teammate and the first ones in full wets, respectively.
Halfway through Q1, the rest of the drivers finally decided to change their tyres, seeing how insanely ahead both Williams were. They would be finally knocked off as the faster drivers started to clock in laps, but Russell kept himself up there with his latest times. The decision of who wouldn’t go through to Q2 fell on the last lap taken by everyone, as the times kept improving alongside the track. Vettel had remained as the last of the grid up until his two last laps, that got him out of the gutter and into seventh place. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Giovinazzi (P16), Tsunoda (P17), Schumacher (P18), Raikkonen (P19) and Mazepin (P20).
Unlike a dry session, cars piled up at the end of the pit lane before the green light was on to signal the start of Q2, ready to score at least one lap just in case the predicted incoming rain did fall and the track conditions took a turn for the worse. Mercedes had a bad start, as both drivers had been released with used intermediate tyres and were called into the pits for new tyres, copying what everyone else had done and losing some precious time due to it. They would eventually make it through, but without as good of a performance as we’re used to from the silver arrows and having a tough time keeping themselves in the top 10, needing one last stop for fresh tyres and just one more attempt at diving into Q3, as both of them were out of it when the time was over and they were yet to cross the finish line. On the other hand, Ferrari did the complete opposite, going from having their drivers relatively safe to them plunging down the timing tower as others improved more than they did. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Leclerc (P11), Latifi (P12), Sainz (P13), Alonso (P14) and Stroll (P15).
As soon as Q2 was over, rain came down again over the track, forcing drivers to use full wet tyres and manage the bit of aquaplaning that was reported by Norris on radio. Barely half a minute after Vettel said it should be red flagged, Norris lost the rear on the uphill of Raidillon and crashed hard into the barriers, prompting a red flag and Sebastian Vettel stopping beside him to check on him, as his team hadn’t yet been able to hear on the Brit’s condition. The session was then stopped, to clean the track of debris following the accident, wait until the rain was lighter and the track was safe, even if full wets were necessary.
Ocon was the first back on track after the session was resumed, with no one else waiting on the pit lane with him, with full wets fitted on his car. The rest of the cars out used intermediates, with the exception of Russell and Ricciardo, who copied Ocon, but they soon changed their minds and went with the majority. Intermediates were clearly the correct choice for the conditions and the big surprise was Russell, who managed to set the fastest time in his last attempt and wasn’t beat by Hamilton. It was down to Verstappen, who managed to shave three tenths off Russell’s time. Behind them, Ricciardo climbed up to fourth in the absence of his teammate and Vettel got fifth place.
It was one of those wet qualifying sessions that fans like more than the teams, as neither the rain nor the water on track were stable and it meant possible mayhem. It took until Q3 for it to be a big crash, as it was the only time where the rain got more intense and Vettel even called for a red flag before it was forced out, due to Norris’ crash. It’s the first racing weekend after the summer break. Tension is high, following the last two races, and only eight points split Hamilton and Verstappen, who has two weekends where he’s racing at home, Zaanvort being in his home country and Spa being a track always attended by a ton of Dutch fans, while Russell shot his Williams into second place, separating the championship contenders and mirroring his best ever grid position in his one race with Mercedes last year. All that remains to see is whether we will witness an inversion of the luck in the two races prior to the break.