Belgian Grand Prix – Ahead of Sunday’s race at Spa, Thomas Maher shares his thoughts on some of Saturday’s Qualifying events.
The pressure is all on Rosberg
Nico Rosberg had to take pole position on Saturday – anything less would have been seen as a failure, considering Lewis Hamilton sitting on the sidelines throughout the qualifying hour. In the end, Rosberg could “only” manage it by 0.1 seconds, barely managing to pip the flying Max Verstappen on the SuperSofts. While the Dutch driver may have an advantage on the first lap of tomorrow’s race, Rosberg has all the advantages of starting the race from pole in the dominant car on the correct tyre. Ferrari’s FP3 and qualifying pace suggest they might just have the edge on Red Bull here, and could harry Rosberg throughout the race.
The Safety Car is no strange visitor at any Grand Prix at Spa, and such an occurrence will bring Lewis Hamilton right back into the thick of things, if he even requires such an intervention. The top speeds along the Kemmel straight, coupled with DRS, should permit Lewis to come through the pack with relative ease. Should the reigning Champion manage to defeat Rosberg after 90 minutes of racing, it will be a tremendous blow to Nico when all the stars are aligning to give him this race weekend on a plate. He absolutely needs to put this one away. Ensuring he gets off the line well will be step one, and we’ve seen him struggle with that recently…
Kimi Raikkonen enjoys being married
When most long term fans think of Kimi Raikkonen’s heyday, they think of 2003-2007 – around the time period of his first marriage to Jenni Dahlman in 2004. Divorcing in 2012, his form began to slump and he produced his weakest season of all in 2014. As his relationship with Minttu Virtanen strengthened, so has he began to regain his form. Freshly married over the summer break, Raikkonen comes back to edge Vettel consistently so far this weekend.
Of course, this light-hearted theory is nonsensical really. Raikkonen’s form has been on the up consistently throughout 2016, particularly so since his re-signing at Silverstone. While Vettel still usually finishes ahead on the road when both have uncompromised races, there isn’t a huge gap considering Vettel’s considerable success and domination in more recent years than Raikkonen. Much like Jenson Button being a match for Fernando Alonso at McLaren, there’s life in the oldest dog of them all, and we may yet see the Finn add to his list of wins in the not too distant future. Who would bet against The King of Spa re-claiming that title this weekend?
Pascal Wehrlein’s statement of intent
Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein just had a kick up the bum, what with his teammate Rio Haryanto being replaced for Esteban Ocon. While Haryanto has been a solid, competent sidekick, Ocon’s pedigree is of a different level to the likeable Indonesian’s. 2014 Formula 3 Champion, and 2015 GP3 Champion, Ocon’s status at Mercedes is similar to Wehrlein’s. Presumably, whoever’s form is more impressive will lead to a race seat at the big boys when either Hamilton or Rosberg move on, which means that any possibly complacency, unconsciously or otherwise, on Wehrlein’s side will no longer be good enough.
As a result, Wehrlein chose to unleash a stonking lap in Q1 – enough to see him finish P9 in the session. While he went on to finish P15 – usually a good result for a Manor driver – both he and the team admitted to frustration about their finishing position. This was because the team had simply run out of new SuperSoft tyres, and meant that the German driver set his Q2 time on the same tyres as the opening session. This resulted in P15. Had he been able to utilise a new set, Q3 may very well have been possible. While it’s unfair on Ocon to criticise his P18 by comparison, Wehrlein is wasting no time in laying down a marker and signalling to Mercedes that he is the one suitable to take over at Mercedes AMG when required. A terrific intra-team battle awaits.