In the run-up to this race, McLaren were sounding bullish about improvements to their car after Hungary. They’ve had pretty good weekends at Spa and Monza [although only one car finished each race with a win and a second place] and will be very keen to see if they can match the Red Bulls in the latter part of the season.
They also raised the issue of whether the new loading tests on the flexi-wing and floor of the Red Bull would damage its performance. This was hard to tell at the last two races because they followed a perfect circuit for Red Bull (Hungary) and Spa and Monza are not suited to the Red Bull. So, it was difficult to tell whether the performance drop-off was due to wing and floor alterations or just the natural contrast between a circuit the car loves and circuits the car loathes.
Pre-practice weather reports suggest a likelihood of black clouds, heavy rain and lightning storms throughout the entire weekend. Sounds like fun.
P1 was damp, and as such, not much use for learning who’s quickest. However, here’s the top 10: Webber, Schumacher, Sutil, Vettel, Alguesuari, Button, Liuzzi, Buemi, Kubica and Petrov.
P2 was dry (mostly), but this session is the one where heavy fuel runs are done after a period of lighter fuel driving, so the times don’t necessarily reflect real pace. However, it is notable that the Red Bulls were miles ahead of their competition, Vettel 0.6s ahead of Webber, who was 0.4s ahead of Button, Alonso and Hamilton, who were all very close to one another. Following them were Barrichello, Massa, Rosberg, Kubica and Schumacher.
P3 was disappointing, because the end was ruined by the pointless HRT of Senna yellow flagging the session and preventing almost everyone (save the Red Bulls and Alonso) getting in proper laps. The order was Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Rosberg, Webber, Hulkenberg, Kubica, Sutil and Buemi.
Weather forecasts suggest a one in three chance of rain showers. My view is that if it’s dry Webber has no chance, despite him alone having a fresh engine. Likewise, Massa and Button, barring wet weather freakiness, have no chance of pole in my opinion.
As has been the case recently, there are three chaps I believe have a good chance. Favourite is Vettel, then Hamilton, then Alonso. A problem is that Hamilton’s early timesheet-topping time was beaten by Vettel and Alonso (by 0.25s and 0.1s roughly) on a track that was rapidly drying and therefore naturally faster. Hamilton never really got a flying lap, yet still came third overall. It’s my judgement that he was better than Alonso and equal or just slower than Vettel.
It’s extremely difficult for me to call. I do think Vettel is clear favourite for victory at evens, but there is no comparable Hamilton time. I’m going to tip Vettel at evens for pole.