Renault have decided that Quick Nick Heidfeld isn’t quite doing the job they’d hoped he would. So, they’ve replaced him with Bruno Senna, and replaced his salary with the millions in sponsorship the Brazilian nephew brings with him. I hope Senna can do a good job, but it’ll be difficult for him. He’s only ever driven a HRT before, he’s not raced competitively for over half a year, the Renault’s gradually slipped down the running order and Spa is a circuit where top speed really helps (cf 2009 when Force India got pole then 2nd) and the Renault engine is not the fastest.
Practice was dominated by rain, with very little dry running and lots of intermediate tyre usage. It was hard to predict a pole sitter. I considered Webber the best bet (thought I was tempted by Button) as only Red Bulls have had pole this season, he got pole last year, he was fastest in P2 and P3 and if it was dry for qualifying Red Bull usually does even better.
Qualifying was hugely eventful from start to finish. Schumacher, celebrating 20 years of F1, didn’t even finish his out lap as a rear wheel parted company from his car and ensured he started from a career worst of 24th. Meanwhile, Paul di Resta failed to escape Q3, and joined a quintet of backmarkers in 18th. However, Kovalainen did manage to get into Q2 (albeit in just 17th).
Q2 was almost as exciting for reasons good and bad. With just under 7 minutes left Sutil crashed out and the debris on the track got the session red-flagged, with Alonso in the drop zone. He managed to recover, but Button (then very high up the timesheet) waved past Hamilton (then in the drop zone). However, Button was called into the pits and ended up getting dropped in just 13th place. Hamilton, meanwhile, secured entry into Q1, as did both Renaults and Perez. Unfortunately, the end of Q2 was marred by Hamilton making a robust but perfectly legitimate pass on Maldonado to get his best time. Maldonado, relegated to a mere 16th, then swiped Hamilton’s car, causing superficial damage. Disgraceful behaviour (perhaps harking back to memories of a meeting in Monte Carlo) that earnt Maldonado a 5 place grid penalty and Hamilton a reprimand (for some reason).
Q1 saw dry tyres (the faster softs) used for the first time in qualifying. To my delight, Webber was consistently and substantially faster than his rivals (Vettel and Hamilton) for much of the session, only to drop to 3rd in the latter stages. Happily, the 1.8 lay I’d suggested was accepted, so I ended up green anyway. Senna got a very impressive 7th (ahead of Petrov in 10th), Alonso got a substantially unimpressive 8th (Massa snagged 4th) and Vettel led Hamilton and then Webber at the sharp end. Rosberg and Alguersuari got 5th and 6th, Perez 9th.
I imagined there would be plenty of cunning tips to offer, given Alonso, Button and Schumacher were heavily out of position in 8th, 13th and 24th respectively. That, sadly, turned out not to be the case. In the end I opted for laying Webber for a podium at 1.81.
The first lap was notable for two main reasons: firstly, Rosberg got the lead from 5th, and secondly Webber started with all the vigour of a hung-over octogenarian with rheumatoid arthritis, dropping all the way back to 8th or so.
Senna unfortunately forgot that the first corner involves turning the car, rammed Alguersuari like a killer whale trying to drown a calf, and effectively ended the latter’s race whilst ruining his own.
At this point I was pleased. And then even more confirmation of my seemingly correct tip: Vettel reported severe blistering. I’d utterly forgotten to account for the tyre degradation (what with almost no dry running in 5 hours of practice and qualifying), and the Red Bulls seems to be suffering most (especially compared to the Ferraris and Button).
Down the field Schumacher was passing people left right and centre, and Button, who was down to 19th at one point, was doing likewise. Incidentally, the other drivers all agreed that the Mercedes was fantastically quick in a straight line (even versus the very fast McLaren). Of course, that might be because Mercedes went for a dry set-up rather than a compromise.
Unfortunately, Kobayashi attempted to break the laws of physics and occupy the same time and space as Hamilton, spinning the Briton and putting him into the barrier. Hamilton left the race, the safety car arrived, Vettel sneaked into the pits and got a free pit stop (and so did many other drivers).
Webber had recovered from his early woes and Vettel too was coping with the blisters. Their only rival at the mid-stage was Alonso, who was ultimately to get passed by Webber (Alonso was on the harder tyre at the end and could not make it work, unlike the Red Bulls and Button, who began on the harder tyre) and then Button. Vettel scored yet another triumph (he was actually 2.9 and longer than Hamilton, then 2.7, just before the race) leading Webber and then Button. Alonso was 4th, Schumacher managed to pass his team mate to get 5th, and Rosberg was followed by Sutil, Massa, Petrov and Maldonado.
So, two bets, both wrong. If you hedged you’d be up about 60p. On the other hand, if you didn’t, you’d be down £20. Ironically, even though I laid Webber for the podium at 1.81 I could’ve hedged easily probably at 4-5 or even longer, given his atrocious start.
Feel rather disappointed with my betting, particularly in the race when I should’ve recalled tyre degradation and Webber’s China drive (from 18th or so to 3rd) and backed Button and Schumacher to get podium and points (I did consider those bets, along with a Rosberg podium and Alonso win at 13 each, but decided they were too risky). Without hedging, this was the worst result since China in April.
The Mercedes was bloody fast in a straight line. Fastest of any car, and Schumacher was very quick throughout as well. The next race, in a fortnight, is Italy, and Monza is, like Spa, a speed circuit. Mercedes and Schumacher might just spring a slight surprise there. Rosberg maintains his habit of going backwards in the race.
I’m convinced Vettel and Red Bull are effectively uncatchable for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles. It was strategy rather than raw pace that got him the win, and it’s very hard to see anyone else taking his crown.