Rosberg starts second half action with pole at Spa; Red Bull’s Verstappen P2 & Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen P3; Hamilton faces raft of engine penalties, will start last
The summer break is over and the F1 circus is back in action at the historic Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium. And with unseasonably warm temperatures and no signs of the infamous Ardennes rains to be found in Saturday’s qualifying session, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg made the most of the unusually good conditions — as well as his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton’s absence — to score the pole for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. It was just the psychological lift that Rosberg needed upon returning from the hiatus after having been overhauled for the points lead by Hamilton. In truth, Hamilton earned his top position by winning 6 of the last 7 contests prior to the break while Rosberg had a string of self-inflicted misfortunes that cost him valuable points and positions during that time. He despartaely needs to make the most of Hamilton’s penalties this weekend, go out and win this race and perhaps regain the overall lead if Hamilton cannot recover from his back-of-the-pack start to score meaningful points.
Hamilton finds himself in that predicament because he elected to take multiple engine-change penalties for this race and so he didn’t run at all in qualifying, as he was guaranteed to be starting from either the back for the grid or the pit lane after all those penalty points were racked up no matter what he might have done on the track. So Mercedes were in essence writing off the Belgian GP for Hamilton while insuring that he would likely not face any penalties for the rest of the season, having run multiple engines in the 3 Practice sessions to inoculate them from the dreaded “new” label going forward. It should be interesting to see if the pugnacious Englishman is able to fight his way through the field and grab at least some points out of the contest or if he is sanguine enough to simply concede this race and the attendant points to Rosberg, save his car and come back strong next week at Monza. My money’s on Hamilton charging his way through and at least getting into the Top 10. I don’t think he knows how to do anything else but compete even when the odds are stacked against him and in the end he is the fastest guy driving the fastest car out there.
With Hamilton not participating that opened up grid spots for other drivers. Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen, who seems to have been responsible for a major uptick in ticket sales due to his Dutch-Belgian heritage, capitalized to grab P2 for the race tomorrow, besting his teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s P5. Likewise, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen continued his solid form since being re-signed by the Scuderia, qualifying P3 to teammate Sebastian Vettel’s P4. Sergio Perez had a lap good enough for P6 and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg qualified P7. The Williams of Vatteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were P8 and P10 respectively and Jenson Button will start P9 for McLaren, a much needed lift for the team after Fernando Alonso could not finish a lap in Q1 when his engine died early in the session.
Top 10 Qualifiers for Spa:
|2||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:48.407||1:47.163||1:46.893||12|
|5||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:48.407||1:48.027||1:47.216||12|
|6||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:48.106||1:47.485||1:47.407||12|
|7||27||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:48.080||1:47.317||1:47.543||12|
Tomorrow’s race airs live beginning at 7:30 Eastern on NBC Sports here in the States. Can we really have three warm, dry days in the Ardennes? I wouldn’t bet on it and wouldn’t that put the cat amongst the pigeons with everyone married to a dry set up…