There’s only one thing harder than trying to qualify a Formula 1 car for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps—that’s trying to qualify the car in the rain.
That’s exactly what the drivers faced on Saturday as a downpour just prior to the official qualifying session left the circuit soaked and the cars sliding.
Rain always impacts lap times but there were some key moments in the session that are worth taking note of.
Q1- The session started in the wet but the rain was not coming down. Lot of spray and the teams were right on the edge of using the full wet tire and the intermediate wet tire.
Give a round of polite golf applause for Marussia’s Jules Bianch who managed to get his backmarker car into Q2 with a terrific performance in the first session.
If you were going to debut in F1, Spa isn’t the best track to do so yet Andre Lotterer not only jumped into Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham for the weekend, he managed to beat Marcus Ericsson by nearly a full second in Q1. A big thumbs up for the 3-time Le Mans winner.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg failed to make it to Q2 for the first time in a year.
Q2- The session saw the return of the rain as a slow drizzle started immediately at the beginning of Q2. The first laps of Q2 were likely to be the quickest of the session.
Jenson Button threw down a nice lap and clawed McLaren’s way back into Q3 for both cars with his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, securing a top-ten position in Q2.
Button’s performance briefly knocked 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel out of the running until a final lap got the champ back in the top ten and advancing to Q3.
Sergio Perez couldn’t get his Force India into Q3 showing a lack of pace in the low downforce configuration once again.
Q3- As the teams headed into Q3, it was Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams who looked set to make a run for pole position. The sun started coming out in the session and as is characteristic of Spa, the track conditions were a combination of wet and drying section in a very challenging and changeable condition.
The track was rapidly improving with each single minute and early on, Mercedes set a 2:05 which was over three seconds faster than all others.
With five minutes to play, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton narrowed the gap to his teammate to just six tenths of a second. Hamilton was losing time in turns one and ten according to team radio.
As we’ve seen many times before, with the track improving by the second, it was going to come down to the last car on the last lap that could determine the pole position.
As time ran out, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were on flyers and the sector times were very close but the German held Hamilton off for the pole. It is Rosberg’s 7th pole position of the 2014 season so far.
Interestingly, Williams were not able to show the pace they had in the first two session with both Red Bull and Ferrari leaving the duo of Mass and Bottas back in 9th and 6th respectively.
In the end, the session was always going to be between Rosberg and Hamilton for pole but Lewis said he had braking issues that kept him from making a better charge for pole:
“This is a circuit where you have to have confidence in the brakes,” said Hamilton. “You could see in Q3 when I was going straight on as the left brake wasn’t working for some reason, I don’t know why.
“It went into glazing. When it glazes it is very hard to recover, you have to put the brake balance forward. It’s not that easy to clear it.”