Webber and Hamilton set for Spa showdown (Belgian GP pre-race analysis)

Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2010

The Belgian Grand Prix is looking very promising with an interesting grid, a chance of rain and, of course, the best circuit in Formula 1.

Both Red Bull drivers will be looking over their shoulder at the McLarens starting right behind them – and Robert Kubica is right in the mix in his upgraded Renault.

We also have the prospect of Fernando Alonso fighting his way up from tenth place. And F1’s most experienced driver has made an interesting call on tyre strategy.

The start

The first corner at Spa has already come under some scrutiny ahead of the race. Drivers have been warned not to try to use the outside of the corner to gain an advantage and the organisers have increased the amount of artificial grass at the corner to discourage drivers from purposefully running wide.

That could be crucial tomorrow as everyone tries to make the best of their advantage to gain places on the opening lap.

That’s especially true of the two championship leaders who share the front row of the grid. Lewis Hamilton knows his best chance to get past Mark Webber will come on the first lap.

Side-by-side passes into Eau Rouge are very hard to pull off – as Hamilton discovered with Fernando Alonso in 2007. His best chance might be to get in Webber’s slipstream on the way out of Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel straight, where he was 3kph faster than the Red Bull driver in practice this morning.

Here’s Webber’s thoughts from the press conference on the opening lap:

Let?s see how the start goes. We don?t know if it?s going to be consistent both sides in terms of grip level, in terms of we?ve seen the right side of the track drying a bit faster than the left side, so if it?s going to be like that then I should get away OK, but if it?s even across both sides in terms of wet or dry then I?m probably expecting Lewis to be pretty close but it?s nothing unusual.

We?ve been there before and we will try and do our best. I don?t think tomorrow?s grand prix will be won and lost on the first lap, to be honest.
Mark Webber

Likewise Jenson Button will be eyeing up an opportunity to demote Sebastian Vettel who starts one place in front of him.

And that’s not to overlook Robert Kubica, who is revelling in his R30 that is now equipped with an F-duct, and Felipe Massa, who has made several uncompromising moves on the first lap this year.

Recent races suggest that neither side of this grid offers a particular advantage. It probably helps that track is frequently washed clean by rain.

The atypical pole position slot is on the inside line for the first corner. In the three F1 races since this part of the track was re-configured the pole sitter has held his position every time.

Fighting from the back

Alonso is not exactly at the back but he is certainly out of position. From tenth on the grid he is in danger of falling prey to the kind of first-lap mayhem that ended Hamilton and Button’s races last year.

A key target for the Ferrari driver on the first lap is the Force India of Adrian Sutil starting directly in front of him. That car has proved difficult to pass even for the likes of McLaren and Red Bull in races this year.

There are several drivers at the back who should make progress forward – Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and Vitaly Petrov in 17th, 21st, 22nd and 24th respectively. This should make for an interesting comparison of their overtaking abilities.

Conversely, Heikki Kovalainen starts from Lotus’s best qualifying position this year, 13th. With a little bit of attrition this race could be their best chance of scoring points.

The weather

The skies of Spa have kept the teams guessing all weekend. Showers materialise quickly near the track and the lap is long, meaning a wrong decision on which tyres to use can be very costly.

Some teams may find themselves running short of intermediate tyres if the conditions are persistently damp. They are only allocated four sets at the start of the weekend (and three sets of full wets) and regular rainfall has kept the shallow-cut wet tyres in demand.

Since the beginning of the year teams have found Bridgestone’s new-specification intermediate tyre wears out very quickly. That was clearly illustrated in Shanghai when drivers had to make stops for fresh intermediate tyres.

Inevitably there are rumours that some drivers have set their cars up with wet weather conditions in mind. Nico Rosberg has said his team had “decided to go for more of a rain set-up” but his team mate is believed to have gone the other way.

Barrichello’s gamble

Assuming the race stays dry, we’ll see the top ten drivers start on soft tyres with one exception – Rubens Barrichello.

This is an interesting move and could be based on a gamble that rain will fall late in the race, allowing Barrichello to avoid having to make a pit stop to change slick tyres before then. In which case, drivers in front of Barrichello who start on soft tyres will not want to make their pit stop until they have enough of a gap to come out ahead of him – 18 seconds at the very least.

The Brazilian driver starts from seventh on the grid and those around him will be hoping he fluffs the start as he did here last year. If he doesn’t, he could be in for a very good result in his 300th Grand Prix.

What do you think will happen in the Belgian Grand Prix? Will Hamilton pass Webber at the start? Where will Alonso and Schumacher climb to? Have your say in the comments.

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59 comments on Webber and Hamilton set for Spa showdown (Belgian GP pre-race analysis)

  1. I’m going to gamble and look a pratt and say it’ll rain late tomorrow and Rubens will win.

    If not then the rain will stay and Lewis will win which now seems quite boring in comparison :P

    • miguelF1O (@) said on 29th August 2010, 0:51

      what a qually for barrichello its hard to believe that Williams and Cosworth are good on fast tracks. Great mechanical grip by the williams i suppose.it would be special to win on his 300th gp

      • cheers said on 29th August 2010, 1:08

        Rubens has given himself every chance and Williams too. That says good things about the team culture. There are some good drivers in F1 now in the wet but he is the best. Cosworth looked a bit short on power up the hill so that might be their achilles heel.

        • Rubans is a likeable guy and a decent enough driver, but to say he’s the best in the wet of current drivers is a bit strong.

          • steph said on 29th August 2010, 11:11

            I think Rubens cann be brilliant in the wet. he isn’t always but at Silv 08 he was blinding. I thought he was as good (or nearly as good) as Ham that day.

    • …you know, most ppl posting statements of how marvelous Rubens is as driver are doing so for religious/political reasons rather than a passion or even understanding of motor sport – and maybe not even f1 fans at all!

      Rubens is, at best, a reliable journey-man driver from a very privileged background who has become a very experienced professional victim with a highly developed sense for the power of his own whining..
      …so he managed to hang on in F1 for a long time,,,,Whoopy Dooo!

      • Steph said on 29th August 2010, 11:26

        “are doing so for religious/political reasons ” Yes you’re right. Bernie called God to tell him to command me to be nice about Rubens :P

        Considering talents such as Grosjean get kicked out after barely half a season, that drivers such as Davidson can’t hang on to a drive and that Jenson was so nearly out of F1 not so long ago I’d say it’s pretty special that Rubens has shown the depth of quality to make teams want to hang on to him.

        I like Rubens and I feel he brings out some passion in the fans because he loves the sport and has such an enthusiasm for it which means when he does well he’s an exciteable child which is lovely but when it goes wrong he wears his heart on his sleeve. I think we need more like him myself but I can see why he doesn’t endear himself to some.

  2. zecks said on 28th August 2010, 20:58

    I hope not but something makes me think mark and lewis will take each other out on lap 1

  3. “Nico Rosberg has said his team had “decided to go for more of a rain set-up” but his team mate is believed to have gone the other way.”

    I thought Schumi was also on a wet set up according to JA and the BBC mentioned it during quali?

    • patrickl said on 28th August 2010, 22:28

      A while ago Schumacher claimed that Rosberg was using a different aero package and it turned out they were actually both using the same.

      You’d expect a bit more (better) communication when two drivers are together trying to improve a struggling car.

  4. TommyB (@tommyb89) said on 28th August 2010, 21:05

    My prediction: Hamilton will go for Webber into Les Combes. Vettel will tangle with Kubica on lap one and Webbber will eventually win the race.

  5. Faraz said on 28th August 2010, 21:10

    I like both Hamilton and Webber so I dont mind who wins.

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 28th August 2010, 21:38

      same here. but in terms of tightening the championship, I’d like HAM to win.

    • Chris Johnson said on 29th August 2010, 0:41

      Same here. I’d be okay with a 1-2 either way and have those two start to put a gap between themselves and the rest. Anyone but Alonso.

    • I’m with Faraz on this one: Lewis or Mark for the win would make me happy, but there´s one thing that Keith forgot to mention in his article; this year so far Mclaren seems very strong in race pace, maybe because of Red Bull´s trick with their exhaust in the flying lap.

      In a track in which McLaren can challenge those guys in qualifying we should expect a strong race from Woking.

      Anything can happen — of course — but in a wet or dump track, I expect Lewis with his superb ability to shine; in changeable conditions, I would put Jenson or Alonso as a good bet — Lewis engineer loves to ruin his races; in a dry track Webber is half favourite alongside Lewis, but he should keep “The Hammer” behind in the first laps…

      Another point that Keith didn´t touch is the correlation between the Right/Wrong Call X Circuit Length. In Spa, where could be raining in la source and dry in the rivage, a bad call in a track with 7.004 km could cost massively.

  6. Harry said on 28th August 2010, 21:15

    Wonder what odds you would get on Webber taking Hamilton out on the first lap?

    I really want one of the Brits to win it, but you do need your fair share of luck at this GP.

    Perhaps Kubica? He’s well equipped to stear clear of carnage and bring it home in tricky conditions.

  7. Goodtimes said on 28th August 2010, 21:18

    It’s great to see the Williams cars performing again…

  8. DaveW said on 28th August 2010, 21:21

    Uncompromising moves indeed, like hitting Luizzi four times on lap one in Canada.

    It is more likely than not that Hamilton (and/or Kubica) will get by Webber on lap one, unless Webber does something rash. Hamilton will take it very easy into La Source, he will even let Kubica by if he must, then you will see his Millenium Falcon impression going up the hill. Webber is a sitting duck on lap one. If it is sopping wet, anything could happen, but you will, for sure, see Massa dropping back like a stone with his Monza wing. I say its a 50%-plus chance of an SC on lap one either way, giving Hamilton two solid chances to close the deal.

    Kubica may have an intresting opportunity. He is in a position to capitalize on any battle ahead, and he knows that Hamilton and Webber will do nothing foolish to resist him as he is irrelevant to the title race.

    But the race will be wet-dry, certainly so, and as Alonso says, the outcome will likely depend on who makes the right call about tires and how the SC periods fall. If it’s dry but looking dark, look for some people to start on inters maybe.

    Finally, I look for Sebastian Vettel to something silly on lap one.

    • To be fair to mas he didn’t have any room, Liu was aggressive too and it’s not like either one could have reversed in that situation.

      I don’t think Ham would ever just let anyone by :P

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 28th August 2010, 21:44

      four times in one corner! not one lap! lol.

      Interesting prediction… I’ve put money on BAR to get fastest lap, as if it does stay dry, he’ll be on soft tyres at the end of the race. I think the lead will be determined by tuen 1 La source, not Les combes. I mean, HAM isn’t that much faster in a straight line is he?

      • Daniel said on 29th August 2010, 12:22

        You’d have been better off putting your money on Barichello. BAR haven’t been in F1 for a while now; I can’t see them getting fastest lap.

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 29th August 2010, 0:31

      Massa understeered into Liuzzi, after hitting the Brazilian’s sidepod (because of the Italian’s overly optimistic stunt) and broke his wing.

      I do see someone getting past Webber at turn one, and Vettel might make a hash of the start again, ultimately causing some kind of incident that causes damage to a few cars, including his.

      But predicting that, Vettel will probably end up leading on lap 1 and the whole field gets away cleanly for all we know :P

  9. STRFerrari4Ever said on 28th August 2010, 21:43

    There’s so many things that could happen in tomorrow’s race & it’s fascinating just thinking about it. The start will be utter mayhem wet or dry, drivers are definitely gonna attempt a lunge into La Source which could end many people’s races in tears.
    The increased astroturf at La Source might make drivers think twice about using the old Kimi route and Mansell will be ruthless I’m sure if guys try going wide for an advantage.

    At the end of Lap 1 I think Webber will still be in the lead somehow with Kubica in 2nd place. Then as the race progresses Kubica keeps Webber honest with Vettel in close company. But the weather will once again intervene causing chaos up and down the pitlane. I hope that STR manage to capitalise if the conditions are changeable to get in the points as Jaime has shown good speed so far this weekend.
    Barrichello’s move is interesting lets hope it works out well for him. Also the guys out of position will be good to watch coming through the field :D

  10. Calum said on 28th August 2010, 22:07

    Nice article but it’s missing one thing, safety car.
    Crash at turn 1 meaning 5 laps behind SC and Lewis can get another chance to pass Mark at the restart ala Kimi on Giancarlo last year, KERS is sometimes so comparable to FDuct.

  11. Calum said on 28th August 2010, 22:13

    To be honest I hope the Lotus of Kova scores tommorow, he has the correct attitude for expectation and working at a new team and is less stroppy than his teammate. It would also be great for the team who have worked just as hard as every team, in fact even harder given that the HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH, yet they are nit getting credit from high up people who usually speak more sense, eg Coulthard, who consistently writes them off.
    Yup so many reasons why it would be good if they scored. I guess it would mark the return if LOTUS to F1 bigtime rather than PROTONs new team that is seen a a joke.
    Goodluck lotus,make your doubters open their eyes tomorrow

    • Andy W said on 28th August 2010, 22:46

      Agreed about hoping Kovi squeaks a point or 3, would be a great result for him and the team, not sure however about Coulthard and the rest not giving Lotus any love… Seems to me they have heaped praise on all 3 of the new teams particularly Lotus, that said Eddie has been giving more praise than DC, but thats because he represents the Teams on the commentary team where as DC represents the drivers.

  12. It's Hammer Time said on 28th August 2010, 22:15

    We were at the track today. Just about to tuck in for the night as we have ‘red-neck’ standing tickets and are getting up super early to get a good spot for the race. Alonso has been smooth and fast all weekend. Alonso starting tenth felt as good as a pole would have for the Mclaren.

    There was an enormous cheer when Lewis bettered his position to 2nd in the rain on slicks when everyone else couldn’t (inc the mighty bulls). Go Mclaren!…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th August 2010, 22:17

      Have a great race – hope you get a good spot for tomorrow!

      • spectator said on 29th August 2010, 0:33

        what front wing where mclaren using on practice it seemed that ham returned to the old one on q3 at least? i heard some comments that mclaren was gettting sort of the flexiness problem to get leveled on that matter

    • “Alonso starting tenth felt as good as a pole would have for the Mclaren.”

      Huh?

      Anyway have fun tomorrow.

      • bosyber said on 28th August 2010, 22:50

        I guess you are no Ferrari fans :-p

        I like how you describe the atmosphere as Hamilton was managing to improve his time to become 2nd. Wishing you more of that for tomorrow!

    • spectator said on 29th August 2010, 0:27

      im a ferrari fan but anyway i like this kind of intensity do you acknowledge that if mclaren doesnt win things get really on the red bulls paws

      • DaveW said on 29th August 2010, 0:50

        Good point. I think all Ferrari fans should now commit to backing Hamilton tomorrow and happily donning a blazing-magenta vodafone logo jersey for their afternoon errands.

    • schooner said on 29th August 2010, 0:48

      Lucky you actually being there! I had to be content with watching on TV here in the US. While I didn’t exactly let out a cheer (sitting alone on my couch), I was pretty impressed with Hamilton’s last lap effort as well. Should be fun tomorrow!

  13. im hoping both webber and hamilton get entangled and take each other out. look out for the two ferraris to do a great start and make up quite a few places.alonso wins and a ferrari 1-2.

  14. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 28th August 2010, 22:23

    Given that Kubica has done so well, I can’t help think something will ruin his race. Like Vettel, who has a habit of ruining his own.

  15. JUGNU said on 28th August 2010, 22:30

    My prediction is Hamilton leading after the end of Lap 1 and eventually winning the race. Robert Kubica showed what a good F-Duct can do here in Spa and Mclaren definitely got the most developed and efficient F-Duct and together with Lewis’s stunning form make them a safe bet.

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