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. LucaBadoerFan said on 28th August 2010, 22:31

    to say that this grid is an interesting one, is a huge understatement. both of the williams boys are up there (i really hope they both bring in a good haul of points), robert kubica could end up winning the race, and his team-mate will probably avoid any early lap collisions and have a steady race (i’d like to hope, anyway).

    very solid performance from adrian sutil and jaime alguersuari. i’m really gutted for both of the sauber lads – hopefully pedro overtakes schumi fairly quickly, with no accident occuring in the process.

    oh, and i LOVED the on-board lap with bruno senna, that was brilliant stuff.

  2. Tango said on 28th August 2010, 22:43

    I am once again amazed with Hamilton capacities. When Button closed in and bettered his time even though the track was wet, I told myself : “Blyme, now that’s impressive”, Hamilton follows a second later and he does even better ! A shame KUB didn’t finish his run, it would have been real interesting.

    In constrast, seing Alonso struggling was unusual. By the way, can we now assertain that Webber is the best driver at RB?

    • Nick said on 29th August 2010, 0:02

      I find that Alonso actually often struggles. How many more mistakes can the supposedly best driver around can make ? Looking forward to his next school boy error under pressure tomorrow.

  3. Electrolite said on 28th August 2010, 23:28

    If Rubens wins I will definitely cry. Without a doubt.

  4. Dan Newton said on 28th August 2010, 23:55

    Had a bit too much to make predictions but hope Williams do well and Kovi grabs a fewe pionts. Oh and go Rubens!…

    On another note, good to have you back Keith. Hope you throughly enjoyed your time away.

  5. James_mc said on 29th August 2010, 1:16

    I think the Williams’ will finish roughly where they start but partially due to attrition more than anything else. I can see a fairly major tangle in the first lap at the front.

  6. I think Webber will be pulling out all the stops to win, he has to really, for the chapmpionship. God, the tension is going to kill me !

  7. Alex Bkk said on 29th August 2010, 2:00

    I liked Webber’s comment that the race isn’t going to be won or lost on the first lap. I cringed when it began to rain a bit in with a few minutes left in Q3… it’s so unpredictable I get a bit squeamish just thinking about it. But I will predict it will be a controversial race as controversy seems the only constant that I can come up with this season. I’ll need a few pints to get me through this one;)

  8. MinusTwo said on 29th August 2010, 2:13

    Go Rubens! How awesome would it be to see him win this weekend?

    And… good to have you back, Keith. Hope you had a great time.

  9. Hamish said on 29th August 2010, 3:05

    Im not going to speculate on Vettel overdriving or trying to come to conclusions based on opinion and not fact, but one must be impressed by Webber as a whole this season.

    We all thought Vettel would blow him out of the water but Webber has not only proven he is fast, but also sensible. You read his interviews and he seems very cool, calm and collected and very much has the mindset of the bigger picture heading towards Abu Dhabi.

    I don’t know whether its just me but at face value if you were to compare Vettel against Webber over the last few races you would not only say that Webber is more likely to win the championship out of the two, but more capable.

  10. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 29th August 2010, 5:05

    Hamilton is the biggest threat to Webber with that F-Duct he can get a good tow of the Red Bull in the long Kemmel Straight. Turn one will be interesting as 24 drivers will try their best to gain the maximum.

    & in this race anything can happen so I am deciding not to make any prediction saving it for the race to unfold.

  11. Help!
    I’m backpacking in China and in Beijing at the moment. Does anyone know any bars or similar which will show the race?

  12. Statistics : in the last 29 years of races in Spa, 89.66% of the pole sitters have won the race, so I am going for Webber who shows great maturity. I expect a touch between Kubica & the nervous Vettel…
    Have a nice Grand Prix :)

  13. it’s interesting to see how high lotus will finish today; hope they will not have any reliability issues or involve in any accident.

    and I hope everyone will not blocking yamamoto.. LOL

  14. Damon said on 29th August 2010, 10:28

    Knowing how barrichello starts it will probably take him 2 seconds to get off the line and end up near the back lol

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