Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2011

Hamilton versus the Red Bulls for Spa win

2011 Belgian GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2011
Can Hamilton repeat his win of last year from second on the grid?

A wet qualifying session has created a somewhat mixed-up grid for the Belgian Grand Prix.

We have the exciting prospect of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton going up against each other at the front, with Mark Webber poised to pounce should either make a mistake.

Further back, Jenson Button will have to fight his way forward and Michael Schumacher has a lot of ground to make up from last on the grid.

The weather

After two days of rain-hit practice and qualifying, it comes as a surprise to learn the teams are confidently predicting dry weather on Sunday, and many have set their cars up accordingly.

Making any kind of assumptions about the weather in Spa is a risky business, but the prevailing view is tomorrow’s race will be dry, with minimal chance of a light shower.

With that in mind, what can we expect from the Belgian Grand Prix?

The start

As last year, we have a Red Bull on pole position and Lewis Hamilton alongside.

Last year it was Mark Webber at the front of the grid and a poor start allowed Hamilton through into an easy lead.

This time it’s Vettel up front. And as we’ve seen in the past, Vettel tends to defend his position at the start very aggressively.

Hamilton is noted for his attacking aggression, making this a potentially combustible combination.

As always Vettel’s priority will be to stay ahead and get more than a second clear of his pursuers over the first two laps so that they can’t use the Drag Reduction System to attack him.

With Red Bull running less rear wing than their rivals, and McLaren experimenting with a new, more powerful DRS, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to accomplish this as successfully as he has in other races.

Working against Vettel is Red Bull’s less powerful Kinetic Energy Recovery System, at a track where KERS is especially important. This was clear in 2009 when Kimi Raikkonen was able to use his to attack and pass Giancarlo Fisichella for the lead.

Back to front

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2011
Schumacher needs to salvage a result from last on the grid

The tricky conditions in qualifying have left some drivers far outside their usual qualifying positions.

The most conspicuous of which is Michael Schumacher, who starts last after a wheel came off his car in qualifying.

Jenson Button is also disadvantaged in 13th place. He has the likes of Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov to pass in order to get into the points.

Both Force India drivers are also out of position. Practice indicated they had the pace to score points this weekend, so look for them to move forward as well.

Strategy

Having failed to reach Q3, all these drivers will have the benefit of not having used any of their soft tyres yet.

This could prove useful if they need to use all their soft tyres in the race. Given the minimal dry running so far, it’s hard to tell whether that will be the case.

But with the medium tyre over a second per lap slower than the soft, it’s likely we’ll see drivers only running the medium for a short stint at the end of the race.

For Ferrari, track temperature could shape their chances in the race. It is expected to stay cool at the track tomorrow, and it was clear in qualifying the 150??? Italia is till not warming its tyres up quickly.

Qualifying has raised the prospect of a battle between Hamilton and the Red Bulls at the front, while Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button try to make up for their qualifying disappointments.

Who will come out on top? Have your say in the comments.

2011 Belgian Grand Prix

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Images ?? McLaren, Mercedes