Jenson Button, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012

Button faces challenge from unusual suspects

2012 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jenson Button, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012Jenson Button took pole position comfortably for the Belgian Grand Prix. But he’s not taking a win on Sunday for granted.

He may be the only driver in the front two rows to have won a race this year but the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and the Sauber drivers could prove genuine contenders for victory.

The start

Button admitted some surprise at just how well McLaren’s new Spa-specification rear wing worked: “I?m surprised that the new rear wing is working so well, but the engineers also did a great job with the balance.

“And it?s even more encouraging that we had good consistency through all three qualifying sessions. Nonetheless, nobody has done any long runs yet, so we still need to wait and see how tomorrow pans out.”

There’s been little to choose between Button and fellow front-row starter Kamui Kobayashi in terms of their places won and lost at the start this year. But Raikkonen, who starts third behind them, has gained one place on average per race.

The long run from La Source through Eau Rouge to Les Combes offers a superb opportunity for slipstreaming and making up places. Nico Rosberg used it to brilliant effect last year, taking the lead off Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s lap one move from 2009 is well-remembered – he drove off the track at turn one, gaining several places. The stewards have cracked down on such antics since and drivers will expect not to be able to get away with it again.

Strategy

Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012The limited dry running has left teams with many unanswered questions about the performance and degradation of the tyres for this weekend’s race.

Pirelli have supplied the hard and medium compounds, and every driver in the top ten will start on the latter. Pirelli reckon it’s six to nine tenths of a second per lap faster than the hard, and drivers will have to make two or perhaps three pit stops.

However it’s clear from the sector times below that there are considerable differences in the set-ups being used, even within the same team as in the case of McLaren. This could lead to variations in tyre warm-up (crucial as the weather is expected to remain cool) and how quickly the tyres start to go off. But teams are going to have to play it by ear.

One team that have often enjoyed superior tyre performance this year are Sauber. With their drivers second and fourth on the grid they are well-placed to spring a surprise.

Fernando Alonso is confident he can make progress from fifth on the grid but we could also see Hamilton, Grosjean and, later, the Red Bulls putting him under pressure.

The lack of running on slick tyres is not a concern for Alonso: “The fact we don?t have data on tyre life is not penalising, as we are all in the same situation. Anyway, we know both compounds well so I don?t expect any problems on this front.”

Qualifying times in full

Significantly, Perez’s Q2 time would have been good enough for him to take third on the grid. As the table below shows he lost time in the middle sector.

“I’m not too happy because my last lap in Q3 wasn’t perfect,” he said. “I had the feeling the car was performing differently to this morning.”

Heikki Kovalainen had a DRS problem and was 1.6s slower than the next fastest car in Q1 (Rosberg’s Mercedes, before his penalty).

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Jenson Button McLaren 1’49.250 1’47.654 (-1.596) 1’47.573 (-0.081)
2 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’49.686 1’48.569 (-1.117) 1’47.871 (-0.698)
3 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’49.546 1’48.414 (-1.132) 1’48.205 (-0.209)
4 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’49.642 1’47.980 (-1.662) 1’48.219 (+0.239)
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’49.401 1’48.598 (-0.803) 1’48.313 (-0.285)
6 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’48.993 1’48.780 (-0.213) 1’47.893 (-0.887)
7 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’49.605 1’48.563 (-1.042) 1’48.394 (-0.169)
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’50.126 1’48.714 (-1.412) 1’48.538 (-0.176)
9 Paul di Resta Force India 1’50.033 1’48.729 (-1.304) 1’48.890 (+0.161)
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’49.722 1’48.792 (-0.930)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’49.362 1’48.855 (-0.507)
12 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’49.859 1’48.546 (-1.313) 1’48.392 (-0.154)
13 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’49.742 1’49.081 (-0.661)
14 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’49.588 1’49.147 (-0.441)
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’49.763 1’49.354 (-0.409)
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’49.572 1’49.543 (-0.029)
17 Bruno Senna Williams 1’49.958 1’50.088 (+0.130)
18 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’51.739
19 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’51.967
20 Timo Glock Marussia 1’52.336
21 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’53.030
22 Charles Pic Marussia 1’53.493
23 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’50.181
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’54.989

Sector times

The sector times reveal a clear split between the drivers who are quickest along the high-speed straights of sectors one and three, and whose car is quickest through the corners in the middle sector.

In the former camp are Button (with McLaren’s Spa-specific rear wing) and the Ferraris; in the latter Hamilton (without the new wing) and the Saubers.

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Jenson Button 31.104 (1) 47.605 (5) 28.797 (1)
Kamui Kobayashi 31.325 (10) 47.326 (1) 29.064 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen 31.426 (13) 47.525 (2) 29.166 (13)
Sergio Perez 31.342 (11) 47.601 (4) 29.037 (7)
Fernando Alonso 31.144 (2) 48.191 (9) 28.970 (4)
Pastor Maldonado 31.309 (6) 47.750 (6) 28.834 (2)
Lewis Hamilton 31.523 (17) 47.554 (3) 29.198 (14)
Romain Grosjean 31.517 (16) 47.918 (8) 29.032 (6)
Paul di Resta 31.323 (9) 48.479 (11) 28.847 (3)
Sebastian Vettel 31.315 (8) 48.433 (10) 29.044 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg 31.365 (12) 48.507 (12) 28.983 (5)
Mark Webber 31.274 (5) 47.756 (7) 29.282 (17)
Michael Schumacher 31.311 (7) 48.705 (13) 29.065 (11)
Felipe Massa 31.163 (3) 48.914 (15) 29.044 (8)
Jean-Eric Vergne 31.211 (4) 48.904 (14) 29.198 (14)
Daniel Ricciardo 31.451 (15) 48.937 (16) 29.133 (12)
Bruno Senna 31.428 (14) 48.961 (17) 29.205 (16)
Heikki Kovalainen 32.014 (22) 50.138 (20) 29.385 (19)
Vitaly Petrov 31.993 (19) 50.170 (21) 29.596 (20)
Timo Glock 32.269 (23) 49.774 (19) 30.019 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa 31.999 (20) 51.219 (23) 29.800 (21)
Charles Pic 32.272 (24) 50.744 (22) 30.265 (24)
Nico Rosberg 31.597 (18) 49.151 (18) 29.322 (18)
Narain Karthikeyan 32.012 (21) 51.432 (24) 30.062 (23)

Speed trap

Pos. Car Driver Speed (kph)
1 14 Kamui Kobayashi 330.9
2 15 Sergio Perez 326.8
3 19 Bruno Senna 326.2
4 18 Pastor Maldonado 325.9
5 17 Jean-Eric Vergne 325.3
6 7 Michael Schumacher 324.8
7 8 Nico Rosberg 324.6
8 16 Daniel Ricciardo 323.1
9 3 Jenson Button 322.5
10 11 Paul di Resta 322.3
11 12 Nico Hulkenberg 322.1
12 4 Lewis Hamilton 322.1
13 5 Fernando Alonso 320.5
14 6 Felipe Massa 320.1
15 20 Heikki Kovalainen 320
16 21 Vitaly Petrov 319.9
17 10 Romain Grosjean 319.1
18 9 Kimi Raikkonen 319.1
19 23 Narain Karthikeyan 318
20 22 Pedro de la Rosa 317.8
21 2 Mark Webber 316.4
22 25 Charles Pic 316.2
23 24 Timo Glock 316.2
24 1 Sebastian Vettel 316

2012 Belgian Grand Prix

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Images ?? Pirelli/LAT