F1 Spa Race Results & Report: Vettel Takes the Win, Button Podium, Schumacher 5th

What Happens When There is Serious Racing

9:47am EST — Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, a race highlighted by close dicing, dry conditions, a safety car, and a charge through the field by world champions. He led a Red Bull one-two with Mark Webber coming across the line second, and an entertaining charge by Jenson Button brought the Briton from thirteenth to third. Michael Schumacher also showed his mettle, fighting through the field to finish fifth after starting last. Fernando Alonso, who lost pace near the end of the race, finished fourth. Lewis Hamilton looked to be on line to fight for the win when an incident with Kamui Kobayashi ended the Briton’s race in dramatic fashion.

Vettel started on pole, having taken that position from Hamilton in the final seconds after the flag had fallen on Saturday’s eventful qualifying session. Webber, Massa, Rosberg, Alguersuari, Senna, Alonso, Perez, and Petrov completed the top ten starting grid for the race after Spa’s rainy and damp conditions provided an eventful show. Schumacher began the 20th anniversary of his first F1 start last on the grid after losing a rear wheel on his out lap in Q1, Hamilton and Maldonado collided in anger, Button and di Resta were forced into the wrong calls, and Massa outqualified Alonso for what felt like the first time in years, all in the span of an hour.

Webber led most of the practices, with only Schumacher beating him to the top of the timesheets after an early time in the dry on Friday morning. The Australian driver was fastest in the Friday afternoon session and again Saturday morning, as McLaren continued to be quick in the latter half of the season. Ferrari attempted to save tires in the wet before qualifying and was caught out by Sutil’s red flag in Q2.

Spa appeared surprisingly bone-dry for the start of the forty-four lap race, though there were issues with tires blistering, especially for Red Bull. The team asked to change their tires after qualifying due to their poor, worn, and blistered conditions (as the RBR camber was a bit outside the typical specifications) but were not allowed to do so. Weather forecasts differed as to whether the entire race would be dry, but the start certainly was. Most drivers were on the softer tire, though both Button and Schumacher started on the harder dry tire.

On the grid, Rosberg had a bit of smoke seemingly coming from his Mercedes as Vettel took a great start, but it was Rosberg was into third, then around Massa for second on a flying start. Webber again got a bad start, but it was the racing at the front that was dramatic, as Rosberg was around Vettel for the lead into Les Combes. In the middle of the pack, there was contact into the first turn. Massa made a great move to momentarily go through to second, but it was Senna hitting Alguersuri and shoving him into Alonso that broke the Toro Rosso suspension. As the field checked up, the two Lotus drivers got together and Sutil suffered some damage as well.

At the end of L1, Rosberg led Vettel, Massa, Hamilton, Alonso, Buemi, Perez, Webber, Kobayashi, and Petrov as the top ten. Alonso took a look on Hamilton for fourth, then simply powered around the McLaren on the run to Les Combes before the DRS was activated. Schumacher was also moving through the pack, already up to thirteenth by the end of the second lap.

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F1 Spa Quali Results & Report: Vettel Takes Pole From Hamilton in Dramatic Session

What Happens When Spa Equals Drama, Drama, Drama

9:20am EST — Sebastian Vettel (1:48.298) won pole in an eventful qualifying session for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix. Though the result might appear to indicate that it was business as usual for Red Bull in qualifying, that belies the dramatic nature of Saturday’s sessions at Spa. Lewis Hamilton held pole for moments at the very end of the session, only to have Vettel take it away by a half second in a dry, suny, and wet qualifying. Michael Schumacher did not complete a single lap, losing a rear wheel in Q1.

Both Jenson Button and Paul di Resta were stuck with bad calls that knocked them out in Q2 and Q2 respectively, and a red flag in Q2 for Adrian Sutil nearly ended Fernando Alonso’s day. Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, and Jaime Alguersuari will complete the front three rows of the starting grid, with Alonso starting only eighth and Button thirteenth. Hamilton was again embroiled in some controversy as Button pulled over on his suspected cool down lap for his teammate and Maldonado damaged Hamilton’s McLaren after Q2, likely in response to an aggresive move by the Briton earlier in the session.

Webber led two-thirds of the practice sessions with quick times in the wet. Though Mercedes might have looked strong from the timesheets in the Friday morning session, it was pure luck that Schumacher and Rosberg set times before the heavens opened on the rest of the field. Instead, Webber was quickest in the damp-dry-wet Friday afternoon session and the all-wet Saturday morning session as word came that he had re-signed with Red Bull for 2012. Ferrari spent that last session essentially in the garage, saving wet tires for the changeable Ardennes conditions. However, both McLaren drivers were strong in all three sessions, despite an uncharacteristically quick morning from the Toro Rosso duo. There were no major practice incidents as the conditions were generally either bad enough to keep drivers off the track or fair enough to allow moderately safe running.

Q1:
With the sun actually shining at the start of the twenty-minute Q1 session, the Toro Rossos, Virgin Racing cars, and Lotus drivers were lined up and waiting on the green light. They were also joined by Vettel and the McLarens, even as spray continued to fly behind the cars. Less than two minutes into the session, Schumacher lost a rear wheel on the straight heading toward Rivage, forcing him into the wall, down the track, and into the gravel. Buemi posted the first fastest time, with a bogey of 2:11.806, only for Hamilton to take more than two seconds off his time. Button slotted into third on his first lap, with Alonso taking second as many, many drivers finished their laps.

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F1 Spa FP3 Results & Report: Webber Fastest In Continued Damp Conditions

What Happens When Webber Celebrates His Birthday With a Contract & Fast Lap

6:18am EST — Running was slowed again in the final practice session for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix by rain, as teams stayed in the garage in terribly wet conditions to save tires. Mark Webber (2:08.988) ended the session on his birthday fastest, with Lewis Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari, Jenson Button, and Sebastian Buemi completing the top five. Felipe Massa set a time only in the final moments and well off the pace as Ferrari conserved their tires in the very wet conditions, while teammate Alonso set no timed laps.

Friday was a day marked by when rain had fallen and when it was going to fall next in the Ardennes. Schumacher (1:54.355) and Rosberg led the morning session simply because they posted times before anyone else, and before the heavens opened. Though there was some drier running at the end of the morning session, the truer times were posted in the first half of the afternoon practice.

It began in somewhat damp conditions, and rain was again pelting down when forty minutes remained. In the time when the track began to properly dry and slick tires were used, fast times came from a number of drivers, though Webber (1:50.321), Alonso, and Button were the men on top as the rain began. Hamilton and Massa completed the fastest five in a day that, surprisingly, had only two incidents. Both Senna and di Resta hit the barrier at Turn 9 in the morning, though neither crash caused an excessive amount of damage. di Resta did bring out a red flag, as the corner workers were still returning Senna’s Renault to the garage.

As had become typical, ten minutes before the final, sixty minute, practice began Saturday morning, rain began falling on the track. Also typical, D’Ambrosio was the first driver out onto the track, followed by Perez. With the rain falling rather lightly, and forecast to be far worse later, ten drivers were quickly out and completing their installation laps. Though most went out on the intermediates, McLaren waited a bit and were forced to put on the full wet tires for their first laps, which came five minutes into the session. Ferrari also put Alonso and Massa on the full wets, though they were out slightly earlier than McLaren. Soon, only Button was out on the very wet track for his single instal lap. Kovalainen summed the conditions up neatly, “It’s hardcore. It’s fun for sure, but a bit risky…”

The track had only rain on it a quarter of the way through the session, as Button explained that the conditions were “worse than Canada.” Ricciardo had not bothered to complete an installation lap, though he was the only driver who had not. He did make his way out a few minutes later when the conditions bettered, moving even more slowly than usual in the HRT and with spray streaming out behind him. Soon Buemi was also back out, as the rain appeared to have stopped. He was joined by teammate Alguersuari as Toro Rosso performed their typical track cleaning duties near the halfway point of the session.

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F1 Spa FP2 Results & Report: Webber Quickest on Friday as Rain Falls Again

What Happens When It’s Dry, Then Wet

9:37am EST — Mark Webber (1:50.321) was the fastest driver of the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix weekend on Friday, leading Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, and Felipe Massa as the fastest five in the afternoon practice session. Though the track was damp at the start, it soon dried and drivers were out testing longer runs on both slick tire compounds, right up to the point where rain began falling heavily again just past the halfway point. The most lurid moment came for Timo Glock when the rain lightened near the end of the session, as he had a long spin and slide across the track and a paved runoff area. He continued on with an unscathed car.

The Mercedes duo led the timesheets in the first practice, as the German drivers were the only ones to set a time before rain began pelting down early in the morning practice session. Schumacher (1:54.355) led his younger teammate, while late drying times from Button (2:02.740), Vettel, Hamilton, Sutil, Massa, Barrichello, Alguersuari, and Kobayashi completed the fastest ten. Though many drivers slid off the slippery track, only Senna and di Resta made contact with the barriers. Both drivers went off at Turn 9, as Senna’s crash damaged his Renault more heavily than di Resta’s his Force India. However, it was di Resta’s that brought out a red flag, as the equipment to remove his car form the circuit was still busy returning the Renault to the garage.

Rain was not falling minutes before the second, ninety minute, session began, though the track was a bit damp. Kobayashi led a bevy of drivers out in the dry-ish, slippery, and increasingly damp conditions. Just five minutes into the session, Kobayashi set the first time of 2:16.279, with Ricciardo second fastest. At that point, all but Vettel, Hamilton, Senna, and di Resta had already made their way onto the track. Webber was quickly fastest by nearly five seconds. He smartly bettered his time on the next lap, despite a bit of traffic and some seemingly careful driving.

Alonso was just three tenths slower on his own quick lap, as Alguersuari, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Petrov, Barrichello, Buemi, Maldonado, and Rosberg were the fastest ten, ten minutes into the session. Still, neither McLaren driver nor Massa had not set a time. Webber continued to improve, while a surprising Senna slotted into third fastest, a hundredth slower than Alonso. Soon, they were displaced by Petrov, showing some across the board speed from the Renault, only for Senna to pop up to second fastest. Webber, however, remained over a second faster, right up to the point that Senna, then Vettel took their own times to the top. Vettel was nearly 1.9s faster than Senna as the track continued to dry. Times came fast and furious as the drivers took half- and full-second chunks out of their own and each others’ time on the drying track.

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F1 Spa FP1 Results & Report: Schumacher Fastest in Dry, Wet Belgian Practice

What Happens When It Rains in Spa

5:46am EST — Rain and a red flag slowed the first practice session of the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix weekend, as Michael Schumacher (1:54.355) led teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets. They were the only two drivers to manage early dry times before the rain lashed the Spa circuit.Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil, and Felipe Massa completed the fastest five in the damp. Paul di Resta brought the action to a standstill, going off at Turn 9 after the marshals were busy returning Bruno Senna’s Renault to the garage after the Brazilian binned his new ride.

Kobayashi was the first out, in a session that looked to have no rain in the early stages, but threatened inclimate weather in the latter half. Twelve other drivers quickly followed him out. Within three minutes, all drivers but Hamilton and Massa had completed an installation lap. Schumacher (1:55.007) was the first to set a time, with teammate Rosberg second. Both Germans soon improved their times, as they were the only two lapping on the track, along with Massa and Sutil. All other drivers had returned to the garage after single installation laps.

Those drivers who were on track remained typically in flux, as Ferrari tweeted, “As usual on Fridays, there is a quite intense testing programme, with some new aero components to be evaluated. ” Massa was an unhappy Ferrari driver, with complaints that his helmet was too heavy, both on the radio and out of the car. Meanwhile, it had begun raining on bits of the Belgian track, leading Trulli across the grass. Those conditions brought all drivers back to the pit lane. Schumacher (1:54.355) and Rosberg were the only drivers with set times; Rosberg nearly a half second slower than his more illustrious teammate. Quite soon, the rain was pouring down from the angry skies, fifteen minutes into the session.

Though that rain did not last for long, it did begin again quite quickly, thus ending the running for a good portion of the first practice session. Vettel was the first back out onto the very damp track, with fifty-six minutes remaining, but only braved a single, second installation lap. Hamilton was the next to do so, with both on inters. Hamilton had a far more exciting lap than the German with a bit of aquaplaning, and he too returned quickly to the garage. Nearing the halfway point, Sutil was out, with Alguersuari tiptoeing around once as well. No one had joined Schumacher and Rosberg with a time.

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F1 News: Renault Internship on Offer, Spa Tunnel Collapse, Toyota Severs Deal with StefanGP

What Happens When Even a Slow Day Has Multiple Stories

12:02am EST —Renault continues engineering internship contest, a tunnel collapses at Spa, and the StefanGP/Toyota deal comes to an end.

Renault Opens Engineering Internship Contest Again:
Today, Renault announced that applications would be accepted for the Altran Engineering Acadamy, with the final prize being a six-month internship at Renault F1’s R&D department.  The rules can be found through this PDF and the press release through this one.  This is the seventh year in which a qualified participant can win the internship by submitting a project which is “a technological improvement applicable to Formula 1.”
There is a change, however, in that two internships are on offer this year,

The first will be at the team’s chassis development facility in Enstone, UK; the second at its engine development centre in Viry winning student will join the team for a six long career in F1. Included in the package is a salary of business fuel card and accommodation in a one receive a special engraved edition of the recently launched Pilot Watch from Renault F1 Team partner TW Steel to commemorate their achievement.

This is precisely the sort of thing F1 teams should be doing.  Not only does it allow the team to hand-pick through engineering students, but it also provides great publicity for fans who have, until this season’s turning point in social media, been all too often unable to get a personal look behind the scenes.  While only students from eighteen countries are allowed to apply, the program is a step in the right direction of bringing F1 to those less likely to enter the field.

Tunnel Collapse at Spa:
Sunday, a tunnel which connects to the inside karting track at Spa collapsed, according to an Autosport article.  No one was injured and the only damage to the historic circuit was cracks in the asphalt and a hole in a run-off area off Blanchimont.  According to the article, “The circuit was running a Club Subaru Belgium track day on Sunday but the Belgian media reported that there was nobody in the tunnel or on the circuit at the time of the collapse.”

StefanGP/Toyota Deal Comes to an End:
In an interview with Autosport, StefanGP owner Zoran Stefanovic said, “We are very grateful to Toyota, which is a great company and doing a great job in what they are doing. They are now organising things differently, they are now more profit centered in TMG in Cologne,” and indicating that his deal with Toyota has ended.  Apparently, the deal between the two centered on an entry for the 2010 championship, and StefanGP has been reduced to an office in the Cologne factory.  According to a story by Adam Cooper for SPEED, “With no ongoing commitment to Stefan, TMG is now open to offers from third parties. Last week the company formally announced that it was available to undertake design and development work for road and racing projects, and thus a new alliance with a prospective 2011 F1 entrant is not out of the question.”  The tangled web of Formula1 contracts and rumor continues, with the entry selection process for 2011 already having been opened.

Some Pre-Testing Analysis for This Week in Jerez

What Happens When I’m So Proud of Something I Re-Post it From F1B

12:29pm EST —  In a re-post of this week’s “VMR on Sunday” weekly opinion column from Formula1Blog (sue me, I’m pleased with this one), I discuss “More testing, more teams: How will Red Bull, Force India, Virgin Racing add to the mix in Jerez?

In my opinion, the basic crux of the first 2010 testing last week at Jerez wasn’t so much that Ferrari and Fernando Alonso appeared quite fast and quite able to put a lot of laps on the car, but the important knowledge earned was that what the fans want, the fans get (all of my opinion and analysis of the test is available here at F1B).  This is usually not true in Formula1.  Usually, when we want more and better coverage, we get less and worse.  Instead, those attending the event as both participants and journalists provided, essentially, live timing and scoring via Twitter.  Then, when so many people commented favorably on the Twitter coverage, Autosport stepped up and provided actual live coverage on its site.

Presumably, it will continue, this formerly spontaneous coverage of an event that brings racing light into the winter darkness.  Too many have expressed appreciation in a market that is based on readers and the advertisement money that can be gotten from them.  With that concern alleviated, one has to start thinking about what will happen to what we really watch: the times.

Three more teams, Red Bull, Force India, and Virgin Racing, will be participating this week in Jerez.  Red Bull has long been considered the bane of the track, with slow times and dance club lights in the garage.  In 2009, though, its promise began to be fulfilled when fighting with the Brawns for the championship.  The team just missed out last year, but can now be considered an established and fast team.  There’s only one problem for them when thinking about testing this year, though.  All of their 2009 time was spent fighting for the 2009 championship.  That doesn’t bode well for 2010 performance, as the Brawn (now Mercedes) was lacking some pace last week in testing.  Even worse is the precedent set in 2009 by the 2008 championship fighters.  McLaren and Ferrari were not the powerhouse teams we were used to seeing them as after spending all of 2008 working for the championship.  Ferrari’s fast pace at the first session can be directly linked back to a statement by Kimi Raikkonen in the late summer at Monza, having finished on the podium, that the team would no longer be developing the 2009 car and would focus on the 2010 car.  McLaren continued to develop for 2009 and showed a continued lack of speed last week, in comparison.

What does that mean for Red Bull?  I don’t know, I don’t speak engineer.  What I do know, is that the team has, rather than did Ferrari, raised expectations before this week’s test.  Christian Horner (and, forgive me, my usual particular sourcing has failed me and I don’t remember where I read it. Suffice to say the paraphrasing is from a reliable news source) has said that the team is quite prepared and is looking to perform very well in relation to the other teams at the test, despite their week later start.  Personally, I think the extra week will have helped them tie up loose ends from 2009 and finalize design and manufacture for 2010.

For Force India, it is hard to say what the outcome of testing will be.  For a brief moment in 2009 (at Spa, with Giancarlo Fisichella on pole and only thwarted in the race by an inspired and KERS-powered Kimi Raikkonen), it looked as though the team’s speed problems had disappeared.  Then they returned to the middle to bottom of the field.  Adrian Sutil remains at the team and Fisichella’s replacement (after moving to Ferrari and staying there as reserve driver/Le Mans Series competitor for the manufacturer) Tonio Liuzzi has raced in F1 before.  One could easily presume that they will move, by default, up in the rankings and ahead of the new teams in 2010, but there is really no telling.

Virgin Racing is another cipher, though a most often discussed one.  As the first of the new teams to participate in 2010 testing, it has both a large target painted on that red and white and black chassis and great expectations.  Judging solely on the performance of the fellow Cosworth-powered Williams, the Virgin Racing car, as piloted by Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi, will have quite a ways to go to catch up to the rest of the field.  Unless, all that “we’re doing long runs of heavy full” stuff from Williams last week was absolutely true.  Also, Glock is not known as the best qualifier, so his testing performance may not be an indication of the car’s speed in his hands during an actual race.  Rookie di Grassi was Renault’s test/reserve driver during a season with no testing, so we’ll also have to just make a guess as to how that car will fit in amongst the rest.  Never mind the CFD design and lack of windtunnel, though.  From what I hear, the only difference between the two is the ease and speed of changing design elements in the windtunnel as compared to CFD.

Essentially, what I’ve just spent eight hundred words saying is that we don’t know (and won’t know) what differences Red Bull, Force India, and Virgin Racing will bring to testing this week.  There are too many variables that even the teams are unlikely to know at this point.  Still, four days of testing is on the horizon and so close we can nearly touch it.  Michael Schumacher is back, there are four world champions taking to the track, Ferrari is fast again, Felipe Massa is recovered, and the new teams are beginning to show up.  Oh, yes, and the forecast calls for rain, in Spain.  all. four. days.  Happy testing, everyone, and welcome to the 2010 season!