F1 2013 Belgian Grand Prix
The start of the second half of the season will take place in Spa in what shapes up to be a fascinating race.
Local Time: 2 PM (Belgium)
Top Three Qualifying Finish: Mark Webber @ 2.95 See the Latest Odds
TV: Sky F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
With only nine races left in the 2013 F1 season, the assault on the Vettel's championship lead starts now. For Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, a good performance at Spa is a necessity if they are to hold any ambitions of seriously challenging for this year's title.
It's what makes this weekend’s Grand Prix such a fascinating prospect, and it's even more exciting that the race will take place at one of the best circuits in the world.
Red Bull looked at home in Friday practice, with a one-two finish despite a conscious approach to trial a few different set ups. While Vettel was just slightly faster in a higher down force setup, Webber was marginally behind in a lower down force setup which is more favourable for the race as it allows for greater scope in overtaking.
The setup is often a sticking point at Spa where the first and third sectors are conducive for very high straight line speeds, making it beneficial to run a low down force setup. However, the second sector is full of long medium and high speed corners, which suits a higher down force setup.
Ferrari too split their program, though they remain off the pace. Their hopes will be pinned on the possibility of rain, which appears much more likely at some point during Saturdays and Sunday running.
Mercedes like Ferrari, also appeared to be slightly off the form we saw in Hungary. Hamilton, however was quick to note that Mercedes tend to have poor Fridays, which inexplicably turn around with sensational Saturdays and Sundays.
Lotus seemed to be on the pace, with Romain Grosjean finishing in P3, just over 0.8 seconds of Vettel's headline time. A good qualifying result, somewhere in the first two rows, will be a magnificent starting point from where Lotus can exploit their race pace advantage. Raikkonen appears set for a strong showing on Sunday, the question remains what can he achieve tomorrow?
The weather, of course, is the massive unknown. Spa in the wet is an immensely tricky circuit to negotiate, lest we forget the massive pileup just under a decade ago. Naturally, Red Bull, who appear to have their performance sorted in the dry, would be the biggest losers should the rain fall. It would throw their plans up in the air, with the grid to be very much mixed up.
But this is an unpredictable variable that the likes of Alonso and Hamilton can't be relying upon to bolster their challenge for the win.
Alonso especially, appears resigned to the fact that the natural pace of the Ferrari has long been lost and that he can only win in some extraordinary circumstance.
The poor showing came from McLaren flies in the face of the way they talked up their progress over the summer break. Jenson Button arrived in Belgium claiming that his team had a realistic chance of a podium, but on the evidence of Friday that’s a fantasy so far out of McLaren’s reach it’s not funny.
They’ve admitted to shifting focus to 2014, and their performances will show as much over the next few races. It’s silly of them to be predicting such grand results and continually under delivering. That will only incense their fans more.
Qualifying shapes up to be fairly predictable affair. The Red Bulls are quite comfortably one and two based on Friday’s evidence, although the gap is sure to close with the two quick Mercedes sure to feature in the battle for pole.
We can only go on the hope that the session remains dry, and as such Mark Webber, in his 9th last race of his F1 career should be a sure-fire bet to feature in the top three come the end of qualifying.
Don’t be put off by the long odds, there is some blind faith in Mercedes at the moment that I’m not sure is so sustainable. Although they’ll be in there, poles a big ask for either Hamilton or Rosberg.
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