Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Belgian GP – An average Saturday
Sixth fastest time for Fernando Alonso and fourteenth for Felipe Massa: that was the outcome of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, the race that opens the second part of the season. The Spaniard got through to Q3 with just one set of Option tyres available, having used one in Q1 after a first run on Prime and another in Q2. Felipe did not make the cut out of Q12, but at least he will have a set of new Options for tomorrow’s race.

Stefano Domenicali: “More than ever this afternoon, one has to be very careful when assessing the result of qualifying. The three sessions threw up a lot of surprises and a decidedly unusual grid. Sixth place for Fernando is a good basis on which to build an equally good race tomorrow afternoon. Sunday will be tougher for Felipe, who starts from the seventh row, but definitely not all is lost for him and a place within the top ten is within his reach and they would be important points in terms of the Constructors’ championship. There is no better track than this one to turn the hierarchy established on Saturday on its head, therefore it’s really impossible to make any predictions. We must tackle this race with the same approach we have adopted so far, which means trying to make the most of the package we have and of any opportunities that come our way. Clearly no one can be too sure about race pace because yesterday, it wasn’t possible to run the usual comparisons on tyre behaviour over a long run: a further unknown in race that’s very hard to predict.”

Fernando Alonso: “This afternoon’s sixth place matches our average for this year’s qualifying sessions, which is 6.08 to be precise, therefore we shouldn’t be too surprised at this result. Usually, on Sunday we go better than on Saturday, therefore we can be reasonably confident about the race, especially in light of the fact that a lot of my closest rivals start behind me, while another one, Kimi is not too far in front. If this result could be repeated tomorrow, honestly I’d sign for it now! Our aim is the podium, but I think a win is not within our grasp. It’s true it is a very open race, partly because overtaking is relatively straightforward on this track. 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. More significantly, clearly the fact we could not run much yesterday meant we could not optimise various aspects of the car, but in this case too, everyone is in the same boat. In fact, that could explain the difference in performance between drivers from the same team. The updates we introduced brought a benefit in terms of top speed, which is positive, also for Monza, where we race in a few days time. The championship is very close and if you don’t do everything perfectly, you find yourself down the back. That’s why the smallest things matter and we always try to be super concentrated on the very smallest detail.”

Felipe Massa: “Already this morning, I was struggling a lot in the second sector and, after the third free practice session, we made some changes to the configuration of the car, which unfortunately, did not change the situation much. I can’t manage to drive properly in that part of the track. I can feel the car sliding in the corners because of a lack of aerodynamic downforce. Fernando also seemed to be suffering in some parts of the track, but clearly less so than me. In the first and third sectors however, I was competitive, both in absolute terms and when compared to my team-mate. Furthermore, precisely because of the difficulty I had in T2, I was a bit bothered about tyre degradation, especially as we had not managed to acquire date on their behaviour over a long run because of yesterday’s bad weather. I definitely can’t be happy with today, but now the important thing is to concentrate on the race. Everything could still happen, especially on a track where overtaking is possible. On top of that, there are so many unknowns relating to the behaviour of the car so we cannot rule out any surprises.”

Pat Fry: “It’s never easy to tackle qualifying having had practically no running over the three hours on Friday. It’s true that this morning, the good weather had returned, but one hour is much too short a time, especially with so many new elements to test. We made a virtue of necessity and took certain decisions based on the data we managed to gather and on what our simulation was telling us, but clearly we were not able to optimise the whole package. This track – like the one in Monza where we race next week – requires a rather unique level of aerodynamic downforce, which moves away from what is needed at the majority of circuits on the calendar. Therefore, it is relatively easy to see changes in the pecking order, especially in qualifying, and I think that was confirmed again today. Last year here there were problems with blistering, but I think that Pirelli’s choice for this year has perfectly met our expectations and shows that the Milan company has done a really good job. I think tomorrow we will witness a very uncertain and interesting race, the outcome of which is very hard to predict. We will do our best as usual and, if we do not make any mistakes, we can aspire to getting a good result.”

Qualifying session

Q1 ALO 4th 1.49.401 6 MAS 7th 1.49.588 7
Q2 ALO 7th 1.48.598 6 MAS 14th 1.49.147 6
Q3 ALO 6th 1.48.313 3

Weather: air 19/22 °C, track 25/28 °C. Sunny.
Chassis: Alonso 296, Massa 294

Belgian GP – Fernando a long shot for victory on the longest track?
Francorchamps, 1 September – Under normal circumstances, setting the sixth fastest time in qualifying would at the very least be cause for concern in the Scuderia Ferrari camp, given how competitive this year’s championship has turned out to be and how strong the rival teams. However, after yesterday’s torrential rain, it’s appropriate to use the expression that every cloud has a silver lining, even if today the sun was shining. Fernando Alonso tried his best as usual and that delivered him the sixth fastest time in Q3 to secure a place on the outside of row 3 for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix. This is not brilliant but it still affords the Spaniard a good view of the run to the first hairpin at La Source. But if he wants to see his closest rivals in the championship classification, Fernando will have to use his mirrors, because second in the points table Mark Webber was seventh fastest and will start from twelfth on the grid after taking a penalty for a gearbox change. Third in the classification is the other Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel who never made it to Q3 and was eleventh fastest. In the second McLaren, Lewis Hamilton is eighth. Only Kimi Raikkonen, fifth in the classification is ahead of him in fourth. The Spaniard says only a podium is possible tomorrow, but his record disproves that theory as two of his three wins this year have come from starting eighth and eleventh on the grid.

With Fernando on row 3 and his team-mate Felipe Massa struggling with the balance on his car down in 14th spot, Scuderia Ferrari’s performance today seems to confirm the Spaniard’s view that the F2012 is the least competitive of the front runners. However, the lack of running on Friday makes it harder than usual to get a clear picture, especially as the team had to evaluate new updates on the car as well as go through the usual pre-race work. The grid is far from conventional and that too might play into the Ferrari duo’s hands tomorrow. It might be Jenson Button’s first pole of the season, but it is the Englishman’s career eighth, therefore not too surprising. However, the same cannot be said for some of the other front runners. How does Kamui Kobayashi on the front row sound? It was the Japanese driver’s best ever qualifying performance and the same goes for his Sauber team too. Completing the unusual trio for the qualifying “podium” was the Williams of Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonaldo.

Tomorrow we can look forward to 44 laps of one of the greatest racing circuits in the world, but predicting the outcome, even if the forecast is for another sunny day, is just too difficult to attempt.

Belgian GP – Alonso 6th but ahead of closest rivals
Francorchamps, 1 September – Jenson Button took pole position for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying his McLaren in 1.47.573. Surprisingly, in second place, we have the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi (1.47.871) with Pastor Maldonaldo third for Williams in 1.47.893. Despite giving it his best shot, Fernando Alonso had to settle for sixth place on the third row, behind Raikkonen’s Lotus and Perez’s Sauber, who were fourth and fifth respectively. On a positive note, in terms of the championship, the Spanish Ferrari driver is ahead of his closest rivals, as they had an even harder time: Webber (Red Bull) qualified seventh, but will drop five places on the grid as a penalty for a gearbox change, with Hamilton eighth for McLaren. As for Vettel, he failed to get his Red Bull into Q3 and was 11th on the timesheet. Felipe Massa struggled with balance problems in the other Ferrari and did not get into Q3 and will start from 14th spot with a time of 1.49.147.

The race starts tomorrow at 14h00.

Belgian GP – Ferrari shines in the Ardennes sun
Francorchamps, 1 September – Fernando Alonso was fastest in the third and final free practice session at Spa, host to the twelfth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The sun shone on the Belgian track, allowing the team to tackle a busy programme making up for the time lost to heavy showers yesterday. Behind the Spanish Ferrari driver who lapped in 1.48.542, came Kimi Raikkonen (1.48.683) for Lotus and the Sauber of Sergio Perez (1.48.850.) In the other F2012, Felipe Massa was sixth in 1.49.092 at the end of a session that went well for the team. Both Ferrari men did one run on the Hard compound tyres and two on the Medium, thanks to having unused tyres left over from yesterday’s two sessions. The team will now analyse all the data to see if it will use the aero updates it brought here over the rest of the weekend.