Saturday 23 August 2014

Spa Qualifying: Rosberg keeps rolling along

Whatever happens, whatever is thrown at him, he continues. Indeed, the more that happens around him, or is thrown in his direction, if anything his progress gets yet more inevitable. Like Ol' Man River, Nico Rosberg keeps rollin' along.

In a qualifying session Nico Rosberg
triumphed yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
He did it again today in the qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, winning out in his latest intra-Mercedes set-to and seizing another pole position. And - not unusually for this venue - rivers were appropriate as the track resembled one throughout, it being wet thanks to a downpour beforehand and staying as much for the whole session thanks to a few showers.

As ever the Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton battle for supremacy was a close one; Nico pipped Lewis in Q1, Lewis pipped Nico in Q2. But in Q3 when it really mattered Nico immediately banged in a 2m 05.698 which proved to be enough to triumph. Lewis's own first effort was scrappy and just under a second slower; his second was better but still scrappy and two tenths shy. And Nico then as a coup de grace shaved a little more of his own time. Not that it mattered.

'It's always difficult on this track in the wet, so I'm really, really happy' noted Nico afterwards. 'The car was handling well and together with my engineers we fine-tuned it perfectly now in qualifying and really got there in the end. So, in the end I was really feeling comfortable and able to push, so fantastic.'

We're also now pushing four months since Lewis was last on pole, or indeed since he last started ahead of Rosberg. Of course each of the quali sessions in the meantime have had something of the odd about them, and so indeed did today's. Hamilton in the final part complained of brake 'glazing'.

'This is a circuit where you have to have confidence in the brakes' he said. 'You could see in Q3 when I was going straight on as the left brake wasn't working for some reason, I don't know why. It went into glazing. When it glazes it is very hard to recover, you have to put the brake balance forward. It's not that easy to clear it.'

Lewis Hamilton's final efforts were scrappy
and he starts second
Photo: Octane Photography
Aside from Nico's perpetual motion the other big story from the qualifying session today was that once again the Mercedes was on another level. Indeed with the supposed variable of rain added it was further apart even than usual, routinely two seconds a lap or more quicker than the best anything else could do. That Spa's is a long lap is the most minor of mitigation. A lot like Nico perhaps, the W05 seems to do better the more that is thrown at it. It just has more of everything.

And afterwards Nico underlined as much: 'Again, we have a great car here. We're leading the way and that's so cool to see that, definitely, that the team is doing such a great job. Just keeping it going all the time, staying ahead and keeping that gap.

'For sure it helped us that it was wet because in the wet clearly the gap was a lot bigger and our car was really dominant.'

Sebastian Vettel once again was best of the rest
Photo: Octane Photography
Behind the Merc show Sebastian Vettel was once again the best of the rest in tricky conditions, and claimed third place on the grid, two places ahead of his team mate. Between them was Fernando Alonso who as ever got as much as could be expected out of his wheels. Indeed the Ferrari's looked a bit handier than usual this weekend (possibly related to the Scuderia focussing more on its Spa-Monza spec than most do), while Alonso's effort is particularly impressive as he's thought to have gone with a low downforce set-up. Whatever is the case he'll be one to watch tomorrow, and he refused to rule out completing the podium behind the Mercs.

While the Williams team - which had this round identified for weeks as one in which it would make hay - was left to rue a relatively lowly P6 for Valtteri Bottas and P9 for Felipe Massa. Not for the first time this year the FW36 slid down the competitive order when the rain fell, though both drivers complained of various sub-standard playing of hands also. Rob Smedley reckoned the second row would have been its reward with a more run-of-the-mill session.

It was a frustrating session for Williams
Photo: Octane Photography
The speculation in advance of the Grove team challenging the Mercs this weekend can however be quietly shelved it seems however. Rain apparently is less of a probability for the race (though quite how anyone can say this with confidence at ever-fickle Spa is beyond me), but is a sense it doesn't matter; wet or dry the silver cars are not to be touched.

But the Nico-Lewis battle, in another familiar theme, will be worth watching nevertheless. There appears little to choose between the two (again as ever), while each will be seeking any tiny strategy advantage that can be claimed too, as it could prove pivotal (also as ever). Lewis noted also that on the bright side P2 is in fact his best quali result since Canada in early June, and it on the Spa grid may have a benefit over pole, as it gives him a useful following tow in the extended blast to Les Combes on lap one. Indeed he noted that he himself was the victim of that very factor 12 months ago.

Yet today's qualifying session provided one more confirmation - and one that we hardly should have needed. That in the 2014 world championship battle Nico Rosberg is not going to go away easily.

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