Tag Archives: Spa

Analysis: Is Alonso still in the frame at RBR?

The consensus in the paddock at Spa was that Daniel Ricciardo had already got the nod for the second Red Bull seat, and Mark Webber added fuel to the fire by telling Australian TV that it was a done deal.

However Christian Horner continues to insist that the team has yet to decide who will get the drive.

Ricciardo is signed to Red Bull Racing anyway, and in effect the team could call on his services at any time up to the start of next season. Even if the Aussie doesn’t get the RBR job he will be in a Toro Rosso with an identical powertrain/gearbox package to the RB10, and thus potentially in a competitive seat.

There appears to be no logical reason why Red Bull would not have announced Ricciardo if he had already been guaranteed the drive. Indeed from a PR standpoint an early announcement would be a show of faith in the junior programme at a time when other options were available.

The bottom line is that Horner wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t continue to explore other interesting options, given that Ricciardo isn’t going anywhere. Two World Champions are currently without a 2014 contract – Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button – while sources continue to suggest that Fernando Alonso is still not 100% committed to Ferrari.

When this writer asked Bernie Ecclestone if he thought that Felipe Massa would be staying at Maranello, he replied: “They should be more worried about hanging on to Alonso…”

The value of having two experienced, proven winners on board for what will be a complicated season for all the teams is obvious, and at the same time if RBR takes a second top driver it will in turn damage a rival.

“There’s plenty of speculation about, but nothing has been signed yet,” said Horner at Spa. “So the situation is still as I said before the race, we’ve got time to contemplate who we’re going to put in the other seat, and there will be no announcement certainly before Monza.

“Mark obviously isn’t privy to all of the discussions with drivers. When there’s something to announce, we’ll certainly announce it. It will probably go on beyond Monza.”

Elaborating on Ricciardo’s situation, he said: “Both Toro Rosso drivers are on Red Bull Racing contracts. They’re on loan to Toro Rosso, so at any point they are available for us to call upon. So we don’t have to worry about those two, because they’re products of the Red Bull junior team, and the reason we’re taking the time is to look at what other options are about.

“Obviously they are very big shoes to fill next year. We want to field the strongest possible team that we can, so therefore it’s absolutely prudent to look at all the options that are available. It’s actually surprised us the options that are available that perhaps we didn’t think were.”

It’s widely assumed that it would be impossible for Sebastian Vettel to operate alongside a proven superstar, but Horner says that’s not an issue.

“To be honest with you Sebastian has no input or veto or requirement for any blessing over that second seat. He wants obviously to have a competitive team mate, because he wants to be pushed, as Mark has pushed him. He hasn’t voiced any opinions, strongly or otherwise, in any way. He sees it very much as a team position, and that’s very much the way it is.”

While many observers struggle to understand why Alonso might want to leave Ferrari, it may well be that he simply has fears about the competitiveness of the 2014 powertrain package.

It remains unclear in what circumstances Alonso might be able to walk away from what appears to be a solid Ferrari contract, unless it contains a generous performance clause that works in his favour – for example something that relates to driver and team having failed to win a World Championship over their four years together.

Of course as ever there are some potentially some games in the background, and it’s easy to suggest that Alonso is simply finding ways to motivate his current team, while Horner is destabilising the likes of Ferrari and Lotus by keeping the driver debate open.

However, it’s worth remembering that it’s dangerous to second guess what Alonso might do. Not many people expected him to leave his home at Renault for McLaren, or indeed walk away from an ultra competitive McLaren at the end of 2007 – even allowing for the rather awkward way that season unfolded, and the breakdown of his relationship with the team management.

As someone close to Fernando said at Spa, “At McLaren he finished a point behind the champion, and he still quit…”


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Jenson Button: “We weren’t lucky in qualifying…”

Jenson Button will start the Belgian GP from sixth place after a solid performance by McLaren in a rain affected qualifying session.

Button, who anticipated that the MP4-28 would be good at Spa, was actually happier with his dry weather pace in Q2.

“I think we basically got what we deserved,” said the 2012 Belgian GP winner.  “We weren’t lucky in qualifying, we didn’t make any outstanding judgement calls. We did a good job in terms of the car was working well, and we didn’t make any mistakes under pressure.

“It was such a difficult qualifying session, it wasn’t just which tyre to be on, it was how much fuel to put in the car in Q3. We weren’t sure whether we should put a lot of fuel in the car when we went out on the slick tyre in case we did have to go inters. But we thought we’d go one lap, because we want to get the most out of the slick tyre. That obviously hurt us, because when we put the inters on we had to refuel, and that took time. But I think everything went reasonably smoothly.”

Button was pleased with the car’s overall performance.

“The wet pace was good, not far off any car out there, but the pace I was very happy with was the dry pace in Q2, three and a half tenths off the quickest. The car felt like it was working very well. I think we’ve definitely made some positive steps forward. There are still areas where we’re not strong enough, and we’ve realise that this weekend, but we’ve realised that this weekend. But to be P5 in Q2, that’s really the lap that I’m most happy with.”

Asked to elaborate on the improvement in the car, he said: “I can’t be too specific. I think generally we have a better car, we have more downforce that’s working in the correct areas. The car feels good. In Q2 I really enjoyed the lap around here, high speed, mid speed, feels good, even if you compare it to last year’s lap. There are definite areas where we’ve made a good step, other areas we still need to improve for the next few races. Nice to make the step forward, hopefully we can show a little bit more tomorrow.”

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Fernando Alonso: “We need to be lucky tomorrow…”

Fernando Alonso was quick in the early stages of qualifying in Spa, but the Spaniard didn’t get it right when it mattered in Q3, and thus will start only ninth.

However, he believes he can still emerge from the weekend with a good result.

“Obviously when these conditions come you need to be a little bit lucky as well,” he said. “At the end of the Q3 some people chose to run fuel for the whole session, some people not, some people did extra lap at the end, and suddenly it stopped raining and it was getting very dry. You need to have a mix of things.

“I think we were not in a lucky position today, but we need the luck tomorrow – on Sunday, that’s when the points are given. We expect also a very chaotic race tomorrow with the weather. We need to be lucky tomorrow, and I’m confident we will be.”

Alonso made the point that even if his grid position didn’t reflect it, the Ferrari had looked good in all conditions.

“The car showed today a good performance. In Q1 in wet conditions we were first, in Q2 in dry conditions we were second. So the car seems to perform more or less OK in all conditions, so we are ready for tomorrow, challenging from ninth position.”

Alonso looked back to 2012 for a little inspiration.

“It’s true that we need to pass some people, but also last year Vettel started 10th, finished second, so anything can happen. We need to keep believing that the podium at least is possible, but we need to do a good race and get some luck.

“I remember last year, we were leading the championship, we did a good qualifying, and Vettel was out of Q3. So it was fantastic for our championship hopes. In Turn One he was P5, and I was out of the race.

“It’s not that I hope that he goes out in Turn One, but I mean Sunday for us is always the final result of the weekend, not Saturday, so we need to keep the hopes high because this particular race, this particular circuit, with the overtaking opportunities that you have anything can happen if you have the pace, so we need to prepare for tomorrow perfectly.”

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Fernando Alonso: “We need to keep believing that we can do it…”

Fernando Alonso is adamant that Ferrari is still in the title fight, but stresses that everything will turn on the next few races.

Alonso has lost momentum in recent weeks, and the gap to leader Vettel has grown.

“The title will be decided by what the performance of the cars in next four races, in my opinion,” he said today. “We have Spa, medium downforce, Monza, light downforce and Singapore, maximum downforce. These three circuits, with three completely different setups and configurations of the cars, will tell us which is the main contender for Vettel. He is the big favourite. Who will catch him or put him in some difficulties, we will see.

“After the form of Lewis in Hungary, he at the moment can chase for the title. Raikkonen will always be there, because Lotus with the tyre degradation that they have will always be a contender on Sundays. We hope and we believe that Ferrari will win that group, we work for that with some changes that we have made in the car for this race.

“More will come in Monza, more will come finally in Singapore, and in these three races we need to have the answers on our side. From the other side, we are not so interested, but Mercedes looks good and Raikkonen will also be good.”

Always keen to do the numbers, Alonso pointed out that recent history showed that the gap to his rival could be closed.

“It’s difficult, but we need to keep believing that we can do it. I was 42 points behind in 2010 and I arrived leading in Abu Dhabi, Vettel was 41 points behind me last year, and arrived leading in Texas. So the last two or three seasons we have some good examples of what we can do, what we can hope for if we do things right.

“For this, we need to improve the car, we need to make some parts work and the first step in that programme is here in Spa, to try to see some performance gain and try to deliver what people expect from us.”

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Kimi Raikkonen Q&A: “I keep making my life difficult on Saturdays…”

Kimi Raikkonen calls Spa his favourite circuit, and the Finn has a great record in the Belgian GP. In order to get his title challenge back on track he really needs to finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel when action resumes. Can he do it? Here’s a Q&A provide by Lotus today.

You were second in Budapest before the summer break; how good would it be to go one step better at Spa?

“Usually I’ve achieved a good result at the Belgian Grand Prix, but what has happened there before doesn’t help me right now. Of course, it doesn’t cause any harm either and it would be great to win at Spa for a fifth time. Extra points are always good and if you win the race no-one scores more points than you.”

How has your history been at the circuit?

“For me there have only been good memories from Spa and it’s great to go racing there. You can’t get the same kind of a feeling anywhere else. It’s great to race with a modern racing car at a proper circuit which has such a great tradition.”

What are the challenges of the track and should it suit the strengths of the E21?

“Spa offers very challenging high-speed corners and you need to get the right set-up for the car. As we’ve seen so many times this year, a good grid position is extremely important. It will be very decisive at Spa too, even though it is may be easier to overtake there than at some other tracks. It’s crucial to have a good car aerodynamically to tackle the fast corners and it’s a long lap, so to get the right time you really need to maintain the best rhythm. So much depends on the qualifying result, so we need to find a decent set-up on Friday and Saturday and have a solid qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. I don’t know how it will suit our car this year. Last year we were not very strong there. I think we know the reasons and for sure our car is better this year, but is it good enough to be fighting for a win? We will see on Sunday.”

Why has Spa been so good to you in the past?

“Sometimes there are certain circuits where everything seems to run smoothly, and then there are other circuits where I have no luck at all. Of course, we will do our very best to win this race. I have been on the top step of the podium a few times at Spa and I want to be there again.”

Does this make Spa one of your favourite tracks?

“I bet every driver likes Spa. For me it is the greatest racing circuit in the world. It is my favourite place. I have liked the place since my first ever visit there in 2000 with Formula Renault.”

How are you feeling about your championship position?

“I am now back in second which was a good way to enter the summer break. I finished ahead of Seb in Hungary so obviously scored more points than him there. To beat him, we need to be winning races and if we keep finishing second like we’ve done many times this year it’s probably not going to be enough for the championship, but you never know what might happen.”

Where can improvements be found?

“Well, obviously I keep making my life difficult on Saturdays in qualifying so then we pay a price, but we still have a good car in the race. Now we have tyres that are a little bit different we have to understand exactly how to use them. We made progress in Budapest so it should be easier in Spa, but that will be the same for everyone. To win, it’s always better to be starting near the front.”

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