Saturday, 6 September 2008

Belgian Grand Prix: Saturday Practice

Nick Heidfeld was the fastest man in Saturday's final practice session before the action starts in earnest in this afternoon's qualifying. BMW have not looked competitive all weekend, so many will have been surprised to see the German pipping McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen to the top spot in this rain affected session. Title contenders Hamilton and Massa were 4th and 5th respectively, with Kimi Raikkonen a couple of places further back in 7th.

The track was wet as the green light signalled the start of the session, and as a result there was very little running for the first half an hour. A few of the midfield runners and back markers came out early on to do a bit of track sweeping and getting a feel for the circuit. Several of the leading drivers like the McLaren boys didn't even come out of the pits until the final 10-12 minutes of the session.

Unsurprisingly, as the track cleared throughout the session the times dropped dramatically. The early times were up in the high 1.50s bracket, but by the end of the session were a full ten seconds per lap faster. The likes of Vettel and Bourdais started to up the pace with about twenty minutes to go in the session, being the first drives to dip under 1:50s. Raikkonen was the first of the big boys out to play, and he immediately looked quick. He went faster than the Toro Rossos, and could have gone faster still but for a huge lock up into the Bus Stop that put him right off the track temporarily.

The two McLaren drivers were next to show their hands. On his very first flying lap Hamilton knocked a massive 1.3 seconds off the fastest time, and Kovalainen wasn't far behind. Massa was the last of the main drivers to take to the track and he too looked quick, although not quite up to the times of the McLarens.

As the session began drawing to a close Nick Heidfeld put in a blistering lap to go P1 and the only man in the 1:47s. It was a real surprise as Heidfeld has been struggling all year with his one lap pace, and his team mate Kubica has been having a torrid time trying to get his tyres to work for him so far this weekend. Hamilton had a bash at taking the P1 slot and looked to be comfortably going to make it before he too locked up at the Bus Stop and had to bail out of going for the apex. Yesterday's fastest man Alonso put in a great lap at the death to slot in just behind Heidfeld, but he was quickly bumped down the pecking order by Kovalainen going P2.

There is probably not a lot we can learn about the relative pace of the lead cars. The McLarens were quickest on paper today, but none of the main drivers put any serious miles on their cars. I would still expect Ferrari to be red hot favourites to take the pole today, with the McLarens in close company.

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