Thoughts on qualifying and the start (2008 European Grand Prix)

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Felipe Massa could be hard to catch in the European Grand Prix
Felipe Massa could be hard to catch in the European Grand Prix

Felipe Massa has the cards stacked in his favour: he’s starting from pole position at Valencia with the benefit of the clean side of the grid – now the organisers have swapped the grid around.

But will the F1 pack get through the tricky first corners without a crash? What are their strategy options for a race that’s likely to be interrupted by the safety car? And why did Timo Glock not get a penalty after qualifying?

No penalty for Timo Glock

After seeming to get in the way of Nick Heidfeld and Nelson Piquet Jnr during Q1 I expected Timo Glock to get the standard five-place grid penalty. But the stewards were satisfied that no penalty was required.

Given that Sebastien Bourdais got a penalty for impeding at the Hungaroring, and Heikki Kovalainen likewise at Magny-Cours, for what looked to me like very similar infractions, I’m at a loss to explain why. As ever the implementation of F1’s rules seems rather inconsistent.

Best ever qualifying for Toro Rosso

With Sebastian Vettel sixth and Sebastien Bourdais tenth, Toro Rosso enjoyed their best ever qualifying session. Vettel was the best non-McLaren/Ferrari/BMW driver.

As a sign of how the team have improved in recent races, their most recent best qualifying performance was at Silverstone this year – eighth and 13th.

But how big a role is the performance of their Ferrari engines playing? And would Vettel have beaten Heikki Kovalainen for fifth without that mistake on his final lap?


Of the four pairs of teams that made it into Q3, their drivers’ final lap times varied between 0.5s and 1.3s:

Felipe Massa – 0.5s – Kimi Raikkonen
Lewis Hamilton – 0.8s – Heikki Kovalainen
Sebastian Vettel – 0.6s – Sebastien Bourdais
Robert Kubica – 1.3s – Nick Heidfeld

The wide variation in these gaps hints that the teams have split their drivers further apart than usual on strategy – with one fairly light and one fairly heavy – because of concerns about a safety car period. There’s a high chance of a safety car appearance during the Grand Prix because of the limited run-off around the track, and the lack of cranes to recover cars as used at venues such as Monte-Carlo.

Valencia seems to have a particularly high consumption rate over the course of a lap – partly because of the length of the lap, and partly because there are several high-speed sections. In the GP2 feature race two cars ran out of fuel on the final lap – astonishingly, it was the two championship leaders.

The heavier fuelled drivers could come into play in the event of a safety car appearance around half way through the race – Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Timo Glock seem best placed to capitalise, starting from the top three places where they have free choice of fuel load (11th-13th).

The grid

Good news for Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen among others. Pole position has been moved from the left to the right side of the track, and all the odd-numbered positions along with it.

This means Massa will now start from the clean side of the grid – as you would expect the pole sitter to – along with all the other cars directly behind him.

Of course at Hungary Massa was able to slot into the lead from third on the grid and Lewis Hamilton’s chances of beating him into the first significant corner – turn two – seem remote. Especially because Hamilton, in addition to starting on the dirty side, will also be on the outside for the flat-out turn one before braking into turn two.

Robert Kubica must fancy his chances of taking second from Hamilton at the start.

In terms of weather, more hot sunshine is expected, with track temperatures around 40C.

First lap crash

While we’re talking first corners, it’s worth noting how tight turns two and three are. As well as being very dusty and slippery off line this is one section of track where the racing line runs very close to the walls.

In the GP2 race Sakon Yamamoto pinched another driver at the apex of turn three (the left-hander), provoking an accident that eliminated three cars.

F1 has six fewer cars on its grid than GP2 does – and rather more experienced drivers. But it only needs one of them to make a mistake that could have far-reaching implications for the race – and the championship.

What do you think will happen at the start of tomorrow’s race? Don’t forget to join us here from 12 noon (British time) for the live Grand Prix blog.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “Thoughts on qualifying and the start (2008 European Grand Prix)”

  1. michael counsell
    24th August 2008, 2:28

    Iaconelli also seemed to run out of fuel along with Pantano and Senna as he pulled up just in front of Senna. Very strange that everyone else seemed to be fine though.

  2. From Heikki Kovalainen in finnish F1 news: ” Mclaren made wrong tyre choice. I asked different tyres but they told me that others work better and they did not. They did not listen me”

    So seems that situation is like we have thought since beginning of season. There is no way that McLaren let Heikki beat Lewis.

  3. “As ever the implementation of F1’s rules seems rather inconsistent.”

    Always and ever so. What’s worse is that sometimes the stewards need to make an example out of a driver to ward off others repeating the same mistake, but come the same mistake it’s another story.

    It’s just as well the organisers have swapped the dirty side of the track in favour of Massa . . . otherwise that’s another Brazilian that might complain about it (Senna, Suzuka) and quite rightly so. No point being in pole if it penalises you.

    However, this puts Massa and Kubica at an advantage and Hamilton and Raikonnen at the other end – my eye is on the dirty side of the track as who knows what will happen.

    Whatever happens, other than a good result for Ferrari, I’m on board with the Torro Rossos to climb the constructors.

  4. Snoopy.

    If that is true, then that indeed is not what Kovalainen needs. We all know the reasons why. Back to the race, I can see atleast three or four safety car periods during the race tomorrow. The track is very fast, very tight, and dirty, and also unknown to the drivers. The potential for mistakes is probably as higher than anywhere else we have visited so far.

  5. This race is going to be a lottery for sure, and we could well see a couple of strange piquet-esque results.

    I am very surprised about the Glock thing though. Seems like the Stewards just have a big wheel they spin to decide on a penalty being awarded, or maybe they just flip a coin.

  6. Hamilton wants beat Massa and pay back what happened in last race. Massa will not give up so there is first change for accident. Same time Kubica will use battle between those 2 and past by both of them outside and Kimi follow him.
    Sounds nice lol.
    Unfrtunatelly we can not drive races on papers like say in this video.

  7. I’m excited to see how the different strategies will play out. The guys who have fueled heavy could really be in the catbird’s seat for a potential podium, maybe even a victory, if there’s a safety car before the first round of pit stops.

    The guy I would keep my eye on for tomorrow is Heidfeld. He’s generally done a very good job on street circuits, and he often tends to do very well in races featuring safety car periods where fuel strategy can really play into the equation, where he can stay out under safety car and put the hammer down to secure a podium.

    This will be an interesting race. It’s actually one of the two or three longest of the season up to this point, so it will be interesting to see what strategies will be employed, be it a one-stopper or two-stopper.

  8. The strategies might not be as varied as you might think, for example Massa and Raikkonen show a clear disparity in their ability to extract the maximum from the equipment for a single lap, with massa getting the better of kimi, it does not nessecarily mean a large variation in the fuel loads.

    The same goes for Kubica and Heidfeld, Nick has kept struggling in qualifying and although there are the instances where he was placed on one stop strategies the gap does not mean a different strategy, probably more just an inability to heat his tyres up sufficiently. I guess we’ll know if a few hours. :)

  9. Frontwing – good point. I have to say though it’s incredibly frustrating all this talk of strategies. Qualifying yesterday was brilliant for the first two parts, and then they put fuel in the cars for the final part and suddenly the competition was gone. They really, really have to get rid of race fuel qualifying. It’s just terrible.

  10. I’ll predict at the start of lap 2, Phil 1st, Hammo, Koobs, Kovi, Iceman, Iceburger (whaddya reckon for Rosberg?). A certain 1st lap accident (with safety car), but in the lower midfield, certainly involving Fisi nearly flipping the Force India.

    It’s great to be so excited before an F1 race! Haven’t really felt this way since the season opener!!

  11. Perhaps the dirty side of the grid is not such a disadvantage. Hamilton said this morning:

    I don’t think it’s the dirty side of the grid. If you look at it both sides are pretty dirty. We generally tend to drive down the middle part of both grid slots, especially at the front part.

  12. yes keith, i really do agree, race fuel qualifying definitely took the fun out of it, those first two sessions were awesome.

  13. I mean, if the Q2 times dictated the grid we’d have Vettel on pole. Now that would be fun…

  14. I disagree Keith… Race fuel qualifying makes it more of a spectacle. It brings an element of uncertainty to proceedings, and plenty of speculation prior to the first pit stops in the race.

    Vettel wouldn’t of made pole yesterday if race fuel qualifying wasn’t in operation. I’m sure the big players could of gone out and beat that time if they needed to. The top 4 or so don’t need to run or fuel vapours or take unnecessary risks in Q2, they just need to make sure they make it through to Q3.

    As for the race I think McLaren will be fuelled a little bit heavier than Ferrari and others overall. I think they are more paranoid about safety cars, and Hamilton isn’t in a position where he needs to make unnecessary risks, with an aggressive fuel strategy.

    Having said all that I think it will be mighty close, and I just can’t see it being a simple race… I think we are in for an interesting race!

  15. paul sainsbury
    24th August 2008, 11:55

    I totally agree with Keith. Race fuel quiai. is, I think, the biggest disgrace of the last few years in F1.

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