Button faces challenge from unusual suspects

2012 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Jenson Button took pole position comfortably for the Belgian Grand Prix. But he’s not taking a win on Sunday for granted.

He may be the only driver in the front two rows to have won a race this year but the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and the Sauber drivers could prove genuine contenders for victory.

The start

Button admitted some surprise at just how well McLaren’s new Spa-specification rear wing worked: “I’m surprised that the new rear wing is working so well, but the engineers also did a great job with the balance.

“And it’s even more encouraging that we had good consistency through all three qualifying sessions. Nonetheless, nobody has done any long runs yet, so we still need to wait and see how tomorrow pans out.”

There’s been little to choose between Button and fellow front-row starter Kamui Kobayashi in terms of their places won and lost at the start this year. But Raikkonen, who starts third behind them, has gained one place on average per race.

The long run from La Source through Eau Rouge to Les Combes offers a superb opportunity for slipstreaming and making up places. Nico Rosberg used it to brilliant effect last year, taking the lead off Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s lap one move from 2009 is well-remembered – he drove off the track at turn one, gaining several places. The stewards have cracked down on such antics since and drivers will expect not to be able to get away with it again.


The limited dry running has left teams with many unanswered questions about the performance and degradation of the tyres for this weekend’s race.

Pirelli have supplied the hard and medium compounds, and every driver in the top ten will start on the latter. Pirelli reckon it’s six to nine tenths of a second per lap faster than the hard, and drivers will have to make two or perhaps three pit stops.

However it’s clear from the sector times below that there are considerable differences in the set-ups being used, even within the same team as in the case of McLaren. This could lead to variations in tyre warm-up (crucial as the weather is expected to remain cool) and how quickly the tyres start to go off. But teams are going to have to play it by ear.

One team that have often enjoyed superior tyre performance this year are Sauber. With their drivers second and fourth on the grid they are well-placed to spring a surprise.

Fernando Alonso is confident he can make progress from fifth on the grid but we could also see Hamilton, Grosjean and, later, the Red Bulls putting him under pressure.

The lack of running on slick tyres is not a concern for Alonso: “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.”

Qualifying times in full

Significantly, Perez’s Q2 time would have been good enough for him to take third on the grid. As the table below shows he lost time in the middle sector.

“I’m not too happy because my last lap in Q3 wasn’t perfect,” he said. “I had the feeling the car was performing differently to this morning.”

Heikki Kovalainen had a DRS problem and was 1.6s slower than the next fastest car in Q1 (Rosberg’s Mercedes, before his penalty).


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’49.2501’47.654 (-1.596)1’47.573 (-0.081)
2Kamui KobayashiSauber1’49.6861’48.569 (-1.117)1’47.871 (-0.698)
3Kimi RaikkonenLotus1’49.5461’48.414 (-1.132)1’48.205 (-0.209)
4Sergio PerezSauber1’49.6421’47.980 (-1.662)1’48.219 (+0.239)
5Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’49.4011’48.598 (-0.803)1’48.313 (-0.285)
6Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1’48.9931’48.780 (-0.213)1’47.893 (-0.887)
7Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1’49.6051’48.563 (-1.042)1’48.394 (-0.169)
8Romain GrosjeanLotus1’50.1261’48.714 (-1.412)1’48.538 (-0.176)
9Paul di RestaForce India1’50.0331’48.729 (-1.304)1’48.890 (+0.161)
10Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’49.7221’48.792 (-0.930)
11Nico HulkenbergForce India1’49.3621’48.855 (-0.507)
12Mark WebberRed Bull1’49.8591’48.546 (-1.313)1’48.392 (-0.154)
13Michael SchumacherMercedes1’49.7421’49.081 (-0.661)
14Felipe MassaFerrari1’49.5881’49.147 (-0.441)
15Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1’49.7631’49.354 (-0.409)
16Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1’49.5721’49.543 (-0.029)
17Bruno SennaWilliams1’49.9581’50.088 (+0.130)
18Heikki KovalainenCaterham1’51.739
19Vitaly PetrovCaterham1’51.967
20Timo GlockMarussia1’52.336
21Pedro de la RosaHRT1’53.030
22Charles PicMarussia1’53.493
23Nico RosbergMercedes1’50.181
24Narain KarthikeyanHRT1’54.989

Sector times

The sector times reveal a clear split between the drivers who are quickest along the high-speed straights of sectors one and three, and whose car is quickest through the corners in the middle sector.

In the former camp are Button (with McLaren’s Spa-specific rear wing) and the Ferraris; in the latter Hamilton (without the new wing) and the Saubers.

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Jenson Button31.104 (1)47.605 (5)28.797 (1)
Kamui Kobayashi31.325 (10)47.326 (1)29.064 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen31.426 (13)47.525 (2)29.166 (13)
Sergio Perez31.342 (11)47.601 (4)29.037 (7)
Fernando Alonso31.144 (2)48.191 (9)28.970 (4)
Pastor Maldonado31.309 (6)47.750 (6)28.834 (2)
Lewis Hamilton31.523 (17)47.554 (3)29.198 (14)
Romain Grosjean31.517 (16)47.918 (8)29.032 (6)
Paul di Resta31.323 (9)48.479 (11)28.847 (3)
Sebastian Vettel31.315 (8)48.433 (10)29.044 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg31.365 (12)48.507 (12)28.983 (5)
Mark Webber31.274 (5)47.756 (7)29.282 (17)
Michael Schumacher31.311 (7)48.705 (13)29.065 (11)
Felipe Massa31.163 (3)48.914 (15)29.044 (8)
Jean-Eric Vergne31.211 (4)48.904 (14)29.198 (14)
Daniel Ricciardo31.451 (15)48.937 (16)29.133 (12)
Bruno Senna31.428 (14)48.961 (17)29.205 (16)
Heikki Kovalainen32.014 (22)50.138 (20)29.385 (19)
Vitaly Petrov31.993 (19)50.170 (21)29.596 (20)
Timo Glock32.269 (23)49.774 (19)30.019 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa31.999 (20)51.219 (23)29.800 (21)
Charles Pic32.272 (24)50.744 (22)30.265 (24)
Nico Rosberg31.597 (18)49.151 (18)29.322 (18)
Narain Karthikeyan32.012 (21)51.432 (24)30.062 (23)

Speed trap

Pos.CarDriverSpeed (kph)
114Kamui Kobayashi330.9
215Sergio Perez326.8
319Bruno Senna326.2
418Pastor Maldonado325.9
517Jean-Eric Vergne325.3
67Michael Schumacher324.8
78Nico Rosberg324.6
816Daniel Ricciardo323.1
93Jenson Button322.5
1011Paul di Resta322.3
1112Nico Hulkenberg322.1
124Lewis Hamilton322.1
135Fernando Alonso320.5
146Felipe Massa320.1
1520Heikki Kovalainen320
1621Vitaly Petrov319.9
1710Romain Grosjean319.1
189Kimi Raikkonen319.1
1923Narain Karthikeyan318
2022Pedro de la Rosa317.8
212Mark Webber316.4
2225Charles Pic316.2
2324Timo Glock316.2
241Sebastian Vettel316

2012 Belgian Grand Prix

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Images © Pirelli/LAT

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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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31 comments on “Button faces challenge from unusual suspects”

  1. Button definately have the grid position and aero-dynamics advantage, but would struggle to get the harder tyres up to temperature,and to make it worst, Mclaren have variations in the tyre warm-ups, so the most likely winner would still be Kimi.

    But I still hope that Alonso and Hamilton would make progress from the midfield to the front. This would be exciting, when the smaller teams (Sauber and Williams) would be in the mix at the front, blocking other drivers to catch up with Button and Raikonnen.

    1. Something wrong with the speedtrap placement, watching Buttons pole lap he was regularly bouncing of the rev-limiter at 322kph, I don’t know what speeds the rest were doing in the same places but it is possible that lower geared cars accelerated faster to the speed-trap but were slower beyond it than Button was. Anybody know for sure ?

      1. @hohum I think those speed have been taken on top of Eau rouge, that was the spot we could see the speed on our screen and in the same range … But I agree quite unusual to take it there as there is still a long straight after that. At least we know the speed entry on that straight, could be a factor (even if as you said, that’s not sure the standing would be the same at the end of the straight)

    2. the most likely winner would still be Kimi

      What are you basing this on?

      1. Lotus’ recent race pace, Kimi’s success in Spa, Button’s rather weak performance on Sundays this season… There are quite many reasons to say so.

  2. i thought lewis is having the lower down force rear wing but his top speed didn’t even reach 300kmph

    1. nah lewis had more downforce than Jenson. And wow he is woefully slow in the speed trap.

      I take it the engineers will be doing a bit of tweaking in the first stop. Or whenever they can adjust it slightly (but it’s still the old wing)

      1. I think Hamilton’s higher downforce rear wing will help him in the race, particularly with tyre deg and off the line. Also, with a low 7th gear rev limiter, he has it set up for the race with much lower top speeds (heavier cars and no DRS), so when the low downforce cars (Button and Ferraris) cannot hit their high rev limiters, Hamilton will be able to hit his and take the most advantage of his engine power. Am I intepreting it wrong?

        1. I think you’re right about the wing giving him more stability for the first two turns of the race, but he’ll be putting more energy into the tires so probably increased deg. And if Hamilton is at (gearbox limited) top speed, it really doesn’t matter how much power his engine is producing – he can’t use it to go any faster!

          1. Yes, but I was thinking that high rev limit cars will not reach their rev limit in the race, while low rev limit, high downforce cars like Saubers and Hamilton will. The rev limit has an effect of ‘pulling’ the car’s speed upwards towards it if it is near enough, i think

          2. But what would be crucial is the difference between a lap with or without DRS. As we know on such track, the advantage is quite huge (a bit more than 1 sec if I’m not mistaken) and those low or high config could react differently while not using DRS. I believe Hamilton will be the fastest in Sector 2 and the difference will be less in pure speed than with DRS.

            @isaactham @satchelcharge For tyre deg, higher downforce could be much beter at this track because blistering was caused by shear force last year … When the cars turn at Pouhon, you have huge sideways effects and the tyre suffer more from that than vertical pressure thus higher downforce is a benefit in that case.

            Even if I think Hamilton wouldn’t be as far as in quali (and yet he still manage to enter top 10, beter than Vettel, we are just speaking of a slow car compared to Jenson), I do believe he will struggle a bit to overtake (or at least will have to overtake in sector 2 instead of Kemmel but could make some show)

          3. If Hamilton is to do some overtaking anywhere, It would most likely be in the braking zones like for Bus Stop or Le Combre (that’s If he can get into the slipstream of the car in front) because that extra downforce onboard will enabled to brake much later than others.

  3. This is between Jenson and Kimi.

    I’d be surprised if either Red Bull drivers get above 8th. This could blow the constructors wide open.

    1. Are you the same Thomas that didn’t rate JB as a credible number 2 driver earlier this week ?

      1. Well if he’s in the running to win it then he isn’t a credible number 2 is he ;)

    2. I think they will, they have had good race pace so far this season and as the speed traps show they have clearly sacrificed some qualifying pace for a race advantage.

  4. If Button and MP4-27 works as in qualifying, there’s little chance to catch him. But I think that stunning performance is sort of fortunate sweetspot.

    1. It will be interesting to see how that qualifying pace advantage translates to the race. Tire degradation may not be in Jenson’s favor as he has opted for a low downforce setup. Raikkonen has the opposite setup.

    2. Drivers don’t typically set lap times in the race that are on par with their qualifying times. Button was obviously fuelled lightly when he set his pole time, so it’s certainly not representative of how the car will perform when it is loaded with fuel.

  5. I am of the opinion that the weather will wholly decide whether or not Button challenges a win – track temp, humidity, cloud cover, whether or not it rains before the race… I don’t understand his inconsistency unless this is the reason. Like @eggry says his small sweetspot, however fast it is, has a chance of disappearing.

  6. Amazing how different the setups are for Jenson and Lewis. Looking at their position on sector times it was 1/5/1 for Jenson and 17/3/14 for Lewis. Completely different views as to the fastest way around the track.

    You’d expect the Sector 2 time to be most important because it’s the longest sector, but in Lewis’s case the times for the other two sectors were so woeful his good Sector 2 time couldn’t compensate. I’m sure he’s not a happy chappie when he looks at the numbers.

  7. “Red Bull and Ferrari are two names which have not featured near the top of the maximum speed traps often this year, but their low-downforce configuration for Spa appears to have changed that.”

    Maybe that’s because the speed trap is at Raidillon, where the cars are definitely not doing maximum speed. Intermediate 1 top speed is much more better for comparing straight line speeds.

    1. @kaiie Agreed – I’ve changed the figures in the article accordingly. Thanks for pointing that out.

      1. And we have quite a different story and RedBull could worry about passing a Sauber, that’s almost the only combinaison for which DRS is not enough, they will have to find something else.

  8. Wow those Sauber are strange … They manage the fastest speed but their strongest sector is the second, how could it be explained ? This could make them very difficult to be passed

    1. @jeanrien Kobayashi could have got a tow I guess? Sauber are usually very high up in the speed trap anyways.

  9. Wow, it looks quite bad for Red Bull. Not only they don’t have a good pace (on a single lap, ok), but they have the lowest top speed. I don’t think that they will be in the top 5.

  10. If Button can capture the same balance and speed as yesterday then I don’t see him being beaten. However, that’s not certain at all, and everyone down to Alonso probably feel like they have a great chance to win. I’ll be interested to see how Kobayashi deals with being on the front row with a genuine shot at the win.

    Hamilton must be ruing his choice now. Not only are his lap times slow, but if he finds himself on the defensive he could be a sitting duck. Also, as anyone who watched the GP2 race will know, he’s right in the range of the first lap chaos which often strikes at Spa.

    1. Maldonado’s Duck I will say, is one major team screw up once again, wonder if this all result for not signing yet ?
      As the team attitude to make HAM champion doesn’t seem to be there, to me looks like they are going full for WCC which means BUT most be able to drive the car cause HAM will do it anyways and they need just need more points than Redbull and lotus only.

  11. Such a staggering KPH difference from Kobayashi to Perez, it’s huge, bigger than usual.

    I expect Sauber will drop back but still finish in the points, owing to their good use of the tyres.

  12. Aah well! The only challenge Button had was to get past the hair-pin before the RoGro created carnage reached him

Comments are closed.