It could only happen at Spa. Rain, sun and even some hail, all in the space of one day. A day that marked the return of competitive Formula One to our screens, and a day that marked a return to, well, business as usual.
That business being of course, Mercedes-Benz ruling the roost. Nico Rosberg, fresh from his summer break, came back in strong form to take pole position at a circuit many drivers cite as their favourite.
It’s easy to see why, too, this place bringing out the proper racing enthusiasts. It’s an old, fast circuit, with one of the best sections ever in Eau Rouge. Heck, Infiniti (that’s the posh arm of Nissan), likes it so much it even named its Q50 concept car after the sweeping corner.
Lewis Hamilton slotted in behind, defeated by his team mate again, after making the slightest of errors at the start of Q3 and not managing to beat Rosberg’s final time of 2m 05.591s. Lewis’ time? 2m05.819s, just under three tenths slower.
He later complained of struggling under braking, but that won’t make it any easier for him – it’s Rosberg’s fourth pole in succession and his seventh of the year.
Third place was – surprise surprise – Sebastian Vettel in his oft-troubled RB10.
Why surprise? He’s not exactly had the best of luck so far, has he? Engine reliability has stymied his defence of the title this year, and this weekend threatened to rain – literally and figuratively – on his parade even more. “It was quite tight,” he later said, “it was tricky out there, with low downforce through Eau Rouge, I had a couple of moments, but overall I’m happy with third”.
On Friday practice Vettel had gearbox problems and a burned exhaust. He’s also on his fifth engine of the season. That’s his year’s allocation, and there’s a lot of racing left to do. To come away with a place in the top three is pretty remarkable, to say the least.
Alonso and Ricciardo rounded out the top five, though it was Williams who will be looking at what went wrong. After Bottas set the pace at final practice, the best he could manage was 6th, and behind him he’ll have Magnussen’s McLaren and Raikkonen’s Ferrari bearing down on him. Jenson Button rounds out the top ten.
Elsewhere down the rain-sodden pack, Maldonado did a, well, Maldonado, spinning out before managing a 16th place finish, though we have to make mention of Andre Lotterer.
Standing in for Kamui Kobayashi at Caterham, Lotterer qualified 21st with a time of 2m 13.469s, ahead of team mate Marcus Ericsson. Why is this important? Because it’s Lotterer’s first Formula One drive, and he’s a bit handy, too; Lotterer is a three-time Le Mans winner.
It’s all to play for, tomorrow, and Rosberg remains upbeat. “We have a great car here, we’re leading the way, the team has done such a great job to keep that gap, so I’ve got a good chance tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it”.
So, Formula One returns from its holiday, and it’s more of the same. The weather is the great equaliser, however, so who’s your money on for the win?