Puma Perspective: Spa-Francorchamps

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Fourth after starting eighth and vice-versa is hardly a dream result for PUMA’s partner team Ferrari, but that overlooks the extremely tricky conditions faced by drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in Sunday’s 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix at the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

All four preliminary sessions had been wet at some stage, with Sunday proving dry if overcast. Having enjoyed a maximum of just eight laps of dry running on Friday/Saturday, teams went into qualifying with compromised car set-ups in the knowledge that any changes to set-up before the race would result in their drivers having to start from the pit lane.

Strategies, too, were formulated ‘on-the-fly’ as teams had little dry running data upon which to base their plans, while the Safety Car deployed after Lewis Hamilton crashed into another competitor (again) played into the hands of some, but not others.

Ultimately the result – a full-house of poles for Red Bull Racing in the 12 races to date and a seventh win of the season for reigning champion Sebastian Vettel – came about after the team ignored suspension set-up guidelines issued by sole tyre supplier Pirelli, resulting in a series of unsavoury allegations and counter-allegations both before and after the race over safety issues.

For its part, Ferrari adhered to the recommendations. Thus the team paid the price via compromised performance, but by the same token was able to go into the race with confidence about the durability of its tyres, and formulated its strategies accordingly. The game plan was to run one less stop than the championship leaders.

Unfortunately for 2005/2006 champion Fernando, Vettel was nearing the pits when it became evident that the Safety Car would be deployed in the wake of Hamilton’s crash, and the German was able to nip and out of the pits with minimal penalty while the Ferrari driver’s tyres were still too fresh to warrant a change.

“Vettel only lost one place to [team-mate Mark] Webber and beat - by very little - Rosberg. And then in the restart he overtook Webber in Turn 1 so [there was] not much traffic for Vettel. So I think [our] decision was good, but the factors around the safety car were very good for Sebastian.” Webber eventually finished second.

Still, fourth place in the race enabled the Spaniard, who started a lowly eighth after being caught out by Saturday’s mixed conditions, to retain third in the championship with seven rounds to go, with the next race being at Ferrari’s home circuit Monza in a fortnight.

Felipe was on-track to place fifth after starting fourth in a car set up for wet conditions, but was forced to make another pit stop immediately after his final scheduled stop after suffering a puncture. The time lost dropped the Brazilian down to eighth.

Monza marks the final race of the European season, with the circus thereafter heading east for the Singaporean, Japanese, Korean and Indian rounds before taking in the Abu Dhabi round ahead of the finale in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 27 November.