Red Bull's Achilles' heel
Taking pole position is half of the battle, and from the front of the grid Mark Webber has to start the race as favourite. There's no question that the RB6s will be a little vulnerable towards the end of the long uphill run to Les Combes, even if you don't buy the bleating from the Milton Keynes squad about unfair power deficits.
In 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella lost a likely victory after being passed by the KERS-equipped Kimi Raikkonen after an early safety car, but had he been able to break away from the Finn it would surely have been a sensational win for Force India. By the same token, the chances of Webber holding onto the lead and, in the case of a great start from fourth, Sebastian Vettel being a victory contender, could depend on them establishing a cushion in the first few seconds of the race. If they don't, expect some pretty robust defending on the Kemmel straight.
Spa-Francorchamps has its own baffling micro-climate. One minute, it's dry. The next, a monsoon moves in. A few moments later, it's sunny and the track is drying at an alarming rate. Then a random cloud dumps some water on some far flung corner of the and everyone plunges off the track when they get there - some of that little trick was seen in qualifying.
Weather forecasting in this part of Belgium is a fool's errand, but if you wanted to put a bet on which way it will go, you'd have a punt on rain. Forecasts for Sunday suggest a good chance of precipitation during the race itself, although Spa being Spa the chances of it being steady, continual rain of the type that makes it easy for teams to make strategy calls, are negligible.
During Saturday afternoon's GP3 race, a deluge appeared from nowhere and turned proceedings into a powerboat race. In short, expect rain, expect safety cars, expect some strategic gambles and expect a dramatic finish. Remember when the rain came in those mad final laps of the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix?
Tyre shortage beckons
To save Bridgestone hauling around vast, unwanted quantities of tyres, each driver is limited to four sets of intermediates and three sets of full wets for each weekend. It's not an unreasonable allocation, and is based on data from usage in previous years. But with most teams killing a set of inters during Friday practice, and at least one more during qualifying, there could be some struggling for grip should the weather be variable during the race itself.
Likewise, drivers will have to think very carefully before gambling on a change from slicks to either inters or wets in case the conditions don't go their way and they root their rubber. If the Ardennes weather is as fickle as cliche demands, there could be some drivers in serious trouble in the closing stages of the race. If you see someone lapping slowly late on, using what seems to be the wrong rubber, you will know why.
The FIA has introduced a more potent front wing deflection test for this weekend, and Red Bull (along with Ferrari), the team under scrutiny for the bendiness of its carbon fibre, has passed the trials with ease. But McLaren and Mercedes have both hinted that the front end of the RB6 looks a little less flexible than in recent races. Whether that is the case, or whether it's just a question of reduced aerodynamic force because of the medium downforce configuration required for Spa, McLaren in particular is bullish about its chances.
More stringent tests to the so-called tea tray section at the front of the car's floor, which is where the real aero trickery is located on the Red Bull and the Ferrari, are coming for Monza in two weeks and Sunday's race will give the first signal of whether the performance of the pacesetters has been in any way pegged back.
Schuey's burn from the stern
Loitering among the Virgins and HRTs at the unfashionable end of the grid, far behind the focus on the championship protagonists on the front few rows, is one Michael Schumacher. No circuit has played so great a part in the Schumacher story as Spa. It was here in 1991 that he qualified a sensational seventh on debut for Jordan; it was here that he won six times; it was here that he managed to triumph from 16th on the grid in 1995.
The 41-year-old German won't be winning on Sunday afternoon, as irrespective of his grid position the Mercedes simply isn't fast enough. Even without a 10-place grid penalty he would only be on the sixth row. But with inclement weather expected, it would be foolish to write him off. When Schumacher and Spa mix, sparks fly. The question is, will they be sparks for the right reasons or, as in the Hungarian Grand Prix, those of controversy. Either way, don't take your eyes off Mercedes #3.
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