By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) – Rain ripped up the script for Ferrari at the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday just when pole position looked theirs for the taking.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had led every practice session and shattered all-time track records during the first phases of qualifying — and the sky darkened, rain fell and everything changed.
Ferrari’s composure dissolved just when they most needed to stay calm.
“I think we had the pace today for pole but we’ll never find out,” said Vettel, who will start second with title rival and championship leader Lewis Hamilton on pole position for Mercedes.
“It was confusion. When all of a sudden it starts to rain like this, from a team point of view you have to manage two cars and Kimi was rushing to get back out and then in the end, now you look, it’s sunshine and it’s nearly dry again.
“I didn’t also know what to do, I had a bit of traffic, then I had the track drying up and I wanted to save a bit of tyres,” continued the German.
“Yeah, maybe I was also not as calm as can be in the car and in the end (I’m) happy with second, first row for tomorrow and we have strong pace, so anything can happen.”
Vettel said he had also run low on battery power, which should have been managed better as a team.
Raikkonen, a four-times winner in Spa, had harboured hopes of a first pole since Monaco last year but will start sixth after getting out of the car in the pits just as the track started drying out.
“In the end we only had fuel for one lap and we had to come in. This is what we have got and there’s nothing we can do,” commented Raikkonen.
“It’s just a matter of getting it right and being there when the track is faster. At the moment, it is difficult to find a positive side, but the race is normally a different story and we’ll see what happens.”
While the rain was bad news for Ferrari, it was great for Hamilton but Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff rejected a suggestion Ferrari had the upper hand and his team had been given a lucky let-out.
“I am confident that even if it had stayed dry we would have been competitive in Q3 (the final phase),” he told reporters.
“Personally I would have been curious to see how the outcome would have been in the dry.”
Hamilton added that a dry race on Sunday could yet play into his rivals’ hands.
“They were favourite today and they will be favourite tomorrow. That doesn’t necessarily say that they are going to win,” he said.
“They’ve been favourite for quite a few races now and we’ve managed to somehow turn that on its head and come out ahead. Tomorrow’s going to be a very tough race.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)