Caterham and Marussia shine through Belgian rain

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Although qualifying fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth may not be a great achievement for the majority of teams in Formula One, Caterham and Marussia are celebrating after a gamble on strategy paid off handsomely during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix today.

With rain falling at the beginning of Q1, the initial times were set on intermediate tires before conditions began to improve. However, with surface water still making driving difficult, the majority of drivers opted to remain on intermediate tires. With nothing to lose though, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton all went out on dry tires and carefully began to put in some lap times. Initially, the move appeared to have backfired as van der Garde went three seconds slower on his first lap. However, when the checkered flag fell, the Dutch driver put in a stunning lap to finish third-fastest and get into Q2 for the second time in his Formula One career, having previously achieved the feat amid changeable conditions in Monaco.

Marussia’s decision also paid off as Bianchi finished a comfortable eleventh and Max Chilton squeezed into Q2 for the first time in his career by finishing sixteenth. Daniel Ricciardo had been on a lap and was hoping to demote the Marussia into the dropzone, but he could not improve and instead opted to pit, finishing nineteenth behind his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.

Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez were the other casualties of Q1 along with Charles Pic, but the French driver was called onto the weighbridge after his first run and could not set a better lap time.

One of Spa-Francorchamps’ greatest qualities is the dramatic change in weather conditions that – as well as helping Hamilton on his way to pole position – have allowed Caterham and Marussia to impress greatly today. Both teams will be banking on similar conditions tomorrow so that they can make full use of their good grid slots.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.