The Formula One Belgian Grand Prix
Spa, a track steeped in history, and the scene of probably the most memorable overtake ever seen- Mika Hakkinen overtaking “The Michael” at Les Combes in 2000.
Of course, there’s been plenty of action in the summer break- The 2020 calendar was released (Germany is dead once again), Alex Albon replaced Pierre Gasly at Red Bull, Valtteri Bottas will stay at Mercedes, and Dan The Man will have a new Renault teammate in 2020- The Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
Ah yes, because a French driver will prove the sudden fix for your crap chassis.
Lastly, in what seems to be a yearly tradition at Spa, multiple drivers took engine penalties – Both the Renaults and Carlos Sainz (McLaren-Renault) dropped 5 spots for exceeding their Power Unit components limit (Although they all switched back to the old Renault engine by Saturday), and Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon all dropped to the back.
There was a stunner in FP3, as Lewis Hamilton lost the rear of his Mercedes, and ploughed straight into a tyre barrier at Les Fagnes.
It left Mercedes with only 2 hours to fix Hamilton’s car, and the damage forced the hypothetical that the team would have to change the chassis and start the race from the pits.
It worked out alright.
Ferrari were consistently the fastest team through Practice, with their low downforce setup getting the job done down the Kemmel Straight, while Dan got the most out of the Renault and peaked with a 4th place in FP3, giving me some form of hope the yellow cars could reach Q3.
That 1,000 horsepower engine strangely went well, on a track noted for it’s long straights.
Within 2 minutes of Q1, Robert Kubica’s Williams suffered an engine failure, the second major problem for a Mercedes engine this weekend, after Sergio Perez’s Racing Point lost a brand new PU during FP2.
Ironically, a Mercedes engine failure bought the factory team enough time to get Hamilton on track, set a time, and easily get through to Q2.
The mechanical failures weren’t done though, as Antonio Giovinazzi ended Q1 early, joining the grid penalty circus in the process.
But in the wash-up, Ferrari’s latest promising weekend kept on gaining momentum, as Charles LeClerc picked up his third pole of 2019 by a thumping 7-tenths, and capping it off, Sebastian Vettel was able to make it a rosso corsa lockout with his last flying lap, with Hamilton in 3rd in a typical Lewis qualifying performance, despite a hastily repaired car.
A good effort for Ricciardo and Hulkenberg as the best of the Formula 1.5 field in 6th and 7th, although given their penalties, they started from 10th and 12th… which is a normal weekend for Renault.
Just highlighting how funny these grid penalties were, Carlos Sainz, who qualified 17th and had a 10-place drop hanging over his head, ended up starting 15th, and George Russell ended up in his highest starting position of the year in 14th.
The Hubert Crash
The fun about the season resuming was shattered on Saturday evening, when a massive crash at Raidillon in the Formula 2 race caused fatal injures to the Frenchman Anthoine Hubert, and seriously injured Juan Manuel Correa.
I won’t show the footage out of respect, and also because no layperson should have to watch the aftermath of one of the worst side-on collisions ever seen.
Hubert had won 2 races this year (In Monaco, and fittingly, in France), was also part of Renault’s young driver program, and was a contemporary of Pierre Gasly and Charles LeClerc.
While the Sunday F2 race was cancelled, the Belgian Grand Prix would go ahead.
Race (44 laps)
The entire paddock paid their respects and raced with a heavy heart for Anthoine, especially Charles LeClerc, who not only lost his friend, but in recent years has lost his godfather Jules Bianchi (In 2015), and his dad Herve in 2017, just a few days after he won an F2 race in Baku.
At the start, LeClerc got away cleanly, Hamilton bumped Vettel out for 2nd until the Kemmel Straight, while further back, there was more Lap 1 at Spa chaos- Sainz stalled, while Max Verstappen tried a crazy move down the inside of La Source, smacking into a blindsided Kimi Raikkonen (Not the first time they’ve collided on Lap 1 at Spa), damaging both cars and setting off more trouble behind.
Verstappen’s steering was broken, and he soon crashed into the wall at Raidillon for his first retirement of 2019, nearly finishing off Raikkonen as well, which brought out the Safety Car, and devastated the thousands of orange-clad fans who had crossed the border to see their hero.
Kimi’s radio communications through both incidents were very… Kimi.
Dan sadly didn’t get away unscathed (For the second year running at Spa), as he tried minding his own business, only to cop a nice old whack in the right rear from Stroll, which damaged the Renault and dropped him down to 17th, so the team used the yellow flag period to put Dan onto Mediums and just go for broke for 43 laps… which obviously wasn’t going to work.
Sainz ultimately retired with more power problems just as the SC was ending, forcing another lap under the yellow flag, and on the restart, LeClerc blasted away from Vettel, and by Lap 10, Hamilton was sniffing the exhaust of the German in 2nd, who was beginning to struggle, most likely due to an earlier flat spot.
I’d be remiss to mention that McLaren and Lando Norris had somehow pulled a Steven Bradbury up to 5th place after the 1st corner chaos, a position he held comfortably for most of the race.
Hulkenberg pitted on Lap 12, while Kevin Magnussen began slipping down the field, as the carriages on the Dane Train began overtaking the Haas.
By Lap 15, most cars started to pit, as it became apparent that the undercut was the way to go, while Dan was able to get past Magnussen without much trouble, unlike their last fight in Hungary which ended in middle finger exchanging.
It seemed apparent by Lap 18 that Mercedes and Ferrari were going for better tyre grip at the end of the race, as Hamilton’s chances of overtaking Vettel from the pits had passed to nothing, and with LeClerc staying out, there was a huge chance the Ferraris were going to swap places at the front.
In between the strategy battle, the fans lined throughout the valley had their own tribute for Anthoine, rising for a standing ovation on Lap 19, the obvious significance being that 19 was his number in F2.
LeClerc finally pitted on Lap 22, and Vettel would indeed overtake the Monegasque driver to become the leading Ferrari on track, and Mercedes had to react with Hamilton, who lost a second in stationary time due to a slight left rear problem.
Bottas pitted on Lap 24, and thus the order cleared up at the front, as Vettel started to slowly fall back to LeClerc, and on lap 26, Ferrari gave the order to let the faster driver through, and LeClerc took the lead at the start of Lap 27.
Ferrari and team orders to change the lead… Like death and taxes.
Meanwhile, Dan ran as high as 7th after all of the field had stopped, but on the oldest tyre set of anyone still running, he was beginning to struggle by Lap 28, as was Vettel, who was being devoured alive by Hamilton (again), and Bottas was the fastest driver on track in 4th.
By the next lap, Hamilton was beginning to attack the rear of the Ferrari, but Vettel defended his line and stayed ahead for a few corners, and ultimately the Mercedes got ahead down the Kemmel Straight, but the laps that Seb held Lewis at bay proved crucial for LeClerc’s lead.
Vettel ultimately decided to pit on Lap 34 and go back to Softs, mainly to go for the Fastest Lap bonus point, and have an outside hope of claiming Bottas for 3rd, which never materialised.
Dan’s tyres were dead without a pulse by this point, and he was quickly passed by Red Bull wife swappers Gasly and Albon (Who got by with a very nice move into Pouhon), and it was apparent that the Renault was a sitting duck for the pack immediately behind him, as the reality of another lack of points was staring in the face of Renault, capping off one of the worst weekends in their F1 history.
By Lap 41, Hamilton had closed to within 4 seconds of LeClerc, and Dan’s impersonation of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ continued, as Hulk and Stroll mugged our hero, dropping him to 13th.
With 2 laps to go, it was only 2 seconds the difference between LeClerc and Hamilton, and with the Merc gaining at a second a lap through the 2nd sector alone, it was going to come down to the flag.
But on the last lap, the lapped Giovinazzi went straight into the wall exiting Pouhon after spinning on a kerb, and that killed off the contest.
Not only had Ferrari finally won in 2019, Charles LeClerc had done it for Anthoine, and was a Grand Prix Winner!
Of course, as he crossed the line, we were left dumbstruck by the sight of a pulled over McLaren- Norris was out from 5th, after suffering what appeared to be the same sudden loss of power that had taken out his teammate on Lap 1… only that it came 43 laps later.
Ironically, Lando had been voted the Driver Of The Day, for almost flawlessly completing that Bradbury impersonation for what was going to be his best career result.
Charles is the 108th different winner in F1 history, and Monaco became the 24th nation to have a driver win a race.
A few other noteworthy results- Renault did pick up a few points as Hulkenberg came home for 8th with all these late DNFs, both Toro Rossos scored points after the latest driver swap, and Albon finished a superb 5th on his Red Bull debut, his best career result, after being forced onto the grass by Perez on the last lap.
As the champagne went unsprayed out of respect, the most interesting part of Charles winning was that most of the world learned the sound of the Monaco national anthem.
It’s just as upbeat as the Italian national anthem.
In addition, Charles joins a pretty small but stellar list of drivers to claim their maiden win at Spa- Peter Collins (1956), Jim Clark (1962), and none other than Michael Schumacher in 1992.
As for Renault’s decision to leave Dan out for pretty much the whole race with rolling carcasses, given what happened on Lap 1, they were screwed either way with a damaged car.
Still, despite being damaged, that Renault showed enough pace to be half a chance of a points finish, and there was an oppurtunity to pit for Softs mid-race when he was just behind Albon- But with this year’s luck, Dan would be caught behind traffic for 20 laps.
Another key note for Dan was something he said post-race to Autosport- He seriously thought about not racing on Sunday following Hubert’s death.
Yeah, last night, absolutely.
You question, ‘Is it really worth it?’ for sure.
Because at the end of the day, it’s a simple question, but it’s a pretty honest one as well.
Yeah, it’s our job and it’s our profession and it’s our life, but also it’s still just racing cars around in circles.”
UP NEXT: The quick turnaround for the four-wheeled Cathedral Of Speed- MONZA