First up – It was Mark Webber’s birthday last Thursday, so a belated Happy Birthday to our own 9-time Grand Prix winner.
To celebrate, here’s that all-time classic radio message after he finally won at the Nurburgring in 2009:
****in’ Beauty indeed.
Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 7: The Germans conquer Belgium again
The return to the Ardennes Forest would usually mark the end of Formula 1’s summer break, but not this year, because it’s been another massive 2 weeks in the world’s premier four-wheeled category:
The Concorde Agreement was signed by all 10 teams with no fuss, a far cry from the near-breakaways of the 2000s.
Williams were sold by Sir Frank and Claire Williams to American group Dorilton Capital, ending the era of British-owned teams in Formula 1, even though 3/4 of the field are based in the UK.
Renault withdrew their protest about the legality of Racing Point’s brake ducts, leaving it down to Ferrari and Racing Point themselves.
A 17-Grand Prix calendar was completed – Turkey will return for the first time since 2011, Abu Dhabi will host the finale on December 13, and a double-header at Bahrain will see the usual Bahrain Grand Prix, and a Sakhir Grand Prix on the oval-like “Outer” 3.5km layout, with a record 87 laps and 55-second lap times.
Apparently Mercedes were pissing themselves with happiness hearing that announcement:
It was also 20 years since Mika Hakkinen pulled off one of the more memorable overtakes ever seen, going up the inside of backmarker Ricardo Zonta at top speed to pass “The Michael” Schumacher and win the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix:
It was also a year since Renault junior Anthoine Hubert was killed at Raidillon in the Saturday Formula 2 race, marked by multiple tributes from the F1 & F2 community, including compatriot Pierre Gasly replicating Hubert’s pink helmet design, laying flowers at the spot of his accident, and Juan Manuel Correa, who almost lost his life in the same accident, was able to attend the weekend.
As expected, the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (Who turned 31 on Friday, so another Happy Birthday to the Finn), plus Max Verstappen’s Red Bull led the way on Friday & Saturday, while Daniel Ricciardo once again showed promising signs in practice, finishing 2nd behind Mad Max in FP2, although there was a worry when he had to stop on the Kemmel Straight due to a loss of hydraulic pressure.
The major talking point from free practice was Ferrari’s sheer lack of pace, given Charles LeClerc and Sebastian Vettel were 17th and last in FP3, after finishing 1-2 in all 3 practice sessions in 2019, and the red machine was some 1.7 seconds slower than LeClerc’s 2019 Pole Position time, whereas every other team had improved by several tenths (Including the Ferrari-powered Haas cars), which brought up the serious prospect of both Ferraris being knocked out of a dry Q1.
This was just the FP2 comparison from 2019 to 2020 – It looks ugly for Maranello:
Fortunately for Ferrari, Vettel and LeClerc escaped a Q1 exit, with LeClerc 15th in the opening session, only 0.087s ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, with Vettel in 13th, however they were no chance of making it into Q3, only managing 13th and 14th, the first time neither Ferrari reached Q3 since Britain 2014, and the scary part is we’ve got Monza, the 4-wheeled Cathedral of Speed, to come next weekend.
They’ll be washing off the shame that awaits for the next 1000 years.
Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen were the only 3 cars who made Q3 on the Medium tyre, and would be able to start the race on the yellow Pirellis, while Ricciardo wasn’t able to post a second time in Q2 because of a brake-by-wire issue, although he comfortably made it into the final session along with his Renault teammate Esteban Ocon, both McLarens, both Racing Points, and the sister Red Bull of Alex Albon.
Summing up just how much he had this field by the gonads, Hamilton set a new lap record on his first Q3 run (1.41.451s, beating Vettel’s 1.41.501 from 2018), and just for fun, he went EVEN BETTER and claimed his 93rd Pole Position with a lap record 1.41.252, and the 7-time World Championship dedicated the pole to the late Chadwick Boseman by joining in the Wakanda Forever tributes to the actor who brought Black Panther to life:
Further down, Bottas started 2nd, half a second behind, while Ricciardo backed up his practice pace by holding on to 3rd for most of the session, but on his final run, he had a bad middle sector and aborted the lap, allowing Verstappen up to 3rd, who missed out on a front-row start by 1-hundredth of a second.
It was the first time Ricciardo had started beyond the third row at Spa, and 4th on the grid equalled his best qualifying performance with Renault (Canada last season), while Ocon in 6th repeated the French outfit’s Saturday performances in Belgium last season, when Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg were 6th and 7th fastest, however they had grid penalties, and it all went to crap when Ricciardo was hit at Turn 1 in the race.
The obvious reason the Renault thrives on power circuits is that there’s no reliance on downforce (Skinny wings rule the day at Spa and Monza), which is still the car’s obvious weakness, while their power unit can more than hold its own against the Honda and the Mercedes, no matter how many times we laugh at Cyril Abiteboul’s boasts about 1000 brake horsepower engines.
Race (44 Laps)
This was the 1000th Grand Prix to feature a Ferrari-powered car, while the Scuderia themselves appeared in their 998th race.
Despite threatening to piss down on all 3 days (It did rain in parts on Friday and Saturday), the rain stayed away for the race, and, in a sign of what life will be like at Ferrari next season, Carlos Sainz didn’t even get to start the race from 7th, after suffering exhaust failure on his way to the grid.
Right now, Carlos has all the luck, and it’s all bad.
At the start, all 19 cars jumped cleanly, as Ocon got ahead of Albon to put both Renaults in the Top 5, and Ricciardo fought hard with Verstappen into Les Combes, which also allowed the Mercs to escape into the distance, but through gritted teeth, the Dutchman was able to remain ahead of his former teammate, and that was the podium settled there and then.
LeClerc had a fantastic opening lap, jumping 5 places into 8th (He was soon going backwards), as Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly engaged in some quality wheel-to-wheel action through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, which went the way of the Alpha Tauri, who had started on Hard tyres, and was seemingly placing himself nicely for a run at the Top 5.
Hot take – THAT is one of the best camera positions in world sport.
By the time the DRS was activated on Lap 3, Hamilton was already 1 second ahead of Bottas, and if I were a racecaller, I’d have gone the early crow and declared the race there and then.
It also didn’t help that Mercedes told Bottas that he couldn’t use his ‘push’ against Lewis, an effective way of saying ‘No racing each other’, pissing every viewer off yet again that we couldn’t see the Mercs try and fight each other.
Despite LeClerc’s good start, lack of straight line speed in the Ferrari was already beginning to show, as Gasly and Perez soon bumped LeClerc back down to 10th place, and by Lap 7, Lando Norris and Daniil Kvyat cleared LeClerc, dumping him back down to 12th, just ahead of Vettel in 13th, and that was the sad reality of where Ferrari were at this weekend.
On Lap 10, the Safety Car was brought out for its only appearance, after a crash involving Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell at Les Fagnes, which left massive amounts of carbon fibre on the track.
Similar to his crash last year, Giovinazzi lost the rear getting on the throttle and smashed into the tyre barrier, while Russell tried avoiding the accident and struck a stray wheel, busting the Williams’ suspension and putting him in the wall.
Thankfully, and most importantly, both drivers were fine.
As everyone got a free pit stop, Ferrari weren’t ready for LeClerc, Ocon lost out to Albon due to double stacking behind Ricciardo, while Gasly stayed out after starting on the Hard tyre, while Perez also stayed out on old Soft tyres, which was a very odd choice from Racing Point, given overtaking at Spa is usually easy.
The race resumed on Lap 15, and we saw some different tyre strategies in the Top 10 – Albon was the only driver to change to Medium tyres, whereas 90% of the field was on the Hard tyre, giving the immediate advantage to the Red Bull, who would need to clear Ricciardo and gasly to make the strategy work.
On Lap 16, Hamilton reported loss of power, oddly enough just as he’d set a fastest lap, but it was apparently a case of ‘energy clipping’ in his battery.
The next lap, with the DRS still disabled, Ricciardo was able to slipstream Perez into Les Combes to retake 5th place, setting off after Gasly 2 seconds up the road, as Albon made a good move around the Mexican outside at The Bus Stop to end the lap.
That finally made Racing Point realise they should probably bring Perez in, rather than risk him ending up in a tyre barrier alongside his former teammate Ocon, which dropped him to last.
On Lap 21, Ricciardo had caught up to Gasly, and the Frenchman knew this was a fight he couldn’t win, and the Renault flew past with DRS, although Danny Ric was some 12 seconds behind the Top 3, who were running a totally different race to the other 14 cars.
After that, Ricciardo’s 4th place was never threatened.
Despite being on older tyres, Gasly was doing a darn good job keeping Albon behind for as long as he did, but the Thai’s tyre advantage finally won out on Lap 24, and the former teammates swapped positions.
Out in the lead, Verstappen was keeping the Mercedes drivers honest, hovering at 1.5 seconds behind Bottas, who had been dropped by Hamilton.
If you don your Captain Hindsight cape, THAT was the moment Red Bull should’ve pitted Verstappen, given they were probably trying to recreate the Mercedes Silverstone tyre blowouts at the end of the race.
In a race where they got more air time than the cars actually leading the race, Ferrari pitted LeClerc again on Lap 24, putting him on to Mediums, and also having to top the car up with pneumatic pressure, just to cap off their woes.
As the laps ticked over, Ocon passed Gasly on Lap 26, as Alpha Tauri finally pitted the Frenchman, giving him 17 laps on Medium tyres, albeit from second-last, as oddly enough, LeClerc set the fastest lap from last place.
Meantime, Vettel was locking up badly into Les Combes as Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo climbed up to 12th, as the German mentioned that he was going to get “Eaten up” by the cars behind (One of them being the Haas), while Bottas complained about numbness in his left leg, which was fitting, because I felt numbness watching the latest edition of Formula One Groundhog day.
In between the Ferraris nearly coming to blows, the race race director was focused on Perez and Gasly clawing their way back into the points, and funnily enough, they both ended up together again in 10th and 11th on Lap 36, both attacking Gasly’s teammate Kvyat.
Perez passed the Russian to climb up to 9th, but Gasly on the fresh Mediums was irresistible, and by Lap 39, he ripped past Perez at Les Combes:
Such was the pace of the Alpha Tauri that Gasly reeled in Lance Stroll on Lap 42 to take 8th place, and it may have been the fact that he was the only sucker giving the viewers some entertainment, or his tributes to Hubert, but Gasly was voted Driver Of The Day.
I can’t say he didn’t deserve it.
With absolutely nothing happening between the Top 3, interest for the final 10 Laps soon turned to tyre life, as all the Top 10 drivers tried eeking out a 30+ lap stint on these tyres, which Silverstone proved came with the risk of a tyre blowout.
Showing signs of struggle, both Mercedes locked up at the Bus Stop and had to cut the corner, while Ricciardo was right in the pit window of Verstappen, which meant Red Bull couldn’t run the risk of pitting the Dutchman again without losing a place to the Renault.
The McLaren of Norris was finishing very well, setting a personal best lap on 28-lap old tyres in his climb up to 7th place, and just as he had done at Silverstone, Ricciardo had managed his tyres superbly, and was setting personal bests in the final laps, taking seconds out of Verstappen, although he was too far back to threaten the podium.
Some 20 seconds behind Ricciardo, Ocon found himself unable to pass a struggling Albon, but leaving it right to the last lap, Ocon got a much better exit out of Turn 1, and being much closer than before, the Renault finally passed the Red Bull for 5th, equalling his career best finish, which was vital, because Norris was a lap away (So he claimed) from nailing Albon.
At the end of the day, nobody was touching Hamilton, who had delivered yet another Mercedes masterclass to win by a comfortable 8 seconds to Bottas, his first Top 2 finish since Austria, Verstappen was a lonely 3rd, while Ricciardo set the fastest lap on the last lap to get the bonus point!
That was superb from Dan The Man – He was only 3.4 seconds off the podium, and that last lap was 4 seconds faster, mainly due to him deploying all of his stored ERS, while Max was told to nurse the tyres home.
It led to this very happy conversion between Ricciardo and the Renault pit wall.
It cost Hamilton the Grand Slam of Pole, Victory, Led Every Lap & the Fastest Lap….. It’s all about the small victories when you’re a midfield team.
It was Hamilton’s 40th consecutive points finish, he passed Schumacher for most kilometres in the lead of a Grand Prix (24,244km), Mercedes are now on to 30 consecutive races leading at least one lap, one behind the Williams-Renault record of 31 between 1995-97.
Just capping off the Maranello misery, the Ferraris were outmatched by Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo with the same engine, and they barely finished ahead of Nicolas Latifi’s Williams, who weren’t wrong when they predicted they’d be racing Ferrari this weekend.
Williams fighting Ferrari…. the only problem is, it’s not 2015, let alone 2003 or 1997.
When the most exciting track on the F1 calendar can’t bring about a good race, then you know the product is well and truly up shit creek.
That’s all I have to say about this season, and will probably say again next Monday when Mercedes cleave everyone again and Max runs a lonely 3rd.
Anyway, back to the goodness that came from Dan’s 4th place.
He’s soared up to 8th in the Drivers’ Standings, he claimed Renault’s first Fastest lap since Robert Kubica at Canada in 2010, 4th and 5th matched their performance at Monza last season, their 23 point haul was the factory team’s best-ever from a race, and despite still being in 6th in the Constructors’ Championship, they’re now only 9 points behind McLaren in 3rd.
Yep, it’s that close between 3rd and 6th, with Racing Point’s penalty still standing:
With the way the teams performed on the straights in Spa, I can’t help but feel slightly confident that Renault are at least going to leapfrog Ferrari on their own holy ground this weekend.
Next Up: The Italian Grand Prix at Monza this weekend