image courtesy Lars Baron, Getty images / Red Bull content pool
What happened at Spa last Sunday was a farce. There is no need to mince our words.
Criticism, especially when it’s constructive and well-minded, is needed in times like these, when Formula 1 and the FIA have handled an admitedly difficult situation poorly.
The 3-hour stand-off to wait for the rain to ease off (never-mind stop at that point) was a remarkably bad decision, not only on hindsight, but also as we went through it.
Weather radars repeatedly showed that the rain was going to keep on falling for a long time. Michael Masi, the race director since Charlie Whiting’s untimely death back in March 2019, waited for an opening on the weather, which was about to come around 17:40 local time. That’s the reason they stopped the clock after 2 hours of no running (well, we had 2 laps, let’s not be too unreasonable!), only to have an hour in our hands to resume the race, even for such a short period of time.
Of course, the rain never really stopped, it didn’t even ease off. No such scenario was on the horizon in the first place.
F1, and the FIA as a result, took a decision solely based on two factors: the need to do a race for the spectators at home, and the need to put on a show for those at attendance at the track.
It was with great pleasure when I read that the race organisers, as well as F1 and the FIA will discuss on refunding the 70,000 spectators at Spa one way or another. They deserve their money back, since for some of them the memory of their first ever F1 race from the sidelines was an utter disappointment.
And let us be clear. Safety is paramount, and with such a poor visibility due to the standing water on the surface of the track, and the continuous rain falling on it, made the possibility of having a race (or, at least, a normal race) practically non existent.
That realisation that we, as fans, made quite early on, Masi and his team did too. But, they pushed on for a hopeless case.
And TV scheduling, the money that sponsors and promoters, broadcasters and shareholders made those responsible of the race being cancelled or not really anxious of the possibility of actually pulling the plug and calling it a day.
It is days like these that we all collectively realise that Formula 1 is and has always been a business – a well-run, pretty exciting, show-stopping business, mind you, but a business nonetheless.
And as a business, it has to cater for those that open and close the money faucet, those who keep the wheels rolling. Unfortunately for everyone else, this means exploiting loopholes in the already flawed rules and regulations, trying to find a way to continue and actually ‘finish’ the race.
When race direction saw that the potential of a somewhat normal conclusion to this already chaotic day was minuscule, it tried to push forward and actually award points – it saw this as a ‘natural’ way to put an end to all this. They put on the 60 minutes countdown to the end of the race, as if it was ever going to last more than 2 laps behind the Safety Car, in order to have an official classification.
Drivers were really perplexed by that decision, with some of them calling for a swift change around the rules on this issue, showing their dismay with the way it was all handled. It was a farce.
No one wants to see a high speed, no visibility passing through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, or a high speed crash like those we witnessed on Friday and Saturday.
But no one wants to wait four hours for nothing. And for a sport that takes proud in its technological prowess and its innovative ways, that was at the very least below par.
Lewis Hamilton has claimed his 78th pole position in Formula One, setting a time seven tenths quicker than title rival Sebastian Vettel as rain showers shook things up in Q3 at Spa-Francorchamps.
The Brit now holds the record for the most pole positions claimed at the circuit, beating the previous record of four poles held by Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna.
Ferrari had looked as if they had the edge coming into qualifying, with the Scuderia setting the fastest times in every practice session as well as in Q1 and Q2. However, when the rain started to fall in Q3, the pendulum swung in Mercedes’ favour. Sebastian Vettel managed to significantly improve his lap time in the final runs of Q3 as the track began to dry but it wasn’t enough to overthrow Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timing screens. He will start the race tomorrow in P2.
Force India, or Racing Point Force India if you want to be pedantic, saw both of their drivers put in superb performances. Esteban Ocon – whose future is uncertain amid rumours of Lance Stroll being drafted into the team as soon as Monza or Singapore – qualified an amazing P3. Team-mate Sergio Perez recovered from a huge moment coming out of Eau Rouge and going into Raidillon to post the fourth quickest time. There must be something in the Force India water at Spa, for this is the circuit where Giancarlo Fisichella claimed pole for them in 2009 and where previous incarnations of the team, notably Jordan Grand Prix, have always run well.
Also putting in a great performance was the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman had been surprisingly off the pace all weekend, but he managed to get it together when it mattered and qualified P5.
Kimi Raikkonen had been looking particularly strong all weekend, but Ferrari made the strategic error of only giving him enough fuel for one lap in Q3. This meant the Finn was confined to the garage towards the end of Q3 at precisely the moment when the fastest laps were being set on track. He ended up P6.
The Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will, like Raikkonen, definitely not be satisfied. Thanks to a mix of strategic error and the low-drag trim they had been running, they ended up P7 and P8 respectively and over four seconds away from Hamilton’s pole time.
The other Haas of Kevin Magnussen qualified P9, nearly three seconds behind his team-mate, and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten having failed to set a time in Q3. The Finn came into qualifying carrying engine penalties and knowing that, whatever happened, he would be starting the Grand Prix from the back of the grid.
Outside the top ten, the main surprise came in the form of Renault’s Carlos Sainz being knocked out of Q1 by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
Not so surprising, however, was the pace of the two McLaren cars. It is turning into a home race to forget for Stoffel Vandoorne – the Belgian had been slowest in FP1, FP2, and FP3, and that trend, unfortunately, continued into Q1. This was McLaren’s worst qualifying of the year so far, with Vandoorne’s team-mate Fernando Alonso also failing to make it out of Q1 and qualifying P17. They will, however, get bumped up a couple of places thanks to the engine penalties given to Valtteri Bottas and also to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Featured image: 2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Steve Etherington
In true Spa-Francorchamps fashion, Friday’s qualifying for this round of the FIA Formula 2 championship was a washout. But that didn’t stop Charles Leclerc from collecting his seventh pole position of the season, proving that Prema have magnificent one lap pace no matter what the conditions are. It was a top ten starting position for all three championship contenders, ensuring that they would all be up there on Saturday. After adding Nyck de Vries to their line-up, Racing Engineering had one of their best qualifying performances all season, with both of their drivers making it into top ten as well.
Before the race even started it was disappointment for DAMS’ Nicholas Latifi, who, after securing his first front row start in Formula 2 and out qualifying his teammate, was forced to the pit lane, and ultimately failed to get his car going at all. DAMS team boss Francois Sicard would later cite a broken valve as the cause of his woes. It was bitterly frustrating for the Canadian who has been having an outstanding season so far.
With the DAMS driver missing, it was a frenetic opening lap in Saturday’s feature race. Leclerc only just managed to fend off his main championship rival, Oliver Rowland, after a poor start, and their fellow championship contender Artem Markelov made up four places almost immediately to begin lap 2 in fifth place. There were cars making contact up and down the field, most notably between the brand new Racing Engineering teammates, with debris littering the track, and damage for many of the drivers. It was ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita that brought out the Virtual Safety Car after he stalled on the grid.
After racing resumed on lap 2, Leclerc got to work with putting distance between himself and the second placed Rowland, his Prema machinery running almost a second a lap faster than the DAMS. Russian Time’s Luca Ghiotto was proving that he could be just as aggressive a driver as his teammate as he took third place from Antonio Fuoco, and it was the Russian team’s cars who were making up the most ground, steadily cutting through the field.
Rowland and DAMS attempted the undercut on lap 7, but few of the other front runners followed suit, and when Leclerc made his stop on lap 11 and came out ahead, it was clear that the French team had lost the strategy game.
But the British driver did not give up his chase easily. He put on a real display of attacking driving, particularly his fantastic overtake on Norman Nato. However, his pace was simply no match for Leclerc’s, who was speeding away in a league of his own. It was Russian Time who called their strategy perfectly, aided by Markelov’s uncanny ability to manage his tyres. When he pitted on lap 16 of the twenty-five lap race and came out in fifth place, his penchant for aggressive driving and fresher tyres made for a killer combination as he tore through the competition.
It was déjà vu when the Russian came up against Rowland in his pursuit of second place. In a move reminiscent of their clash in Hungary, Markelov had more success this time when he overtook Rowland around the outside at the Bus Stop, in one of the most thrilling moments of the race which saw him take second place by less than a tenth of a second. The second and third placed drivers in the championship had to be content with letting the dominant Leclerc stand upon the top step of the podium as he finished an eye watering twenty-six seconds ahead of the field.
But the drama didn’t stop at the chequered flag. Late on Saturday night, news came that both Leclerc and Rowland had been disqualified from the feature race for the same technical infringement – excessive wear to the underfloor plank of their cars.
The title rivals were therefore sent to the back of the grid for the sprint race on Sunday while Markelov inherited the race win and his teammate Ghiotto found himself in second. It also meant a second podium of the season for Prema’s Antonio Fuoco, and an even better result for new Racing Engineering teammates Gustav Malja and Nyck de Vries who took fourth and fifth place. Reverse grid pole was given to Norman Nato, just behind Robert Merhi and Sergio Sette Camara, a welcome promotion for two drivers who scored their first points of the season. Trident’s Santino Ferrucci and Campos Racing’s Robert Visoiu were promoted to the final points paying positions as well.
There was much anticipation surrounding Sunday’s sprint race with the grid shaken up and several of the frontrunners starting from the grid, and as ever, Formula 2 did not disappoint.
It was a blistering start from MP Motorsport’s Sergio Sette Camara, who immediately improved from third to first, putting the more experienced Merhi and Nato behind him. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was proving to be something of a dream track for the young Brazilian who had not scored points prior to this weekend.
As expected, both Leclerc and Rowland were quickly making up ground, with the Yorkshireman gaining a one place advantage over his rival after Leclerc ran off the road early on lap 1. The DAMS driver was up to twelfth place by the end of the first lap, with Leclerc powering past Matsushita on the inside up Eau Rouge to take thirteenth place.
Despite fierce battling between Rowland and Leclerc, the Brit couldn’t keep him behind for long, and pretty soon the Ferrari junior driver was putting cars between his nearest title rival. In just a handful of laps he was back into the points, a brilliant recovery for the back row of the grid. But he wasn’t quite finished yet.
Leclerc ran into some trouble when trying to pass his teammate Fuoco and the promoted race winner from the previous day, Markelov. Ultimately, he found a way past both of them as Markelov began to fade, dropping back, and eventually retiring with a suspected engine issue on lap 13.
It was Matsushita’s nasty crash at Raidillon on lap 15 that sealed the result of the race. The Japanese driver thankfully walked away unharmed, but the damage from his crash meant that the race finished under safety car conditions and Sergio Sette Camara held on to score his first win in single seater racing. And it was a well deserved victory too after such an impressive start and withstanding pressure from de Vries for the duration of the eighteen lap race.
An improvement of fourteen places was the best Leclerc could do, though it easily could have been more had the safety car not been deployed. DAMS teammates Rowland and Latifi also recovered from their poor starting positions, coming home in eighth and ninth, the Canadian unlucky to finish just outside of the points. It could have been a very different weekend for all three drivers had they not found themselves on the wrong side of misfortune. The trio’s nearest competitors, teammates Ghiotto and Markelov tried their hardest to capitalise on their hard luck, and the former’s double podium promoting him to fourth in the drivers’ standings ahead of Latifi.
After such a disappointing season before the break, Racing Engineering seem to be recovering some of the form we expected from them at the start of the season, with solid points finishes from both their drivers. Whilst his teammate was grabbing the headlines once again – though not for all of the right reasons – Antonio Fuoco had his second best weekend of the season with a decent qualifying performance and two points finishes. It still isn’t quite the superhuman feats of Leclerc, but it does prove that his early season struggles may have been something of an adjustment period. And the Italian is beginning to look more like the title challenger we saw in GP3 last year.
Thanks in part to the double disqualification from the feature race, the points situation as we head to Monza in a week’s time is much the same as it was coming to Spa, with Leclerc leading by fifty-nine points. Though now Rowland is just nine points ahead of Markelov after the Russian’s stunning drive on Saturday.
Prema and Leclerc’s pace still reigns supreme, and around the team’s home track, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the last place anyone should underestimate them.
When Formula 2 returns after the summer break, it enters its final quarter, where the 2017 title will be decided once and for all. It will take a comeback of epic proportions from Oliver Rowland or Artem Markelov to catch Charles Leclerc, but it is far from impossible. The break presents a perfect opportunity to reinvigorate their championship campaigns, and neither is the kind of driver to go down without a fight.
The eighth round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship takes place at the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite of many of the drivers thanks to its incredibly fast, twisting layout. It also marks the first weekend of the second double header of races in F2 this season, with the ninth round at Monza coming just a week later. The pressure is on to deliver, with time fast running out.
The Formula 2 grid lining up in Belgium will look a little different to the one viewers have grown accustomed to. Rookies Louis Deletraz and Nyck de Vries are swapping seats from round eight onwards, with the Swiss driver making the switch to Rapax and the Dutchman joining Racing Enigeering. Though the mechanics behind such a move are unknown to us, it is surprising, considering Racing Engineering’s poor form this year, and de Vries’ relative success with Rapax. Deletraz will not partner Rapax regular, Sergio Canamasas in Spa, but rather ex-Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi, who will be filling in for his fellow Spainaird, who is missing the round due to personal issues.
As ever, all eyes will be on Charles Leclerc, who will hope to do a repeat of his result at the track in GP3 last year, when he successfully converted pole position into a feature race win. And with rumours growing that he is poised to take one of the Sauber seats in Formula 1 next year, the expectations will be higher than ever that he continues the dominant form that he has been showing all year. After the stripping of his pole in Budapest, he will be looking to get his record back on track, and his team, Prema, will be looking for him to do so as well to help them close the gap to DAMS in the team standings.
His teammate, Antonio Fuoco will also be hoping to draw on his experience from GP3 to help him improve upon his, at best, shaky form of 2017. He, like Nyck de Vries, qualified well in 2016, and scored one podium over the weekend, picking up a strong haul of points. But for their fellow GP3 graduate, ART’s Alexander Albon, a repeat of last year is far from what he needs, after a poor qualifying saw him pick up only two points over the whole weekend. The Thai driver has looked reliable throughout his rookie season, but has thus far fallen just short of doing something remarkable to turn heads in his direction, Spa represents the latest in a dwindling number of opportunities for him to pull that off.
Albon’s teammate, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita had an ultimately forgettable outing in Belgium last year. However, Matsushita is having one of his better seasons, taking the most recent race win in the sprint race in Hungary. He is a driver, while too far down the standings to actually feature in the title battle, could prove to play a part in the championship outcome if it all comes together for him.
Pertamina Arden’s Norman Nato is another example of a driver who could spoil the fun for the championship leaders. While Arden have struggled at times this year, Nato undoubtedly possesses the ability to win races and score podiums, it is just a matter of have a consistent weekend. That is also the problem for his teammate Sean Gelael, who sits in seventeenth in the driver standings, compared to Nato’s seventh. His season has been plagued with bad luck, but he has also failed to take advantage of fortune when it has come his way. In Spa he will most likely be a driver who occupies the lower points paying positions, rather than a contender for pole or a win.
Racing Engineering’s Gustav Malja was one of six drivers who occupied the GP2 podium in Belgium last year, taking second in the sprint race. But, the Spanish team is not at the level they were last year, and while the Swedish driver has scored a podium already this season, Racing Engineering need to conquer their set up demons if Malja, or newcomer Nyck de Vries are to deliver this weekend. It is a similar story for teams such as Campos Racing and MP Motorsport. All three teams tend to run at the back of the field, and though some of their drivers, such as Malja, but also Jordan King (MP Motorsport), have the ability to score points, they are not going to be running with the likes of DAMS, Prema or Russian Time.
Trident, who currently take the record for fielding the most drivers this season, seem to have finalised their line-up for the remainder of 2017, with Santino Ferucci graduating from GP3. The Haas development driver scored points in his debut in Hungary, but in Spa he has a chance to prove whether or not this was simply a case of beginner’s luck, or proving that he has what it takes to step up. Consistency in their line-up will likely help the entire team, and maybe help lift them from last in the team standings.
As they are most weekends, DAMS and Russian Time will be the teams looking to cause trouble for Leclerc. But for Russian Time to get back on terms with their nearest rivals, they need Artem Markelov to recover well from his poor weekend in Hungary – marred by his crash in the feature race. His teammate Luca Ghiotto, meanwhile, needs an upturn in his qualifying performance to deliver the results his race pace warrants. He remains the only driver in the top five not to score a race win in 2017.
Neither team seem quite able to match his and Prema’s one lap pace in qualifying, though DAMS has been steadily improving in this aspect all season, so it would be unfair to count them out just yet. While it is Latifi who is hitting his best form this season, it is his teammate Rowland who needs to deliver in Spa if he wants to stay in the hunt. The Brit cannot afford to let Leclerc extend his lead much further, or he will quickly become impossible to catch and the championship will be over before Formula 2 ever reaches Abu Dhabi.
After a short break for the drivers and long for the fans, Formula One is back at our lives. The action returns to one of the most thrilling circuits on the calendar, at Spa in Belgium. Everyone is looking forward to watch a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton for the drivers’ championship.
Ferrari is willing to keep their driver line-up same for the next year, they started with Raikkonen’s contract. The Finn, extended his contract for one more season and he will remain with Scuderia Ferrari until 2018. Next on the schedule is Sebastian Vettel.
Mercedes will try to respond to Ferrari’s 1-2 in Hungary. The Silver Arrows, are aiming to gain points in order to extend their lead in the constructors’ championship which is currently at 40 points. Lewis Hamilton, has to win at least one of the two upcoming races (Spa, Monza) in order to stay close or even pass Sebastian Vettel. Valtteri Bottas looks confident and able to challenge the two contenders and win his first title in his Formula One career.
Toto Wolff – “The summer shutdown came at the perfect time for us to make a step back and take stock of our season so far. It has been a good one – and has shown a lot of the qualities of our team. On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important. But assumptions are dangerous – we have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next. So we will be making no assumptions; we have to tick off the items on our work list and make sure we do the best job to maximise our potential points score. The motivation and determination in the factory are greater than ever. Hungary showed the strength of our team – and we intend to use the second half of this season to prove that strength.”
CIRCUIT DE SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS
Circuit Length: 7.004 km
Race Length: 308.052 km
Lap Record: 1:47.263 (Sebastian Vettel – 2009)
Tyre sets available: Soft (Yellow), Supersoft (Red), Ultrasoft (Purple)
Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most historic circuits on the Formula One calendar, hosted a non-championship race in 1924. Spa it is also one of the longest circuits (7.004 km), it combines a mix of long straight and fast corners which makes it an attractive and challenging track for the drivers. The most famous corner is known as “Eau Rouge” and it is one of the most technically demanding corners, because of the evaluation change and the high speed.
Fernando Alonso – “I love the first race after the summer break! It’s a great feeling to come back feeling rested, relaxed and recharged, and ready to go again for the second half of the season. I’ve enjoyed time away with family and friends, worked hard on my training and now I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car. Spa is incredible – for many of us it’s one of our favourite tracks. It’s got a legendary reputation and it’s totally deserved. The feeling when you drive Eau Rouge is completely different to any other corner on the calendar. You’re so low in the car and the gradient is so steep that as you go up it you can only see the sky – it’s completely surreal. As the season goes on we’re getting stronger and stronger, and I hope the second half of the year will bring us some more points-earning finishes. This race is a difficult challenge for the whole team – the engineers and the mechanics – as you’re on the throttle for almost three-quarters of the lap, which makes it’s a tough circuit for both the car and the driver. We know we’ll have to work hard to get any kind of result there, but it’s a long lap and there are plenty of overtaking opportunities, so we’ll keep pushing to get everything we can from the weekend.”
McLaren will try to repeat their success and score more points in Belgium, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished sixth and tenth respectively in Hungary.
I am expecting a close battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, but the Silver Arrows might have a small advantage at the Spa.