F2 Spa preview: Red Bull juniors aiming to impress in Belgium

After a week off, Formula 2 returns this weekend for the start of another triple header at Spa-Francorchamps, in support of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix.

One driver looking for a big result when track action begins is Yuki Tsunoda. After taking his first F2 win at the second Silverstone round, Tsunoda has been touted by Alpha Tauri boss Franz Tost as a potential driver for the team next year.

At the moment Tsunoda is doing everything he needs to get his F1 shot, as his fourth place in the standings will earn him enough points for a 2021 super licence. But in a series like F2, the championship order can change from weekend to weekend, so Tsunoda can’t afford to rest easy now.

With only five points between him and Christian Lundgaard ahead, another top three result in either race this weekend would do much to secure Tsunoda’s bid for a 2021 F1 drive.

But Tsunoda won’t be the only one aiming to impress Tost this weekend. As well as his Carlin teammate Jehan Daruvala, the Red Bull junior team will also be represented by Juri Vips. The Estonian is racing for DAMS for the next three rounds, standing in for Sean Gelael as he recovers from the back injury he suffered in Spain.

DAMS have said they’re treating Spa as a test weekend for Vips rather than a proper race outing, given that he’s jumping into F2 machinery for the first time. But with Vips’ pedigree and results from F3 last year, he should be able to get up to speed very quickly and may give some of the grid’s more established drivers something to worry about before the weekend’s through.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

While these two Red Bull juniors will be battling for their F1 shot, Ferrari juniors Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman will be picking up where they left off in their tight duel for the F2 title.

As things stand Ilott is 18 points ahead of his rival, following a clean weekend in Barcelona while Shwartzman again missed out on points in the sprint race. Where Shwartzman had started off the season in dominant form, Ilott has been the more consistent driver since, picking up 58 points to Shwartzman’s 16 over the second triple header starting at Silverstone.

After a week off, Shwartzman will be hoping to regroup in Spa, where he took a commanding double podium in F3 last year. Two consistent points finishes after his barren run in the last three rounds would do a lot to restore his campaign. But with Ilott building a gap Shwartzman realistically needs to be targeting the podium again this weekend if he’s to regain the lead before it’s too late.

But although there’s plenty to talk about on-track this weekend, F2’s return to Spa is also about remembering the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert in last year’s feature race, and the serious injuries suffered by Juan Manuel Correa in the same incident.

Ahead of this year’s race F2 has announced that it will permanently retire Hubert’s number 19 from the championship, which was not assigned to any car this year. A minute of silence will also be held before Saturday’s feature race, as well as Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix, to remember Hubert.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Schuey’s Moments of Madness

You cannot talk about Michael Schumacher, without bringing up his various incidents on track. I’ve picked out these particular examples, one of which came before his Formula One debut.

1990 Macau Grand Prix

This event, held for Formula Three cars saw a big battle between him and Mika Hakkinen. On the last lap of the event, having just started the final lap Mika was tucked up under the rear wing of Michael’s Reynard, and didn’t need to overtake the German to win the event. As the Finn went to pass his rival, Michael made the one move which would become a signature of his career and the two cars come together. Mika’s car, run by West Surrey Racing, was damaged on the left-hand side, with broken suspension and front wing. Mika was out, and Michael went on to win the event.

 

1994 Australian Grand Prix

For the next incident, we jump forwards to 1994. The battle that year between Damon and Michael was epic. As the two drivers came to the final race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, held at the iconic Adelaide street circuit, Damon was just a single point behind Michael, after taking victory in a very wet Japanese Grand Prix. Now on lap 35, having taken the lead at the start of the race from Nigel Mansell who was on pole position, the Benetton driver had a moment coming into a left-hand corner, and he caught the rear of the car, but went wide, hitting the wall on the exit, and almost certainly damaging his car. Damon was around two seconds away, and witnessed Michael re-joining the track. The Brit didn’t know that Michael had hit the wall. Coming into the following right-hand corner, Damon moved to the inside of Michael, but the gap closed down, and the two cars came together. Now, Michael certainly knew that his car was damaged, so, did he move over on his championship rival? My opinion is that he did.

 

1997 European Grand Prix

Moving on to the next incident at Jerez at the end of 1997, I believe that this was pretty obvious to all. The battle between Jacques Villeneuve and the German for that season’s title, as Ferrari looked at the time to win their first championship since 1979 was big indeed, and Michael once more was leading the championship by one point as they came to the finale. The top three set the same time in qualifying with the Canadian on pole, followed by Michael, and then Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Michael took the lead, and Jacques dropped behind his teammate to third place. During lap seven, Jacques passed Heinz, and set about closing the gap to Michael. On lap 22 they both pitted, but Michael’s pace on his new set of tyres was not very good, and Jacques closed the gap down. During lap 47 the Canadian was right with Michael, and took a last gasp move up the inside, taking the Ferrari driver by surprise. Michael attempted to stop the Williams driver, by hitting the side of Jacques car, but this resulted in the steering getting broken on the Ferrari, and the car ended up in the gravel trap on the outside of the right-hand corner. It was a blatant move, and the FIA removed Michael from the drivers’ championship standings.

 

2000 Belgian Grand Prix

Moving onto the next big moment, which happened at the Belgian Grand Prix during the 2000 season. This was different from the previous events as it was not a championship decider, but Mika Hakkinen and Michael were still fighting for the championship. It was a wet to dry race and Mika led the race early on, with his rival down in fourth place. By lap 13 Michael was close enough to take advantage of Mika’s spin to take the lead. The Ferrari ace then had a 5.6 second lead at the end of the lap. As we came to the last few laps, Mika had been catching the leader, who had been suffering with tyres that had been overheating for a number of laps. He’d been driving off line on the Kemmel Straight to cool his tyres down, whilst Mika brought the gap down to just 1.6 seconds with just ten laps left. Coming up the Kemmel Straight with just five laps left, Mika was right on the tail of the Ferrari, and took a look up the inside but Michael edged the Ferrari over on the McLaren and Mika had to back out as the gap closed down. It was over the mark though, as Mika was very close to ending up on the grass. The McLaren driver got his own back however on the following lap with a dramatic move, and one that is well known – yes, that move with Ricardo Zonta in his BAR-Honda in the middle.

Ferrari Media

2006 Monaco Grand Prix

We head to Monte Carlo for the next incident, the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. Towards the end of qualifying, as Michael had already set the fastest time, and was on pole position, he came to La Rascasse, and didn’t make the corner. Meanwhile, his big rival for the championship, Fernando Alonso was on a quick lap, going purple in the first sector. Back at La Rascasse, the German ace was parked up, meaning that there were yellows being waved. Alonso had to back out of his quick lap, and thus it was suspected that Michael had done this deliberately. The FIA believed it, and after several hours the stewards stripped the Ferrari driver of pole, thus elevating the Renault driver who was second fastest.

Ferrari Media

2010 Hungarian Grand Prix

The final moment came in 2010 during the year when Michael made his return to Formula One with Mercedes-Benz, and it was against his former Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello during that years Hungarian Grand Prix. Coming to the end of the race, the Brasilian, who had qualified his Williams-Cosworth in twelfth position, was right on the German’s tail. Coming onto the start finish straight, Michael’s car slid at the rear mid corner point. Rubens was now within a one car length of the Mercedes-Benz, and was benefiting from the tow halfway down the straight. Michael had his car in the middle of the track, giving space to Rubens to go either side. The gap on the inside was starting to close, but there was good space for the Williams driver to make a move up the inside. By the time that Rubens was halfway alongside Michael, the gap had reduced and the pitwall was getting closer and closer as Michael continued to reduce the space that Rubens had. In the end the gap came right down to the point that Rubens left-hand tyres were on the inner white line near the pitwall, with the result that the right-hand side was very close to hitting the pitwall! Thankfully, the pitlane was just beyond, and crucially no-one was exiting the pitlane at that moment! There was immediate criticism after the race of Michael’s actions. One thing was true – he’d lost nothing of his dislike of being overtaken, and was still willing to push the envelope of what was right. Michael was given a ten-place grid penalty for the following race in Belgium, and although he initially defended his actions, he later apologised for his actions.

Mercedes AMG

Summary

Michael Schumacher was an incredible talent – there is no doubt about this. But he really used to push the envelope as to what was acceptable. He became the most successful driver ever, winning 91 races and seven world championships, but there will always be these incidents casting a shadow over his career.

F3 Belgium: Armstrong untouchable in Spa sprint race

Prema Racing’s Marcus Armstrong took his second Formula 3 victory of 2019 at the sprint race in Belgium, as a fierce battle for the podium positions behind allowed him to cruise away in the lead.

Armstrong made a good start from reverse grid pole to cover off a challenge from Hitech’s Leo Pulcini, who started second on the grid. Pulcini then found himself sandwiched between Red Bull juniors Yuki Tsunoda and Juri Vips going into the La Source hairpin, where he made contact with Tsunoda trying to defend second. This forced Pulcini wide, where he in turn banged wheels with Vips on the outside of the corner and sent the Estonian driver onto the run off.

With Pulcini and Vips dropping back, Tsunoda assumed second place and ART’s Christian Lundgaard took third ahead of championship leader Robert Shwartzman. Pulcini initially filtered back into fifth between Shwartzman and Jehan Daruvala, but was passed by the final Prema into Les Combes on lap 3.

Meanwhile, Vips dropped back to eighth and immediately had to defend from Max Fewtrell’s ART. Fewtrell got the move done into the bus stop chicane at the end of lap 2, demoting Vips out of the sprint race points. Behind them, Logan Sargent got involved in his second incident of the weekend by spinning around MP Motorsport’s Liam Lawson.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

On lap 4, the safety car was deployed after Simo Laaksonen lost control of his car at Blanchimont while fighting Alex Peroni and ended up deep in the barriers. The medical car was deployed to bring him to the medical centre for treatment, although initial reports are that Laaksonen is not badly injured.

The race resumed on lap 9 of 17, and the restart brought incidents throughout the field. Vips ran into the back of Fewtrell trying to retake eighth and broke off his front wing in the process, which left the Red Bull junior vulnerable to Fewtrell’s ART teammate David Beckmann. Vips shortly dropped to the back of the field, where he was joined by Jake Hughes and Devlin DeFrancesco, who collided going into Les Combes.

At the front, Armstrong opened up a lead of 1.4 seconds over Tsunoda at the restart. Tsunoda seemed to struggle during this second phase of the race, and within a few laps was under pressure from Lundgaard. The Dane closed up to within half a second, then on lap 14 dove down the inside of Tsunoda and took second place.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

However, Tsunoda kept with Lundgaard and on the following lap tried to retake the position around the outside of Les Combes. Although that move was unsuccessful, Tsunoda managed to beat Lundgaard on the inside there on the following lap, after Lundgaard ran into his rev limiter defending down the Kemmel Straight.

Losing second to Tsunoda dropped Lundgaard back into the clutches of Shwartzman, who was only three tenths behind the ART. On the final lap and again at Les Combes, Shwartzman moved up the inside and took his seventh podium of the year, and second of the Spa weekend.

At the end of lap 17 Armstrong crossed the line with four seconds in hand over Tsunoda and Shwartzman. Lundgaard held on to fourth ahead of Daruvala, Saturday’s feature race winner Pedro Piquet took sixth place from Pulcini, and the final point went to Carlin’s Teppei Natori after Fewtrell retired from eighth with a puncture.

After the Spa weekend, Shwartzman’s championship lead has been extended to 23 points over Daruvala, who has moved up to second at the expense of Vips. Armstrong consolidated his fourth place over Lundgaard and is now only three points behind Vips.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Anthoine Hubert: 1996–2019

BWT Arden and Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert has passed away at the age of 22 following a horrific crash during the F2 feature race in Belgium.

Hubert was caught up in an incident on the second lap of the race, triggered by Giuliano Alesi running wide and losing control at the top of Eau Rouge. After making contact with Alesi and the barriers, Hubert’s car was then struck at high speed by Juan Manuel Correa and sustained severe damage.

The FIA confirmed shortly afterwards in a statement on its website that Hubert had succumbed to his injuries and passed away at 18:35 local time. The FIA also said that Correa is currently in a stable situation and undergoing treatment at hospital, and that Alesi has been declared fit and released from the track medical centre.

Campos driver Marino Sato was also caught up in the incident, and fortunately was able to walk away. The F2 feature race was immediately suspended and will not be rerun.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Hubert had established himself as one of the leading figures in Formula 2 during his debut this season, taking two sprint race wins in Monaco and France alongside seven other points finishes. Supported by the Renault Sport Academy, he was in line for a top drive with either DAMS or ART next year.

Hubert began his racing career in karts at the age of twelve, and finished third in the 2011 and 2012 U18 CIK-FIA World Karting Championships. In 2013 he made his car-racing debut in the French F4 championship, which he won at his first attempt before stepping up to Formula Renault for the following year. In 2016, Hubert graduated to European Formula 3 and won his first race in the series at the Norisring.

For 2017 Hubert joined ART Grand Prix in the GP3 championship, and was an instant star. He took his first podium (second place) at the third round at Silverstone, and went on to claim a further three podiums at the Hungaroring, Monza and Jerez to finish the year fourth in the standings.

Remaining with ART for 2018, Hubert built on his debut season to conduct an impressive championship campaign. Two consecutive podiums at the opening round in Spain led to his first GP3 victory on home soil at Paul Ricard. Hubert then converted pole at Silverstone into his second feature race win, and went on a run of five podium finishes across Hungary, Belgium and Italy. Two further podiums in Russia and Abu Dhabi sealed the 2018 GP3 title for Hubert by 16 points over teammate Nikita Mazepin.

Anthoine Hubert was one of the leading lights of the junior categories and will be sorely missed in the Grand Prix paddock. ThePitCrewOnline extends its deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

F3 Belgium: Piquet denies Prema victory

Pedro Piquet and Trident took their first Formula 3 victory in the Spa feature race, enjoying a comfortable lead over his Prema challengers throughout.

Piquet got a good launch from second on the grid and passed polesitter Jehan Daruvala for the lead on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Daruvala’s teammate and championship rival Robert Shwartzman dropped back through the order from his starting spot in fourth.

While Piquet was passing Daruvala, two separate incidents further back brought out a virtual safety car: Jake Hughes was spun out of fifth place by Logan Sargent, and Alex Peroni misjudged an overtake on Devlin DeFrancesco and ended up in the barriers.

When the racing resumed, Piquet opened up his gap over Daruvala to nearly five seconds, while Shwartzman set about climbing back through the field. On lap 14 Shwartzman caught Daruvala and passed him for second place. Shwartzman then took 1.2 seconds out of Piquet’s lead, but with only three laps remaining he was unable to challenge the Trident for the lead and had to settle for second place.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Hitech’s Leonardo Pulcini looked set to finish fourth having run ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, Juri Vips and Christian Lundgaard for most of the race. But in the final laps Pulcini’s pursuers closed in and they went four-wide on the Kemmel Straight. Pulcini was the big loser and dropped behind, while Lundgaard appeared to come out in front but went wide into Les Combes and allowed Vips through into fourth.

But Lundgaard kept up the pressure on the Red Bull junior, and a lock up for Vips at the Bus Stop chicane on the last lap gave Lundgaard the opening to take fourth place across the line.

Vips managed to keep fifth place ahead of Tsunoda and Pulcini. Prema’s Marcus Armstrong finished eighth to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow, and Lundgaard’s ART teammates Max Fewtrell and David Beckmann rounded out the points in ninth and tenth.

Max Fewtrell, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

F3 Belgium preview: All eyes on Prema

Round 6 of the 2019 Formula 3 season takes place this weekend in Belgium, where Prema will be feeling the pressure to keep up their command of the championship.

The Italian team have won half of all the races run so far this season and their drivers occupy three of the top four spots in the championship. For Robert Shwartzman, who currently tops the standings on 124 points, the goal will be to steer his car towards another podium at the very least and increase his 12-point lead over second-placed Juri Vips.

However, Shwartzman will be hard-pressed by his own teammates. Jehan Daruvala needs to regain some ground in the title battle at Spa, after a pair of non-points finishes at Silverstone and the Hungaroring undid his run of podiums and wins earlier in the season. And in fourth place in the standings, Marcus Armstrong will be looking to prove he is every bit in contention as his teammates after his first series win in the Hungary sprint race.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

But there’s no guarantee Prema will have it all their way in Spa this weekend. After dominating the first two rounds, in which Shwartzman and Daruvala took a feature and sprint race win apiece, the Italian team have faced a stern fightback from the likes of Hitech, HWA Racelab and ART.

Vips is as much a contender for victory this weekend as any of the Premas, and taking a third win of the season will go a long way to impressing his Red Bull bosses as they evaluate where to place the Estonian next year.

Nor can Christian Lundgaard be discounted. After a rocky opening to the season, including four consecutive non-points finishes across France and Austria, the Renault junior driver was imperious in Hungary as he sealed pole position, fastest lap and victory in the feature race. Provided Lundgaard and ART have made a genuine breakthrough with the 2019 F3 car, there’s every reason to expect this pairing at the front for the rest of the year.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Lower down the order, several drivers will be hoping to reignite their campaigns after the summer reset as they look to improve their positions in the 2020 driver market.

David Beckmann is one of those. After scoring three wins with Trident in last year’s GP3 championship, Beckmann has struggled with ART this year and is currently 11th with only four points finishes. With stablemates Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell a long way ahead of him in the points, Beckmann needs a good result in Belgium to get his season back on track.

Also needing to step up his game in the final three rounds is Yuki Tsunoda. Although the Japanese driver is currently dominating his Jenzer teammates (being the team’s only point-scoring driver), he remains 12th in the championship and behind fellow Red Bull juniors Vips and Liam Lawson. Tsunoda is having a much better season in the 2019 Euroformula Open championship, where he is fourth with one win and three further podiums, so there’s no doubt he’s got more speed to come if he and Jenzer can unlock the potential of his car in practice.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

FIA F2: Belgium preview

The three week summer break is over, and this weekend FIA Formula 2 returns for round 9 at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

At the last round in Hungary, Nicholas Latifi struck back at title rival Nyck de Vries with victory in the feature race—his first win since Spain in May. However, with 30 points still the difference between them in De Vries’ favour, Latifi will need another strong result here at Spa if he’s to swing the momentum back towards him for the final four rounds of the season.

Luca Ghiotto dropped back from the title contenders in Hungary, and now sits fourth in the standings behind DAMS’ Sergio Sette Camara. With Jack Aitken only one point behind him, Ghiotto will be looking for a strong return from the summer break to reassert himself at the top.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There will also be plenty of drivers to watch outside of the main title contenders. Carlin’s Nobuharu Matsushita—who won the feature race in Austria and finished on the podium again in Hungary—has said he is still hoping to earn an F1 promotion via his Honda academy links, but he will need to put in the results to get there. The Japanese driver needs to be at least fourth in the standings to earn his superlicence, which means overcoming the 50-point gap to Ghiotto.

Guanyu Zhou comes to Spa as the season’s best rookie in P6 with 107 points. But although he’s enjoyed a successful F2 debut with three podiums and pole position at Silverstone, the UNI-Virtuosi driver still has yet to claim his first win in the series.

Zhou’s closest competition for “best rookie” is fellow Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert. Although Hubert is 30 points adrift of Zhou, he has picked up two sprint race victories for BWT Arden this season and will be hungry for more in the final rounds as he chases a drive with DAMS or ART for next year.

And finally, Mick Schumacher won’t be able to avoid the spotlight this weekend following his first F2 victory in the Hungary sprint race. His fans will be hoping that win proves a breakthrough result after a sobering start to his F2 debut, especially with Spa and Monza being tracks Schumacher knows from his European F3 days.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Belgian Grand Prix: First-lap shunt calls time on halo debate

2018 is the debut season in F1, and in junior series F2, of the frontal head protection system more commonly known as the halo. Despite its unpopularity, the device has already proven its worth on numerous occasions.

Back when the halo was still in development, one of the crashes looked at was that of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean sent his car flying over Fernando Alonso’s, only narrowly missing the latter’s head. Grosjean was handed a race ban for the incident while everyone knew that Alonso had been very lucky to avoid any injury.

Joe Portlock / McLaren

This time it’s another first lap crash at Spa involving Alonso that has caused debate surrounding the halo, and one that could’ve had a much different outcome had the device not been there. Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by quite some way, later saying that the turbulent air from the cars in front took weight off the front of his car, and ploughed into the back of Alonso. The Spaniard, now a passenger, then hit the back of Charles Leclerc’s car and was launched over the top of the Sauber, coming into contact with its halo.

As in 2012, all drivers involved walked away from the incident unscathed, and thoughts quickly turned to what sort of penalty Hulkenberg should get. It turned out to be a 10-place grid penalty for Monza, though Alonso insists that the penalty should’ve been more like that given to Grosjean in 2012.

The sheer damage to Leclerc’s halo was only realised when images of the device were released during the race. Alonso’s car, and more specifically his tyre, had left black rubber marks all over the right side of the halo, along with the side of the Sauber. Clearly, the outcome could, and would, have been a lot worse if those tyre marks were on Leclerc’s helmet and not his halo, showing exactly why the protection device was introduced.

Another thing the crash perfectly demonstrated is why the FIA were unwilling to delay the halo’s introduction. Imagine if that crash had happened and the halo wasn’t there. The outcome would have been a lot worse, while the FIA would be open to numerous lawsuits and we might just have lost one of F1’s brightest young stars.

This crash is, however, not the first one in 2018 to prove the halo’s worth. When Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi came together earlier in the F2 season, Fukuzumi’s tyre ended up on Makino’s halo, leaving similar black marks to those left on Leclerc’s. This should have ended the halo debate there and then, with Makino saying that the halo “saved his life”, but still it rumbled on.

Haters of the halo are, on various social media platforms, still trying to find ways to complain about it, despite both Leclerc and Makino’s crashes. I’ve seen a lot say that the wheel wouldn’t have come into contact with either of their heads anyway, so the halo doesn’t need to be there. But, there’s no proof for that, either way. Surely, it’s better to err on the side of caution by having the halo there, rather than risk it with their head’s exposed.

The presence of the halo makes championships without it look very exposed and excessively dangerous by comparison. Take IndyCar, for example. At Pocono, there was a huge wreck in which Robert Wickens’ car came perilously close to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s head, and a piece of debris entered James Hinchcliffe’s cockpit causing damage to his hands. Just watching IndyCar, Pocono aside, it looks like their heads are so exposed, something that has only really come to light because of the halo.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The FIA have said that they’ll share their findings from Leclerc’s crash with IndyCar, but the latter is unable to use the halo due to visibility issues on ovals and super-speedways. Nevertheless, the American series is looking to introduce a windscreen-type solution for next season.

Fellow drivers have praised the halo after Leclerc’s crash, with Leclerc himself saying that he was glad to have it over his head. 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg declared that the halo discussion was over because it clearly can save lives while Felipe Massa said that it can now be called “beautiful”. There has been a huge outcry of support for the halo and a crash like this, however awful it is to say, was needed to prove to the doubters that the device effective. Now there can be no question about that.

The strongly-opinionated type will probably still criticise the halo but, the fact is, it’s the best solution to the problem that currently exists. Eventually, there will be a halo replacement or adaptation that is better-looking but, in the meantime, the halo is most definitely here to stay and whether you like it or not, expect other series to be adopting it very soon.

 

Featured image – Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team