Belgian Blockbuster in the wet? 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

Formula One rolls into the luscious town of Francorchamps this week, the threat of rain looms for the upcoming weekend as we await the 76th Belgian Grand Prix.

At a remarkable seven kilometres, Spa boasts the shortest name and the longest track on the calendar – which this year has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we all have reason to be extremely grateful to see Spa on the shortened and condensed list of races this year. It is one of the most challenging, exhausting and bravery-inciting circuits F1 has seen in its 70-year history – Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso can testify to that after flying car incidents into turn one in 2012 and 2018.

www.sutton-images.com | Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 crashes and gets airborne at the start of the race at Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 26 August 2018.
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And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday

The clouds that promise an invigorating twist to the tail throughout all three days of running could provide Red Bull the opportunity to win their fourth race here, with Dutchman Max Verstappen seeking to once again throw a spanner in Mercedes’ almost flawless works and earn his second win of the season after the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.

And it is a good thing for Mercedes’ rivals that the ominous rain threat is there – because this track suits the Silver Arrow almost down to a tee.

With tremendously long full-throttle sections and a heavily reduced necessity for downforce, Mercedes would expect to have the superior car around this track. And they still may. Coupled with excellent proficiency in the car, they have a six-time world champion in Lewis Hamilton that has won four of the last five rain-affected races in F1 – Germany last year being the only exception. He was also the last driver to win a rain-affected race in Belgium back in 2010.

Racing Point, dubbed the pink Mercedes in the midst of the “copying” row, also know that if they can master the wet conditions, a podium finish may be on the cards for them – it would be their first since Sergio Perez in Baku two years ago.

The Ferrari powered cars would be grateful of some rain too this weekend. Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo have all struggled immensely in the early part of the campaign, and some unpredictable weather conditions may just be the catalyst needed for a strong result for those teams – it seems outrageous saying this given that Ferrari won this race last year with Leclerc.

Charles Leclerc dedicates his 2019 win to friend Anthoine Hubert – who lost life earlier in the weekend – Ferrari Media

McLaren, who now have two podiums to their name in as many seasons, looked incredibly strong with Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Styria in the wet, and will undoubtedly sense an opportunity themselves.

As F1 returns to Spa, Charles Leclerc knows he may just need a sprinkle to claim a second consecutive win here – and while there will be no orange wall for Max Verstappen, it looks likely there will be a few walls of spray this weekend.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

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: Hamilton Claims Pole as Force India Impress in Rain-Affected Qualifying

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.

2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Steve Etherington

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.

2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

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

Norris to make McLaren FP1 debut in Belgium

McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris will make his F1 race weekend debut at the Belgian Grand Prix, taking over Fernando Alonso’s car for Friday practice.

The running will mark Norris’ third time driving McLaren’s MCL33, following appearances at the in-season tests in Barcelona and Hungary, and could be followed by another FP1 drive next weekend at Monza.

McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran called the Friday practice role “part of [Norris’] ongoing development”. He added that the team would “take a strategic view race-by-race” whether to give Norris any more outings in future Grands Prix.

Zak Mauger, LAT Images / FIA F2 Media

Coming after Alonso’s decision to leave F1 at the end of 2018, it’s understood that McLaren will use Norris’ Friday performances to judge whether he is ready for a promotion to F1 for next year in place of Stoffel Vandoorne.

Norris had been tipped to join McLaren in 2019 after storming to an early lead in this year’s Formula 2 championship. But a run of varying results in the mid-season triple header, which led to George Russell taking the title lead in Austria, have raised questions about whether next year is too soon for the 18-year-old to make his F1 debut.

Norris is currently 12 points behind Russell in the standings, and has one win to Russell’s four.

Joe Portlock / McLaren

Renault to trial 2019 aero at Spa

Renault director Cyril Abiteboul has said that the team will begin trialling concepts for its 2019 car at Spa this weekend, as focus at Enstone turns towards the new wing regulations coming for next year.

“Most of our resources are now focused in preparing for 2019,” Abiteboul said. “We are pushing on with aero developments, and will bring some concepts at upcoming races onto the R.S.18 that are ultimately destined for next year’s car.

“We have been offensive and decisive in the driver market [in signing Daniel Ricciardo] and now we have to do the same on both chassis and engine development.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Abiteboul also said that, despite looking ahead to 2019, Renault will still “keep bringing developments to this year’s car to find gains wherever possible”.

Technical director Nick Chester said that maintaining their development pace will be key in making sure Renault stays ahead of Haas and Force India in the fight for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship:

“We’re in a super tight battle in the midfield. We’re being pushed hard and we have quite a lot of work to do.

“The objective is to find raw car pace. We have to put more performance on the car to have a good fight until the end of the year. We have a new floor for Spa and some other bodywork parts to go with that, which should be helpful.”

Renault Sport F1 Team