The third triple-header of the F1 season kicked off at the awe-inspiring circuit of Spa-Francorchamps nestled in the Ardennes forest near the town of Spa. The drivers returned after a week of respite for Round Seven of the revised racing calendar.
There was news from the F1 world in the interim.
Dorilton Capital, a US-based investment firm took over Williams Racing F1 Team. Williams Racing was a family-run outfit and the third oldest team on the grid with a great history of racing in the sport. One can only hope that this acquisition would help them get back up the field.
All ten teams signed the Concorde Agreement confirming their participation until 2025.
The FIA also decided to delay their ban on
engine modes or "quali modes" until the Italian GP weekend, the weekend after Belgium.
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the longest track on the F1 calendar and demands a mix of power and balance for optimum lap times. The inclement weather and varying track conditions have the potential to play havoc in the races.
All teams carried a tribute for Anthoine Hubert, the Formula 2 racer from France who succumbed following an accident in the F2 Feature Race last year.
Here is a quick recap of the 2020 Race Weekend!
It was a cold and windy Friday morning with grey skies in Spa-Francorchamps. Free Practice 1 got underway with only a few runners in the first thirty minutes of the session. Norris ran wide at La Source while his team-mate Sainz suffered from DRS issues. Grosjean returned to the pits after complaining about a lack of power on his first run. His car would remain on stands with what seemed to be an engine issue. Magnussen suffered a similar fate in the other Haas car. Ferrari powered cars were slow in straight-line speed while Mercedes and Honda the quickest through the speed traps. Raikkonen and Hamilton tried different setups with their rear wings to get the right balance. However, it was
birthday boy Valtteri Bottas who was fastest in FP1. He suffered a puncture near the end of the session but was able to return safely to the pits. Less than a second covered P1 from P12 and a tenth the top 3. Hamilton was P2 from Verstappen and Perez. Stroll and Albon completed the top 6.
powered cars were in the top 10 with Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo and
were 11th and 12th for Alpha Tauri
13th for Alfa Romeo. Leclerc and Vettel
could only manage 14th and 15th while Latifi
completed the list of those who set a lap time. Giovinazzi
suffered from technical issues and was the third driver ( besides the Haas
duo ) unable to set a lap time.
There was a downpour during Formula 3 qualifying, but the track dried up at the start of Free Practice 2. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen were the first drivers on track with the former trying to make up for the time lost in FP1. Raikkonen suffered from tyre vibrations throughout FP2 and Norris reported abnormality in engine power which got addressed in the pits. Woes for Haas F1 continued into FP2 with the mechanics trying to make both cars track-worthy. Magnussen and Grosjean were finally able to get some laps with thirty minutes left of the session, both on new power units. As more rubber got laid, the lap times started going down. It was Verstappen who reigned supreme in FP2 with Ricciardo catapulting his Renault into P2. It wasn't a trouble-free session for the Australian though with Renault asking him to bring the car to a halt on the Kemmel straight with what seemed to be a hydraulics issue. Hamilton looked well settled in P3 while Albon got the other Red Bull into the top 4. Racing Point had representation in the top 6 with Perez and Bottas had a couple of hairy moments at Les Combes, ending the session in P6. Norris was P7 for McLaren from Ocon, Sainz and Gasly. Stroll's best lap fetched him the 11th fastest time, but on the medium tyres. Kvyat was P12 from Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. Ferrari had a forgettable Friday with Leclerc down in P15 and Vettel suffering a series of lock-ups to finish the session in P17. Russell split the Ferraris while Latifi and the two Haas cars brought up the rear of the field.
Red Bull with Verstappen seemed to be a worthy challenger for pole on Saturday and Albon looked more settled with his one-lap pace. Mercedes looked primed and ready for qualifying Saturday while the Ferrari powered teams were sweating after a troublesome Friday. The works team had a lot of setup changes to perform if they were to mount any challenge come Sunday. Belgium has always been a happy hunting ground for Racing Point, and Friday running didn't suggest otherwise. Renault was in the mix only if they could keep their gremlins away. Alpha Tauri drivers seemed to have become consistent top 10 performers and were bullish about qualifying.
The final practice session before Qualifying ( FP3 ) got underway with cloudy skies and intermittent light rain. However, the weather didn't warrant the need for Intermediate tyres. The Haas duo were the first cars out on track and completed six laps each before light rain set in. McLaren and Alpha Tauri were the other teams to venture out, but only for installation laps. Raikkonen complained about battery issues and had to return to the pits for some settings change. The mechanics were busy at work, repairing the floor of Norris' McLaren and taping up bits on Sainz' car as well. Everyone had set representative lap times by then, some with soft tyres and some with mediums and hards. All drivers drove out with a fresh set of soft tyres with five minutes remaining on the clock for their low fuel runs. The Haas drivers had a clear track and set their respective lap times. Bottas made a couple of mistakes on his first run, running wide at La Source and couldn't improve his lap time. The Bus-Stop chicane saw a queue of cars lining up to gain an optimum launch for their laps. Hamilton was the fastest in FP3 from Ocon and Norris. Albon was P4 for Red Bull from Bottas' best attempt ( on mediums ). Verstappen's run on soft tyres was compromised due to traffic and couldn't go faster than his time on the medium tyres. Ricciardo set the 7th fastest time.
Stroll was P8 for Racing Point from Sainz and Perez. A mistake on his final run denied Perez a better lap time on soft tyres, and he got summoned by the stewards for allegedly impeding Grosjean. The Alpha Tauri cars continued to be competitive with the 11th and 12th fastest times from Latifi in a Williams in 13th. Magnussen was the fastest Ferrari powered car in 14th from Grosjean and Raikkonen. Ferrari was languishing in 17th with Leclerc and last with Vettel. They were slower than their customer teams, and the possibility of a Q1 elimination seemed real! Russell and Giovinazzi split the Ferraris in 18th and 19th.
The threat of rain loomed large at the start of Q1, and the Haas cars were again out on track early. Many teams experimented with slip-streaming between their drivers. Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Sainz, Verstappen and Albon were the top six after the first set of runs with Latifi, Raikkonen, Vettel, Grosjean and Magnussen the drivers under threat. Leclerc, in the other Ferrari, was hanging on precariously in P14. The final three minutes of Q1 saw a flurry of cars head out, and spar over track position and clean air. Bottas and Verstappen from the top 6 and everyone from P7 ( bar Ocon ) went for another run in Q1. There were improvements on the final run of Q1 and Vettel jumped out of danger to 13th. Leclerc was on the cusp of elimination, but no driver was able
to beat his time. Magnussen's off-track excursion at turn 14 didn't help matters either. Raikkonen, the only challenger, missed the cutoff
by eight-hundredths of a second! Raikkonen, Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Magnussen were the eliminations of Q1. Hamilton was the quickest in Q1 from Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Stroll and Kvyat. Russell maintained his record of making it into Q2 ( 14th ) while Ferrari scraped through in
13th and 15th, saving themselves an embarrassment.
Q2 got underway with tyre choice being a pivotal decision for both team and driver. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Stroll and Perez opted for the medium tyres while the rest of the field chose the softs. Hamilton was fastest from Bottas and Verstappen after their first runs while Ricciardo, Ocon and Albon completed the top 6. The decision to run medium tyres didn't work for the Racing Point cars, and they could manage only the 11th and 12th fastest times. Vettel, Leclerc and Russell were the others in the drop zone, Russell returning to the pits after aborting his lap. It was time to refuel, take a breather, put on a fresh set of tyres and go again. Ricciardo couldn't join the rest of the field due to a brake-by-wire issue. He was in 4th and hoped to make it into Q3. The Racing Point duo made the sensible decision to switch to the soft tyres for their final run, and both made it back into the top 10. Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen were on quick laps but backed off right at the end to not jeopardize their tyre choice for the race on Sunday. The top 2 were unchanged with Albon improving to third on his final run of Q2. Verstappen, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Ocon, Perez, Norris were through to Q3 while Kvyat, Gasly, Leclerc, Vettel and Russell got eliminated. However, those eliminated would be eligible for a free tyre choice.
It was time for the top 10 to faceoff in Q3. Hamilton flexed his muscles and pulled away from the rest of the field. The Briton set a new track record, half a second clear off his team-mate. Bottas made a couple of mistakes which cost him time around sectors 1 and 2. Ricciardo overcame his brake-by-wire issues and was third fastest on his first run of Q3 from Verstappen and Albon. Positions six to ten after the first run of Q3 were: Sainz, Ocon, Perez, Stroll, Norris.
Tow and slip-stream duties were switched between team-mates after their first runs with Albon assisting Verstappen and Ocon giving a tow to Ricciardo. Racing Point didn't send their cars back on track which came as a surprise to many. Hamilton was flying again and went even faster, beating his own time to bag the 93rd Pole of his career! It was a new track record at Spa-Francorchamps. Bottas improved on his final run but was still half a second adrift. Verstappen retook P3 from Ricciardo who had a scruffy lap and bailed out of it. Verstappen was a hundredth of a second away from a front-row start and rued the decision to use up his battery power on the early part of his flying lap. Ricciardo sealed his best qualifying position at Spa-Francorchamps in P4. Albon qualified in a commendable P5 with Ocon ensuring both Renaults made it into the top 6. Sainz and Perez occupied row 4 and Stroll and Norris row 5.
Hamilton and Mercedes were the class of the field once again. Bottas wasn't displeased about a front row start and hoped to use the tow from Hamilton to challenge for the lead on the Kemmel Straight. Red Bull was pleased to have both cars in the top 6 and knew they had the pace to fight the high-flying Mercs. Renault's resurgence with Ricciardo continued with Ocon joining the cause as well. A close contest with their ex-customers ( Red Bull ) awaited them. Racing Point would be disappointed with a poor showing on Saturday, setup changes for what could be a rainy Sunday possibly to blame. McLaren and Alpha Tauri looked as strong midfield teams. Ferrari had a dismal two days. They were the only team who failed to go faster than their lap times set in 2019. It seemed that they would be contending with other Ferrari customer teams and Williams come Sunday. Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 remained the backmarkers of 2020.
The sky was sunny on Sunday with rain predicted later in the race. The cars left the pitlane for sighting laps, and Sainz reported a problem in his car with smoke spewing out the back of his McLaren. The Spaniard returned to the pits for inspection, but the problem was terminal. He would not start the race due to an exhaust failure.
The drivers took part in the "End Racism" campaign on the grid followed by a minute's silence to honour the memory of Anthoine Hubert. It was a sober moment for everyone and a reminder that motorsport is dangerous.
Leclerc adopted an aggressive approach for the start of the race by choosing soft tyres. Gasly decided to go deep into the race with hard tyres while others outside the top 10 chose the mediums.
The race got underway, and it was a clean start for everyone. Bottas was unable to pressure Hamilton into Eau Rouge and Raidillon, but Ricciardo was all over Verstappen for P3. Their battle carried on into Les Combes, but Verstappen managed to hang onto P3. Further down the field, Leclerc extracted the maximum out of his soft tyres and was up to P8 while Giovinazzi and Magnussen moved up four and five places respectively. Norris ran wide at Les Combes and lost positions, relegating him to P11. Raikkonen overtook Russell to retake P16 on the opening lap while Gasly made a move on Perez for P9 on lap 2. The Frenchman wasn't pleased with the Racing
Point driver for squeezing him into the wall while defending his position out of La Source.
Hamilton's lead over Bottas was over a second already, and Leclerc was under pressure from Gasly after his mega start. Leclerc lost two positions to Gasly and Perez in the space of two laps, the Ferrari a sitting duck on the Kemmel Straight. Raikkonen overtook Magnussen for P15 on lap 4 with Russell doing the same a lap later. The Mercedes duo was pulling away from the rest of the field and exchanging fastest laps. Meanwhile, Ferrari was down in 10th and 13th, clinging on to the final points-scoring position. Leclerc's defence of P10 didn't last long, and he yielded to Norris on lap 6. Grosjean overtook his team-mate for P17 while Bottas requested permission to attack Hamilton, but the team asked him to hold station, as discussed earlier in the pre-race brief. Leclerc kept going backwards with Kvyat snatching P11 from him on lap 7. Gasly caught up to Stroll, and both went wheel to wheel for P7. Magnussen also had to defend his place from Latifi further down the field. Hamilton was managing the gap at the front and trying to extend his stint as much as possible.
There was a massive crash out of Fanges on lap 11. Giovinazzi and Russell got eliminated from the race. Giovinazzi, in P14, ran wide out of Fanges, spinning around, the rear of the car hitting the barriers. A loose wheel from his car went across the track and struck the right front of Russell's car who was trying to take avoiding action. The impact sent Russell into the barriers on the opposite side, the halo saving him from a serious incident. The Haas cars went through unscathed, but there was debris strewn across the track. The stewards decided to deploy the Safety Car.
It was a bit early for those on the medium tyres to pit, but they did nonetheless. Leclerc, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi were the first to pit. Ferrari wasn't ready for Leclerc, and the stop cost him track position to Raikkonen. Mercedes and Renault decided to double-stack their pit stops, and it was close for Bottas who exited the pits just ahead of Verstappen. Albon, Stroll, Norris, Kvyat and Vettel were the final set of drivers to pit under the safety car. All drivers except Albon ( medium tyres ) were on the hard tyres. Perez and Gasly chose to not pit and were P4 and P5 after the round of pit stops.
Racing resumed on lap 15 and Hamilton had a clean start again. Stroll came under intense pressure from Norris but defended his position. Raikkonen overtook Vettel for P12 on lap 16 without the use of DRS, an embarrassment for Ferrari to see its customer performing better than its works' car. Ricciardo made light work of Perez for P5 on lap 17 who was then under pressure from Albon and Ocon. It was job done for Albon a lap later. Perez eventually pitted on lap 19 for hard tyres, rejoining in 17th and last. Leclerc tried a move on Vettel at the end of the Kemmel Straight, the duo banging wheels and Leclerc having to relent to avoid further contact. Ricciardo's charge up the field continued with a move on Gasly for P4 ( lap 21 ).
Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Gasly, Albon, Ocon, Stroll, Norris, Kvyat were the top 10 on lap 22.
Perez overtook Latifi for P16 ( lap 23 ) and Magnussen for P15 ( lap 24 ) while Albon got past Gasly for P5 ( lap 24 ). Hamilton's pace at the front was unrelenting with fastest lap times on laps 25 and 27. Leclerc pitted again on lap 26 for a set of medium tyres, but it was a slow stop, the team having to refill some pneumatic pressure in his car. He rejoined in 17th and last. Ocon finally got past Gasly for P6 on lap 26, and Gasly pitted a lap later for his only stop, switching to the medium tyres for his final stint. He rejoined in 16th. Gasly got past Latifi for P15 on lap 28. Vettel communicated to the team that he wouldn't be able to pass the cars ahead of him and demanded a pit stop. However, the team didn't seem keen on heeding his request. An overtake by Perez for P11, a lap later, added insult to injury. Gasly was moving up the field rapidly with overtakes on both the Haas drivers and honing in on Vettel. Verstappen reported vibration on his tyres ( lap 31 ) while Latifi pitted for medium tyres. Gasly completed his move on Vettel for P12 on lap 32, the German locking up his tyres and running wide under braking.
Perez was in DRS Zone, and it was an easy overtake on Raikkonen for P10 on the Kemmel Straight ( lap 33 ). Gasly caught up and did the same a lap later. Bottas reported numbness in his left leg while vibrations on Verstappen's car were getting worse. The top 3 were told by their teams to look after their tyres to avoid a repeat of Silverstone. Leclerc went past Magnussen ( for P15 ) who pitted for soft tyres on the same lap. Perez and Gasly got past Kvyat on lap 37, Kvyat making way for his team-mate who was on an alternate strategy. They were back into points-scoring positions. Norris completed an overtake on Stroll for P7.
Hamilton made a rear error at the Bus Stop Chicane, locking up his tyres and going wide. Bottas made the same mistake a couple of laps later, the lock-ups not helping their tyre management efforts. Mercedes asked Bottas to avoid using the kerbs on the "right side" as the drivers started to lose mechanical grip. Hamilton too didn't feel confident about the health of his front tyres. Gasly completed a move on Perez for P9 on lap 40 while Ocon went wheel to wheel with Albon, but the Thai driver defended well.
There was a battle unfolding for P5 between Albon, Ocon and Norris. Ricciardo was reeling in Verstappen who was closing in on Bottas. The last three laps promised a lot of action. Ocon tried an overtake on Albon again ( on lap 42 ) but couldn't make it work. Gasly overtook Stroll for P8 on the penultimate lap, a brilliant charge up the field after his pit stop. Ocon finally completed his move on Albon on the final lap while Leclerc went past Grosjean for P14.
Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag victory at the end of 44 laps from Bottas and Verstappen. A charging Ricciardo reduced the deficit to Verstappen to only three seconds and also set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap! Ocon came home in fifth for Renault from Albon and Norris. Gasly, the driver of the day finished in P8, Stroll and Perez completing the top 10.
Kvyat, Raikkonen, Vettel, Leclerc, Grosjean, Latifi and Magnussen were the drivers who finished outside the points.
It was Win Number 89 for Lewis Hamilton and another 1-2 for Mercedes in 2020. The team would be happy to go away with the best result possible from both its drivers. Red Bull continued to come up second best and need both their drivers to be involved in the battle at the front. Renault would be ecstatic with 4th and 5th, their best result in 2020 till now. It was damage limitation for McLaren after one car failed to start the race due to technical issues. Gasly produced yet another stellar drive, making a strong case for himself to drive with the Red Bull A team. Racing Point would be mulling over what went wrong with their cars at Spa. They hoped for a better Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen was the fastest Ferrari powered car, showing there is no substitute for experience. Alfa Romeo would take some positives from his result. A mistake proved costly for Giovinazzi, but the Italian displayed strong race pace up until then. Haas F1 and Williams had a mediocre weekend again.
Belgium was a humbling experience for Ferrari. The Prancing Horse, which was so dominant a year back, finished in a dismal 13th and 14th. Change is necessary and imminent. They cannot continue like this. They need to salvage whatever they can in 2020.
The next race is at the Temple of Speed, the Home of the Tifosi, in Ferrari homeland, in Monza, Italy. The fastest circuit on the F1 calendar, Monza holds a special place in the hearts of drivers and fans alike. Sadly, the fans will not be able to witness the race live on track, but for some, it might prove to be a blessing in disguise!
BRING ON ITALY!!