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2020 Belgian GP Race Recap : Mercedes Masterclass in the Ardennes

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, 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!



Practice :

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. 

Renault powered cars were in the top 10 with Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo and Norris. Kvyat and Gasly were 11th and 12th for Alpha Tauri and Raikkonen 13th for Alfa Romeo. Leclerc and Vettel could only manage 14th and 15th while Latifi and Russell 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.



Qualifying :


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.



Race :

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 NorrisRicciardo 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!!


The F1 Travel Guide : Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the home of The Belgian Grand Prix every year. Many drivers rate it as the best circuit on the calendar.  Kimi Raikkonen, my racing hero, earned the title of "King of Spa" for his brilliant performances here.

I have had the privilege of attending 4 races here - 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2019 and each experience was unique. Nestled in the Ardennes mountains, the track offers views that can only be rivalled by The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria and even then the latter might not appeal to all. Iconic turns like Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Les Combes, La Source, Blanchimont, the Bus Stop dot this legendary circuit, a great many battles have been fought here. The weather is very unpredictable with instances of heavy rain in one sector and bright sunshine in another. The 1998 & 2008 Belgian GPs were testaments to the weather playing havoc. The track also offered quite a lot of challenges with regards to marshalling and extrication of stricken cars due to its old-school layout but its a circuit like no other!

This circuit will kickstart my "F1 Travel Guide" series!!


The Circuit Layout :


Official Website :

https://www.spa-francorchamps.be/en


Location :

The Circuit is located in the town of Stavelot, close to a town called Spa ( the town famous for the Mineral Water company called Spa ) in the region of Wallonia. Nestled in the Ardennes Region, it is also close to the Nurburgring and its older brother Nordschleife ( better known as the Green Hell ) circuits situated on the German side of the hilly region ( also worth a visit ). 


Closest Airports :

International Airports :

Brussels Airport ( BRU ) is a major hub for all international airlines, serving most European Routes, The Americas, Middle-East and Asia. 

I fly Emirates to Brussels via Dubai, multiple connections every day! The Experience is shared here :

https://tech-know-crat.posthaven.com/the-flying-diaries-bom-bru-bom-emirates-first


Dusseldorf Airport ( DUS ) is another major hub ( on the German side ) catering to all the above routes as well.

Cologne Bonn Airport ( CGN ), is closer than Dusseldorf but offers limited connections to the region via the Middle-East.


Intra-Continental Airports :

Liege Airport ( LGG ) & Maastricht Aachen Airport ( MUS ), The closest Airports to the circuit offering limited connections via Spain.

Luxembourg Airport ( LUX ) caters to multiple destinations within Europe through various national and low-cost carriers.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport ( CRL ) is another hub for low-cost carriers in the city of Brussels.


There are a few other major airports like Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Dortmund but I wouldn't recommend them since they go beyond the 200 km radius of Spa-Francorchamps.



Where to stay :

The Towns of Spa, Stavelot, Verviers, Malmedy, Theux are the closest to the circuit and offer a lot of options from Hotels to Inns, Chalets and B&Bs. The rates are inflated over the race weekend and it is highly recommended to book at least 6 months in advance to get a good deal ( most of these are non-refundable rates ). The town of Spa is full of F1 Drivers & Personnel and many oblige those waiting with an autograph or a selfie! Camping is very popular in Europe and the circuit has some fantastic camping sites for those who prefer to bring in their RVs or set up a camping spot over the weekend. 

There is also a Hotel "de La Source" near Turn 1 of the circuit but its sold out ( almost always ) on the race dates. There are other inns and B&Bs near the circuit but be wary of the exorbitant rates over an F1 weekend. 

I prefer giving all the above a miss...


The circuit is also close to big cities like Liege ( Belgium ), Aachen ( Germany ), Maastricht ( Netherlands ) and Hasselt ( Belgium ). Hasselt is the furthest of the lot with the commuting time from the other three being only about 35 to 40 minutes. I haven't stayed at Liege ( yet ) ( haven't heard great reports about safety either ) but Liege is yet another town that fills up pretty quickly for the race weekend. Maastricht and Aachen see a great number of F1 fans and can cater to all budgets. Aachen is the livelier of the two with a mini Oktoberfest happening on the same weekend as F1. Maastricht boasts of equally good restaurants and bars and one can easily become a part of conversations over a drink or a meal! All these cities are well connected to the circuit by rail and the circuit organisers also offer a shuttle service to the track. 

More details on the circuit shuttle here: https://www.spagrandprix.com/en/tickets-city-shuttle 

The above shuttle can cater to fans coming in from Brussels or Amsterdam as well but one must be wary of the travel time which is 4 hours each way. This only gets longer on a Sunday!


Hasselt is my city of choice for the weekend. I have stayed in the city twice ( 2017 and 2019 ). It is only about an hour away from the circuit and offers great hotels at very economical rates. A Park Inn by Radisson costs about 50 Euros a night and there are some options even around the 20 25 Euro mark! The city is also the birthplace of the Rising Dutchman Max Verstappen.

The city has quite an interesting layout, designed in a circular shape...one can go around the bustling parts of town and come back to the starting point easily. The city has some fantastic places to wine and dine, not to forget the bakeries offering Speculoos, the spiced shortcrust biscuit! My friends and I drove down through the weekend and navigation in and out was easy with a parking pass. However, do note that the city isn't covered under the shuttle bus service ( so maybe one can pay the town a visit post or pre-race weekend ).

The cities of Cologne and Luxembourg are 2 other options that are well connected both by rail and shuttle. I did stay in the former during the weekend of the 2013 German GP held at Nurburgring but if one doesn't hire a car, I wouldn't recommend staying there.


Circuit Access :

The circuit isn't the easiest the get to, the expansive layout of the circuit and the forests surrounding it pose a considerable challenge with regards to navigating your way around the track. It can house around 70000 spectators with the stands majorly being around the start-finish straight, the Bus Stop, La Source and Eau Rouge and Raidillon sections. The other areas are general admission viewing areas and a good level of fitness is required to hike up and down the various pathways in and around the circuit. Some spots offer unparalleled views of the circuit so it is worth the effort! The weather is unpredictable ( as mentioned earlier ), so be prepared for the heat, the cold or the rain!

Over the F1 weekend, there are a lot of access restrictions and parking spots can be quite a long walk from certain stands. There is a circuit shuttle which helps reduce commute but is infrequent. Its highly recommended that one studies the circuit map well and opts for appropriate parking passes. There are taxi stands as well but they tend to be overcrowded on evenings (especially post-race ), so its best to wait until a couple of hours after the sessions ( or race ) to easily hail one. If you do hail a taxi to the circuit then be prepared to walk for 30 minutes to reach the grandstands or the paddock club parking area. The Paddock Club runs a shuttle for the VIP guests from thereon. 


F1 Village, Fan Zones :

One of the most frequented zones/areas of an F1 track are the Merchandising shops. There are stores spread across the track and some on the approach road to the Main gate of La Source. There is a heavy concentration of stores at that roundabout, even watches ( Casio Edifice ) are sold there. Those were the only stores selling Alfa - Romeo F1 Merchandise.

The largest concentration of stores ( catering to almost all needs ) is at the F1 Village which is on the outside of the circuit between La Source and Eau Rouge. A lot of Fan events such as performances, drivers' meet and greet, F1 Personnel Interviews and games like Simulator Skills test, Pit Stop or Batak Challenges are held. Those who ace the F1 Simulators get couple passes of the Paddock Club for Sunday! There are a lot of food stalls and Beer Stations along with lounging areas for fans to enjoy the action on track thanks to the giant screens put up there. I have never missed visiting this village, one of the largest on the calendar.


Fan Experiences :

A Pit Lane walk is offered on Thursday to the 3 Day ticket holders. Its a once in a lifetime experience for many. You even get to walk the track and some have been fortunate enough to meet their favourite drivers on their track walks! There are also Drivers' Autograph sessions, details for which are shared by the organisers closer to the dates. It is imperative to reach early to bag that special sign and possibly a selfie with the best in the world of motorsport! F1 Experiences, the official hospitality partner to F1's worldwide races offers various packages and upgrades to existing tickets...these include guided paddock tours, a photo-op with the Race Winning Trophy on Pit Straight, a tour of the Track on the Parade Truck.. a great way to add to the memories made over the weekend.

Finally, the fans are allowed to enter the track after the end of the race and when deemed safe by the marshalls ( better known as "track invasion" ). This is a must-do! I had the privilege of walking up the entire length of Eau Rouge and Raidillon in 2015 and the elevation change is unbelievable!



Apologies in advance for missing any other detail. I shall update this article/guide when I make another visit to the track...the chances of this in 2020 seem bleak..but we hope for the best! Stay home, Stay Safe everyone!

 

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 3

Sunday at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was an emotional one, a day of tributes. It was a day when the entire Motorsport community, teams and fans alike stood together as one to honour the racer that Anthoine Hubert was. It was a day when the Community reaffirmed, we stand together in the face of this loss and tragedy..we mourn today yet one day we shall rise again..

The Formula 2 Sprint Race was cancelled as a mark of respect. All the teams from both the Support Race and F1 Race Paddock congregated on the Pit Straight to pay tribute to the memory of Anthoine Hubert. The fans had decided to rise in standing ovation on Lap 19 ( the number on Hubert's car ) during the F1 race as a mark of the respect for the racer. The schedule for the rest of the day was unchanged. 


Making our way to Spa Francorchamps :


The Paddock on Sunday Morning, a busy day ahead for everyone but the atmosphere was sober and grim after the incident on Saturday.


Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren Racing F1 Team :


Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


I made it into the Motorhome and Breakfast was waiting for us :


Post breakfast I went for a stroll through the Paddock and some more heroes from this profession.

The fighter Robert Kubica, Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :


Esteban Ocon, Reserve Driver for Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Double World Champion in Formula E, ex F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne :


Sebastian Vettel! Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!


Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


Time for a quick bite before heading out for the Pit Lane Walk of the day :


Shots from the Pit Lane Walk :


We took our spots outside the Paddock to watch the race start and the Belgian Air Force obliged us with an amazing Fly-Past :


Video Link :



The Grid Kids making their way back from the Starting Grid :


The Race got underway shortly after.


Formation Lap ( Video Link ) :



Race Start ( Video Link ) :



Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen had a coming together at La Source hairpin in the opening lap. The Finn was left with a badly damaged floor and had to go through 2 pit stops before coming out at the back of the pack. Max wasn't as lucky and ended up in the barriers before Kemmel Straight. There was a collective groan from all the Dutch Fans who had made their way to the race to see their hero race. Credit to them, they stayed back to honour Hubert ( lap 19 tribute ). The Safety Car was deployed on the Opening Lap. 

It was a difficult race for Kimi thereafter. 


Race Restart after Safety Car Period ( Video Link ) :



Shots from the Race :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team fighting hard in the Race :


I was in the Team Garage for the Latter Part of the Race and was able to watch a Pit Stop from the Garage!

Video Link :



Kimi came home in P16. Antonio Giovinazzi was doing a fine job in P9 until a mistake on the penultimate lap made him crash out of the race. It was a wretched weekend and zero points for the team :( Antonio also suffered from an impact ( whiplash ) injury and had to be attended to post race.


The cars making their way to Parc Ferme after the Race :


Charles Leclerc took victory from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Sebastian Vettel ended up P4 after some poor strategic calls by Ferrari. Ferrari were relieved to finally win a race in 2019. It was the start of a 3 race winning streak for the team, an indication that one should never write off the Prancing Horse.


Parc Ferme and Interviews for the Top 3 finishers.


Video Link :



The podium ready to welcome the Top 3 :


Presenting the Top 3 finishers of the 2019 Belgian GP :


Podium Presentation Video Link :



National Anthems time :


Trophy Presentation :


Video Link :



The cars sent to FIA Scrutineering :


I made my way back to the Motorhome and the team were distributing some Magnums. Helps cool everything down.


Packup time for the teams. The next race ( Italy ) takes place on the next weekend, so the turnaround time is very less for the teams.


Taking some more shots outside the Motorhome before its dismantled and shipped out :


I got to meet some more technical personnel!


Kimi Raikkonen's Race Engineer in Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team, Mr. Julien Simon-Chautemps :


Masahi Yamamoto, Managing Director for Honda Racing in F1 :


The Paddock being wrapped up :

After a certain time, it becomes quite unsafe to loiter around and its advisable for guests to leave the Paddock Area.


An earlier-spec Renault Sport F1 that was on display in the Paddock Club ( I guess ) :


Bye Bye Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, see you next year!


Walking back to the transfer area for my ride back to Hasselt. Some final selfies with my pass which would no longer be valid..a great souvenir to keep though!


I reached Hasselt pretty late at night ( thanks to the Traffic heading out of the track ). My friends Jane and Kaz had already reached the Hotel before me and were waiting for me at the bar. We sat together late into the night, talking, laughing remembering the weekend gone by. Kaz, Leclerc fan was overjoyed with his win..Jane and I, Kimi fans had forlorn faces. We also raised a toast to the talent Anthoine Hubert. He will surely be missed.


Before I retired for the night, I pondered on the weekend gone by..the excitement and the highs of Friday and Saturday, the joy cut short by Hubert's demise on Saturday, the emotional Sunday that was. I felt so honoured and blessed to be a part ( albeit a small one ) of the Motorsport family that is spread all across this world. 

I thanked God for His Grace and all the blessings I have had in life..I was living my dream..like so many others..

Once again, a Big Thank you to Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team for their Hospitality and Warmth over the weekend. True we didn't have a good weekend, but we keep our head down and keep pushing!

The Paddock Weekends will make a return soon..

Godspeed everyone!

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 2

Saturday on a Grand Prix weekend features the last Free Practice Session, FP3 and Qualifying for F1. Its shortly followed by the Feature Race in F2. This was a Saturday that we can never forget..

An early start to the day helped us beat some traffic to the track.

Enroute to the Circuit from Hasselt :


We were also in time for the Saturday Morning Pit Lane Walk.

Shots from the Pit Lane Walk :


The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Garage :


Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo being Fired up before FP3 ( Video Link ) :



A beautiful morning in the Paddock :


Healthy Breakfasts anyone?


It was then time for Free Practice 3 and I found a nice place to shoot some pictures of cars going up Raidillon :


I made my way back to Turn 1 ( La Source ) and met Porsche Carrera Cup Drivers on the way while going through the Support Race Paddock.

Dylan Pereira, Supercup Porsche Carrera Cup Racing Driver :


Some more shots of the cars coming out of La Source Hairpin :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during FP3 :


Charles Leclerc was fastest in FP3 from Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were P8 and P9 respectively.


A Quick Lunch in the Motorhome :


Timo Glock, Ex-F1 and DTM Racer :


The Motorhome, a busy place during Lunch :


Heikki Kulta of Finnish Press :


It was also time for the 2nd Pit Lane walk of the day. 

The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Garage!


I headed out to the La Source hairpin stand after the Pit Lane Walk to meet my friend and long time Kimi Supporter Zakria!


Qualifying got underway soon after. Shots from Q1 :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during Q1 :


Charles Leclerc was the fastest in Q1 from Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Both the Alfas made it into Q2!


Shots from Q2 :

Antonio Giovinazzi's car suffered a mechanical failure in Q2 and couldn't set a time. He would eventually start the race in P18 after serving the penalties incurred for the parts change. Charles Leclerc was the fastest from Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen made it into Q3.


Shots from Q3 :

Charles Leclerc took Pole from Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen qualified a commendable P8 ( effective P6 after Ricciardo's and Hulkenberg's penalties ).

Ferrari were ecstatic after locking out the front row!

Post Qualifying celebrations :


Taking the Cars to Parc-Ferme :


I made it back to the paddock to unwind for a bit before heading home.

Mark Webber and David Coulthard, highly successful Racers in F1 and beyond :


Brett Arnall, Mark Arnall's brother and my friend Kimi Raikkonen fan Jane Bleach :


During the F2 Feature Race, a massive crash happened just after Raidillon. Young Drivers Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa were involved in the incident. The Race was red-flagged and later cancelled. Both were rushed to the Medical Centre. 

Inspite of their best efforts, Anthoine Hubert didn't make it. We were shocked and shaken after hearing the news. True Motorsports is dangerous but a talent who was only 21 was taken away from us, in the cruelest way possible. Words fall short to describe the mood in the Paddock. Everyone rallied around the near and dear ones of this Renault Program young driver. It once again showed how closed knit the Racing Community. Juan is still under treatment and after a couple of critical surgeries is on a rough road to recovery. All of us shed tears, all of us were one...all of us..

As we head back to Hasselt, our hearts were heavy, our senses numb, we still didn't want to believe this to be true..but such is life..


This incident reminded us that racers sacrifice their all to live their dreams, to race, to enthrall, to entertain, to give us memories that will be etched in the hearts of us fans forever and yet, all it takes is a moment, one instance to end it all. This Sport unites us..as one big family..fans and racers alike..we race as one, we win as one....and in the times of mourning we mourn as one..There is an old saying "life goes on"..for Anthoine's Family, life would never be the same again..

May his soul rest in peace..


The legacy of Anthoine Hubert lives on..


The Sunday experience follows next.. 

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 1

The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was a special Grand Prix. All the Grands Prix that I attended have been memorable but this year's Belgian GP was the beginning of a new experience - an experience of being a guest of the team in the Motorhome for the Entire Weekend. The weekend saw a beginning of a New Series on my Blog. 

The New Series is called "The Paddock Weekends". It was truly an amazing feeling to be the guest of the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team for the entire weekend. I would get a Paddock Pass with my name on it, have access to their Motorhome, Garage and Podium Access post qualifying and the race. I would have to find a new spot to capture stills over the weekend ( no Paddock Club access ) which wasn't really an issue. Armed with my Sony RX 10 IV and Samsung Note 10+, I stepped out to live my childhood dream!

I stayed in Hasselt ( just like in 2017 ) and the drive to Spa Francorchamps was never more than an hour. Accompanying me were friends from UK Jane & Kaz!

This is the Friday Experience.


Enroute to the Circuit :

Some shots with the Samsung Note 10+ :


What an Elegant Race Pass!!


Friday Morning in the Paddock. Kimi Raikkonen walking in with the Alfa Romeo Team Manager Beat Zehnder :


The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Motorhome! The Chocolates served with Coffee were lovely. I was sharing the table with ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI! What an honour!


Sometime after settling in it was time for Free Practice 1 to begin. Kimi Raikkonen heading out with his trainer Mark Arnall :


I decided to get some shots of the Paddock while heading down to the Alfa Romeo Garage :


Waiting outside the Alfa Romeo Garage :


I got to the Garage and met a dear friend of Kimi!

Antii Pyrhonen, Team Manager for Red Bull IceOne Husqvarna Factory Team in Motocross & one of Kimi Raikkonen's closest friends :


A 40 minute stop in the garage and it was time to rush out and grab a spot to capture some stills.

Jos Verstappen, Max's father and ex-F1 Driver :


Shots from Free Practice 1 :