Belgian GP - Familiar podium as midfield battle intensifies
Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, and AlphaTauri provide this weeks entertainment as Ferrari power is nowhere to be seen
The podium celebrations at Spa-Francorchamps featured the ever too familiar driver combination of Lewis Hamilton in front and center, with Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen flanking the six-time champion. The trio started the Belgian Grand Prix in the top three positions and spent the 44-lap race duration in the same order. Hamilton now has a 47-point lead ahead of his two championship rivals with his 5th win of 2020.
Aside from concerns of a repeat of the tire failures that affected the Mercedes in the closing laps at the British Grand Prix, a 1-2 finish from the reigning champions looked in the bag from lap 1. The German manufacturer only looked like they could lose a position during the pit stops in the safety car period. However, the Merc mechanics performed another stacked pitstop and managed to get Bottas out just in front of Verstappen to retain second place.
PC - Mercedes AMG F1
Antonio Giovinazzi triggered this early safety car after hitting the barriers hard on the outside of turn 14. The damage from his Alfa Romeo sprawled across the racetrack, leaving George Russell with nowhere to go as he arrived at the scene of the accident. Russell's Williams plowed into Giovinazzi's loose wheel, causing the young Brit to hit the opposite barrier after his suspension broke. Thankfully both drivers walked away unharmed while the marshalls diligently removed the debris.
Most of the field took advantage of the slowdown to come in for their sole stop of the afternoon with the notable exceptions of Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez, who suddenly found themselves just behind the leading trio. Logic ordinarily dictates that pitting under the safety car loses the least time, and the two looked like their strategy of staying out was the wrong choice. However, the grippier tires worked out well for them when they did pit as they sliced their way through the lower runners with ease.
It was Gasly, though, who won the battle of the late pitters with another strong points finish for the Alpha Tauri driver in 2020. The Frenchman passed Perez with a few laps to spare before also dispatching the second Racing Point of Stroll to clinch 8th place. With Force India historically doing well at the Belgian circuit, the Racing Point team will be disappointed to only walk away with 9th and 10th.
PC - Racing Point F1
In contrasting fortunes, however, Renault enjoyed a tremendous time in Belgium this year. Their 4th place start for Daniel Ricciardo transferred to a 4th place finish with genuine pace all through the race. Ricciardo's smile was audible in his post-radio message celebrating the fastest lap point that he clinched on the final race lap.
Meanwhile, Esteban Ocon qualified in 6th and finished one better with 5th to solidify Renault's victory in the 'best of the chasing pack' race. Ocon spent much of his Sunday looking at the exhaust of Alex Albon's Red Bull. But not to be outdone by his Aussie teammate's last lap success, Esteban overtook Albon on the final run down the Kemmel Straight to claim his highest finish since his return to F1.
Albon had opted for a contrary strategy by electing for the medium compound tire in the pit stops while everyone else chose hards. The Thai driver's underwhelming season continued despite having the faster tire as he couldn't press his advantage on the Renault's around him. Red Bull would've hoped that Albon repeated his debut for the team last year when he performed an overtaking bonanza on the field. However, Alex never looked likely to trouble Ricciardo despite the tire advantage. His tumble from 5th to 6th when Ocon overtook him won't win him any favors at with Christian Horner, who desperately needs a rear gunner for Max Verstappen.
PC - Red Bull Media Room
But it was Ferrari, and any car with a Ferrari engine inside, that were the real losers all weekend. This time last year, the Scuderia won their first race of the season and looked lightning fast. Twelve months and one FIA engine settlement later, no Ferrari powered car could muster a point. Leclerc started well and picked up a handful of places. But when DRS became online, his prancing horse had no answer to the onslaught from those behind him as he slipped back. Sebastian Vettel finished one place higher than the Monegasque and performed some hard but fair defending against his teammate. But with a P13/P14 finish for the Scuderia, the bragging rights for a higher finishing position won't seem like much of a consolation prize.
The F1 circus travels from one high-speed circuit to another next week with Monza. Fans will hope that the end of engine modes can close the gap at the front a little more, at least in qualifying. But it doesn't look like there will be much national pride from Ferrari at the first of three races in Italy this year. With Monza being an out and out power circuit and with such a quick lap time, I fear all six Ferrari-powered cars could once again be pointless, and also finish multiple laps down on the leaders when the chequered flag falls.
PC - Scuderia Ferrari
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com