Formula 1

ANALYSIS: Assessing the field – 2020 Belgian Grand Prix

6 Mins read
Photo credit: LAT Images

The forecast for the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, at Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, teased rain and we lapped it up, however the rain never came. It wasn’t a classic Belgian Grand Prix, what we got was another Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team dominated race with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen the closest contender to the Silver [black] Arrows of race winner Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Beyond the podium, there was a series of good results for the Renault DP World F1 Team drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon as well as for Red Bull’s Alexander Albon, and Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s Pierre Gasly.

McLaren F1 Team’s Carlos Sainz Jr. failed to start the race following an exhaust issue caused by a power unit problem, on the out lap. A clash between George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi on lap 11 saw a further two teams lose their drivers to retirements; Williams Racing and Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN.

We’ve come to expect Scuderia Ferrari to underperform and race weekends are getting tougher to be a Ferrari fan. It is becoming the norm for both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to scrape into Q2, when they should be fighting up the top end right down to the wire.

Top of the class

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to teammate: -0.511s  | Race margin to teammate: – 8.448s

A comfortable win for the ever-dominant Lewis Hamilton. He scored his 93rd pole position of his career, his sixth at Spa, and 89th career win.

There is nothing but praise for the Brit; it was a blinding performance as usual from Lewis. His qualifying lap, plus race pace was phenomenal. You cannot fault his race craft and it is safe to say that he will probably run away with the 2020 Championship title. Leaving Spa, Hamilton has a 47 point lead to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.

Max Verstappen: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to teammate: -0.486 | Race margin to teammate: – 27.257s

The Dutchman is the only one who has gotten the closest to toppling Mercedes off the top steps of the podium consistently over the 2020 season. By lap 8, Verstappen was losing grip on the medium tyre, taking advantage of the safety car period three laps later caused by the Giovinazzi and Russell incident. However, this was the only stop of the race, which meant Verstappen had to nurse the tyres to the flag whilst maintaining the gap to fourth, and closing the margin to Bottas in second place.

Renault DP World F1 Team 

Qualifying margin: 0.335 (Q3) | Race margin: 31.773s

We saw the team’s strongest qualifying performance since they came back into Formula 1 under the manufacturer, with Ricciardo qualifying in fourth and Ocon in fifth. The team’s strong performance continued through the Grand Prix on Sunday, with Daniel biting at the Red Bull of Verstappen towards the end of the 44 lap race, with the RB16 struggling with tyre management. The Australian racer also snatched the fastest lap of the race from Hamilton at the flag, the first one in a decade for the team. Ocon spent most of the race in the latter half of the top ten, but enjoyed battles with the likes of Norris and Albon to finish behind his teammate in fifth place.

Alexander Albon: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to teammate +0.486s | Race margin to teammate: +27.257s

Alexander Albon may have finished in sixth place three places behind his teammate Verstappen, but nonetheless he only lost one place on his starting position of fifth and held his own for the entire race on depleting medium tyres. He only lost fifth within mere corners of the chequered flag to Renault’s Ocon. The Thai racer just couldn’t quite make it to the line in fifth with the Renaults having the overriding advantage of straight line speed over the Red Bulls. Albon now sits in fourth place in the drivers’ standings behind Bottas.

Homework to do

Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying Margin: 0.265s (both out in Q2) | Race Margin: 2.026

The drivers are talented, the team has a four-time world champion at the helm and yet every race they struggle with the pace, and the optimum goal is to get into the points. For a team with such strong racing heritage and multiple championships on their awards lists, it’s an incredible disappointment to see the team finishing a race in 13th and 14th place, with Sebastian ahead of Charles. Vettel found himself under attack by Giovinazzi within the open few laps, in what is seen as a solid midfield car and by lap seven, after making up position at the start, Leclerc found himself back out of the top 10 after being overtaken by both Lando Norris and Danil Kvyat.

Vettel and Leclerc are getting everything they can out of the car and are now in the middle of the midfield and it really does not do their talents justice. Leclerc won the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix and Vettel finished in second place, Sunday was such a stark contrast to what we know the team has previously been capable of.

Kevin Magnussen: Haas F1 Team

Qualifying margin to teammate: +0.476 (out in Q1) | Race margin to teammate: +8.747s

Kevin may have made up five places at the start coming through from twentieth to fifteenth, but the Dane soon dropped back as the race went on, to finish last. We know Haas’ weekend didn’t get off to a great start with power unit issues haltering the runs of both Magnussen and Grosjean during the final practice session. Knowing the cars perform better under wetter track conditions, the Haas team were praying for a wet race, which unfortunately we did not get. Haas are a bit like Ferrari in the respect that we have come to expect this level of performance from the cars.

Romain Grosjean – Haas F1 Team

Qualifying margin to teammate: -0.476s (out in Q1) | Race margin to teammate: – 8.747

Grosjean benefited from the safety car period, pitting for hard tyres in place of the medium compound, we found some of his fellow competitors to have issues with. This was Grosjean’s only pit stop of the race, managing the hard tyres to line. Grosjean’s race was marginally better than his teammates with only Latifi separating the Haas racers.

The rest of the field

Valtteri Bottas is often in the shadows of his teammate, but has consistently finished grands prix this season on the podium. Unable to put up a strong fight to Hamilton in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Finn was left in the clutches of Verstappen, Mercedes’ closest contender. He finished eight seconds off the pace of Hamilton.

McLaren F1 Team’s Lando Norris finished the race in seventh place, after having a pretty subdued race at the bottom end of the top 10. By the last lap of the race he was within half a second of Albon, just ahead. By contrast his teammate Sainz, did not make it to the grid after a power unit issue caused an exhaust problem. Poor Carlos cannot catch a break at Spa it seems, having raced there six times, he’s only competed in four grands prix and only finished two. Hopefully he fares better at Monza next week.

The Scuderia AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat had another stable race with Gasly finishing in eighth place and Kvyat in eleventh. Gasly’s pit stop placed him at the back of the pack at the halfway point, with the Frenchman utilising his fresh tyres picking off positions back up into the top 10.

Kimi Raikkonen had a strong race, battling with the Ferraris and finishing ahead of them in twelfth place. The Alfa was suited to the undulating Spa circuit, scoring the 2007 world champion his second best finishing position of the season.

BWT Racing Point F1 Team’s Sergio Perez was one of a few drivers who didn’t take advantage of the pit stop window behind the early safety car period, and was on old tyres for a long stint. Both Perez and teammate Lance Stroll placed in the top 10 at the flag, not quite the stunning performances we’ve seen from the Racing Points so far this season.

Giovinazzi and George Russell came to blows on lap 11 of the race with the Italian losing control over the kerb and a wheel detaching in the process, hitting the Williams FW43 of the Brit and causing the evasive action into the barriers. An unfortunate end to the race for both drivers. Unlike Russell, fellow Williams Racing driver Nicholas Latifi had a much better race, finishing just behind the Ferraris. 

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