Martin Brundle column: On the Belgian GP and Ferrari’s pained fall

It was a 44-lap race around Spa pretty much dominated at an apparent canter by the inevitable car number 44.

Lewis Hamilton did two laps in the top 10 shootout element of the Q3 qualifying session which were pretty much perfect, and either of which would have been good enough for pole position over his team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton then won the short 150-metre race down to turn one at La Source, and then by gently hesitating with a slide forcing those behind him to pause too, he charged off down Eau Rouge and up Raidillon for the long drag race to turn five, more preferably known as the Les Combes chicane.

Having won that too it was largely a formality for him to claim his 89th victory and a fourth at Spa, which is not historically his most successful circuit for crying out loud. Even his restart after a safety car was spot on and ensured he could not be out-dragged again.

Two of the three drivers I interviewed immediately after the race used the word ‘boring’. The third, Bottas, looked bored at being beaten again despite it being his best finish at Spa.

Lewis was kind of apologising for it being boring that he is a constant winning machine, but what should he do about it? And an exasperated Max Verstappen in third who said most of his race was monotonous because basically he cannot live with the speed of the Mercs and nobody else is good enough to come and play racing cars with him.

Hamilton ran deep into the final Bus Stop chicane and across the run-off area late on in the race with heavily used tyres but that was the sum total of his dramas.

Every single lap on the lap chart reads Hamilton/Bottas/Verstappen in 1/2/3.

Luckily behind that train was Daniel Ricciardo having a very fine weekend for Renault, completing the final tour with the race’s fastest lap and with Verstappen very much in sight as he took the chequered flag.

In fact, he was well within Verstappen’s pit stop window meaning it prevented Red Bull from making a relatively late stop which would have forced Mercedes to so the same for some high-speed closing drama.

The optimum downforce level for Renault at Spa really suits their car and aero package, and Esteban Ocon confirmed that with a fine fifth place to help the team score their most points in a single race ever, bearing in mind quite a few more points are handed out in these modern times.

It was a very welcome and well-earned result for the team.

Alex Albon finished sixth, some 27 seconds behind his bored team-mate Verstappen, having been passed late-on by Ocon. It was a result which the remarkably supportive Red Bull team will inwardly continue to be concerned about.

It seems Pierre Gasly is not a candidate for yet another swap around within the Red Bull gang but he drove an impressive race to eighth and collected ‘driver of the day’ from the fans. He really is getting the most out of the car and was so unlucky with the timing of the lap nine safety car, having started on hard compound tyres.

Just ahead of him was Lando Norris for McLaren, who once gain drove a great race especially in the closing stages where he often seems to wind up into ever-increasing speed. When he can deliver that progress all race long he will be ready to contend for a championship like Hamilton does.

For all the furore and potential legal case about the Racing Point car being a clone of the 2019 Mercedes it is not actually going so well lately. Once again, despite a safety car closing the pack, they finished 53 seconds behind the works Mercedes in ninth for Lance Stroll and 10th for Sergio Perez, who curiously was not pitted to dispose of his soft tyres under the safety car, but charged through nicely thereafter. Their 2018 and 2019 Spa results were better.

Seventy-three seconds behind the winner was the first works Ferrari in 13th place of the 17 finishers. That would likely have been 14th had Carlos Sainz’s McLaren not failed going to the grid. And that is the kind of pace Ferrari truly had all weekend, having won the race from pole position last year.

Whatever they were doing with the power unit last year which had to be stopped, and we are not allowed to know about, has decimated their performance. But that does not explain how Kimi Raikkonen, similarly powered in an Alfa Romeo run on a much smaller budget, passed and stayed ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

It is as if Ferrari have been sent to the back of the class for bad behaviour, but their car should still be faster than Alfa.

Charles Leclerc has been outperforming his Ferrari of late but not on this particular Sunday. It was painful to watch and not at all what F1 needs.

There’s enough money in F1, and hopefully structure with the new running budget cost caps in 2021 and new cars in 2022, to have a grid of 20 cars covered by less than a second. We have to close the pack for our healthy future in F1.

The next two races in Monza and Mugello could well be purgatory for Ferrari.

Source: Read Full Article