The summer is officially over…. Our Formula One championship drivers have packed away their espadrilles and returned to compete at the charming Spa-Francorchamps. It is the longest track on the calendar and certainly one of the most challenging – even the weather is difficult, at one stage it had rained for twenty years in a row here at the Belgian Grand Prix.
belgium racing helmet and brussels

Belgium GP Race Results 2016

1st: Rosberg
2nd: Ricciardo
3rd: Hamilton
4th: Hulkenberg
5th: Perez
6th: Vettel
7th: Alonso
8th: Bottas
9th: Raikkonen
10th: Massa
Last year was the first time that Mercedes had won at Spa since Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1955, with Lewis Hamilton taking 1st place. This year it was Nico Rosberg who claimed the first podium. Proving that, after an unsuccessful 60 year stint, Mercedes can start a winning streak here.

Rosberg Starts at the Front, Hamilton Starts at the Back!

With Hamilton beginning his race tucked firmly at the back, Rosberg was able to take a commanding early lead and consequently a relatively painless win. He managed to avoid the initial colliding chaos, to get clear of the pack and eventually finished the race having narrowed his team mate’s championship lead to 9 points. Realistically he may have expected to reduce it by more, as no one had anticipated Hamilton’s progress from 21st place to 3rd – least of all the world champion himself. Mercedes had predicted 8th place at best.
“I knew Daniel (Ricciardo) was behind me and then I saw HAM in P3 and I was like, ‘What? Seriously?!” (Rosberg)
All races have issues to contend with and today they were hot temperatures (43c on track in qualifying) and fragile tyres. Because they have the fastest car, which works the tyres harder – Mercedes suffered the most. Pirelli had taken the precaution of increasing the tyre pressure; to protect against punctures, following last year’s high speed failures by Rosberg and Vettel (whose tyre exploded).
“I understand why Pirelli does it, we are on the last season of those tyres, we had failures last year and integrity is super-important for our tyre supplier and that is why we are blowing them up like balloons.” (Toto Wolff)
formula 1 racing car

Burning Rubber in Spa!


The Tyres are the Key!

In these tense conditions, a decent tyre strategy was even more crucial. Rosberg had started on softs, leaving him to finish with two sets of mediums. This strategy also proved successful for 2nd place Ricciardo.
Hamilton, however, had started on mediums – presumably to enable him to gain ground at the beginning. But then he had to run on a different tyre, according to the rules. One medium and one soft would not be sufficient to see him to the end of the race – hence there would be two further pit stops.
So 3rd place was really the best possible outcome and losing only 10 points of his championship lead was a ‘super-bonus’; a master class in damage limitation.
Perhaps a turning point in the running order here at Spa, was the crash of Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and the subsequent ‘red-flag’ at Lap 9. Magnussen had suffered a huge crash at the infamous Eau Rouge, the left-right-left series of turns into an uphill climb. In 8th place, he lost control of the back of his car which spun first into the barriers and then head-on into the tyre wall. Miraculously he suffered only a sore ankle.
By this point, Rosberg was already 10 seconds ahead, Hamilton had climbed to an impressive 5th and following the restart he passed Alonso and Hulkenberg to take 3rd. Ricciardo was in 2nd – where he stayed, after another outstanding race. But Alonso’s start was actually a cut above Hamilton’s; starting from 22nd in an under-powered McClaren-Honda he fought his way up to 4th by Lap 9.
Despite this amazing start Alonso had to be satisfied with 7th place, though this failed to quash his confidence and following the race he sounded hopeful for the future:
“The progress that the team has made is just amazing and if we keep this momentum for next year that will be great news.” (Alonso)

To Penalise or not to Penalise is that the Answer!

The big question, following the successes of the two highly penalised drivers in this race: does being ‘penalised’ actually work? Mercedes fitted Hamilton with further engine parts- increasing the penalty that he already had. But as he was already at the back – what difference did it really make? He had been given a 55 place drop (plus 5 for breaking a gear box seal). Fernando Alonso had been given a 60 place sanction. Both teams fitted 3 new power units; Mercedes seemingly to give Hamilton a stock of parts, McLaren for a general upgrade and to correct specific technical failures.
So it appears that such penalties are unsuccessful as a deterrent. Rather, teams knowingly make the illegal changes and accept the penalty, because it is worth the risk. Money would have been no object to either team in this situation – so does Formula One need to rethink its attempts to curb spending?

Jenson Maybe out of the Race Early, but is he out of Formula 1 for Good!

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button exited the race early after Wehrlein ran into the back of him on Lap 1 – putting them both out of the race. But the post race discussion centred on his future at McClaren and whether Stoffel Vandoorne will be replacing him next season?
It was a good day for Force India, the first time since Bahrain 2014 that they had two cars in the Top 5. Hulkenberg coming in 4th and Perez 5th. If it hadn’t been for the safety car would Hulkenberg have had a podium place? Force India are now 4th in the constructor’s championship.
red bull f1 racing car in action

Red Bull Racing


The Flying Dutchman is here to STAY!

With a Dutch father and a Belgian mother Max Verstappen had plenty of support in the crowd this weekend, when he became the youngest driver to start from the front row of the grid.
However, his ‘fearlessness’ is beginning to grate on the more experienced drivers. Rather than bold and exciting – they are beginning to consider him reckless and even dangerous. Today he was too impulsive at La Source (an important race indicator at Spa) on Lap 1 when he attempted to overtake Kimi Raikkonen –resulting in a three way collision with both Vettel and Raikkonen.
True to confident form he was not about to accept blame following the race:
“I think they should be ashamed to cause a crash like that with their amount of experience and then complain about me.” (Verstappen)
His late block in front of Kimi Raikkonen on the Kemmel Straight proved the more controversial, with the Finn exclaiming: “If I had not braked, we would have had a massive accident.”
He made a similar move in Spain – and still no action from the stewards. Is he an accident waiting to happen?
Hamilton showed his support for Raikkonen: “Kimi doesn’t make too many comments, unless it’s a serious thing. So if Kimi says it is not right, then it is most likely not right.”
While Toto Wolff focussed (mainly) on the positives..: “He is refreshing for me. He is a young boy I like a lot. He comes in here with no fear, no respect, puts the elbows out… It is refreshing but dangerous.”
With 8 races remaining during final 12 weeks, this season is building to its finale…which Mercedes driver will triumph? Can Verstappen be tamed? Can Ricciardo take 3rd in the championship? And how does the future look at McLaren?
On to Monza next….where the black horses of Ferrari will be looking to give a good account of themselves….

Monza 2017!!!

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tourists on holiday in Milan

Having fun in Milan before the Italian GP