Ferrari makes a strong start
Ferrari has started the second half of the season by topping both of Friday’s practice sessions. Sebastian Vettel was two tenths faster than his teammate Charles Leclerc in FP1, while the Monacan six tenths faster in the second session.
While it is expected that the power-sensitive nature of the Spa circuit should favour Ferrari, as we said all season Mercedes cannot be counted out as they have dominated this year. Ferrari seems to be faster in the first sector where it is about straight-line speed.
However, we know that the team has struggled when we have got into qualifying and the race to fight the two Mercedes, this is a thing they hope the spec-3 power unit will help them to close the gap. But I believe it is not going to be enough in qualifying when we see the cars giving it everything.
In FP1 the gap between Leclerc and Verstappen was under a second and in FP2 that gap was eight tenths to Valtteri Bottas. But we know that teams will be more careful with the new spec engines as there are on the last penalty-free one until the end of the season.
That advantage was most pronounced in Spa’s mostly-flat-out first sector on Friday, with Mercedes’ superior strength in the twister middle phase of the 7km lap not enough to cancel out Ferrari’s early-lap advantage. This has led to Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari is “nearly a second quicker”
Mercedes losing “nearly a second”
Lewis Hamilton believes that Ferrari is “nearly a second quicker” on the straights alone in practice. The Mercedes driver was almost a second behind Charles Leclerc in FP2, while he had a few problems in FP1 which limited his running.
Speaking about his disjointed day, Hamilton said: “It was not a great start for us in FP1, we had a problem with the throttle and I basically lost power, so I was idling just with the RPM to try and get back. Then I managed to fix it a little bit with a couple of switch changes, and got it back and went back out and had another problem, so it was a little bit of a mess.”
“Then I got some laps towards the end, but it wasn’t spectacular. Then we made some changes to the setup, it was quite far off into FP2, and it was feeling a lot better, but still have work to do.” Hamilton says he doesn’t know about the gap but it was obvious that Ferrari was quick.
He says that the Mercedes upgrade is worth less than half a tenth.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who outpaced Hamilton by less than a tenth in FP2, said Ferrari was “killing” Mercedes on the straights.
He added, “We always knew coming here Ferrari will be strong, also Red Bull, but Ferrari has been really strong today and really killing us on the straight lines. That’s how it goes. For sure we’re trying to find every bit of performance we can for tomorrow.”
Six drivers hit by penalties
Six drivers will go into Sunday’s race with engine penalties as teams introduce their latest engine upgrades for Spa and Monza doubleheader.
As expected all four manufacturers, Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault, have brought new units to either all or some of their respective works and customer teams. Although the works Ferrari will not run the upgrade until their home race next week.
All six Mercedes powered cars, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes); Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll (Racing Point); George Russell and Robert Kubica (Williams), have moved to the Spec-3 engine aimed at improved performance and reliability.
Only Stroll takes a penalty, after a failure earlier in the season, for exceeding engine limits this season.
Ferrari’s customers Haas and Afla Romeo’s Antoni Giovinazzi have a new engine but have no penalties. The works team and Kimi Raikkonen
Honda has introduced its Spec-4 engines with Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat, both drivers incur penalties and will start near the back of the grid. Their teammates are running the old spec but are expected to take the new engine next weekends.
Both works Renault drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, as well as Carlos Sainz, take penalties. Renault describes the latest upgrade as “minor upgrades to reliability and performance” amid their attempt to kick-start a 2019 season which has disappointed so far
Albon “rewires brain”
Alex Albon says he has been forced to “rewire his brain” as a different driving style required for the Red Bull. The Thai driver who was brought into replace Pierre Gasly for the rest of the season and was three tenths of teammate Max Verstappen.
As he got used to the car, he says it felt like he was starting over again in learning about F1 cars because it required a totally different approach compared to the Toro Rosso, he raced in the first half of the year. He told Motorsport.com, “It’s a different driving style that you have in Toro Rosso.”
“You spend six months driving that way and you come to the Red Bull car and it is kind of remembering what other cars are like. You have to rewire your brain, start from the beginning and go again. It is not one thing in particular.”
“I felt a bit more comfortable in FP1 than FP2, and I am still trying to understand the car. It is very different to the Toro Rosso so it is quite difficult in some respects and better in other respects.” Albon says he felt as he was starting over again, as it was very different style of driving required.
Albon is heading into the Belgium weekend knowing that he will start from the back of the grid thanks to an engine change penalty. While that takes some pressure off in terms of him needing to deliver in qualifying, he says he also would have liked the opportunity to know just how quick he could go.
Verstappen targets Mercedes
Max Verstappen believes Red Bull can challenge Mercedes in the Belgian Grand Prix, but believes Ferrari may be out of reach on evidence of Friday practice running.
Ferrari locked out the top two in both of Friday’s sessions, with pace-setter Charles Leclerc more than eight tenths clear of both Mercedes cars over one lap.
Verstappen ended FP2 a second off the pace and was slower than normal on single lap pace, but was evenly matched on the long runs. Which makes him doubtful that Ferrari can be toppled this weekend.
He said “I think this track definitely suits them a bit better than us, they are very strong, they gain a lot of time on the straight here but that is not a surprise. We try to do the best we can from our side.”
Today was not amazing as we had to run with lower power all day compared to the normal mode we use on a Friday, but in general, I am quite happy with the car balance. I don’t expect to beat Ferrari but hopefully, we can be closer to Mercedes, as it seems like they are a bit down to Ferrari.”
In FP2, Verstappen had reported a number of times suffering a loss of power, but has indicated this was due to the mileage previously accrued by his Friday unit.
Saying “My engine was a bit older and around here it’s quite hard on the engine, so you need to be safe with them. We still have another engine, that engine we’ll use tomorrow, and then we’ll see.”
Perez signs three-year deal
Sergio Perez has signed a new three year deal with Racing Point meaning he will remain in the sport until 2022. Perez has been at the team since 2014, when it was known as Force India, and has claimed five podiums for the Silverstone-based outfit in that time.
The Mexican driver is considered one of the unfulfilled talents on the F1 grid but will now be given the chance to stay at the team through 2021’s regulation change
Perez will continue into next season with Lawrence Stroll’s son, Lance, who became his teammate ahead of this current season. He said “I’m very excited to extend my partnership with the team for the next three years. I’ve been working together with this group of people for a long time now and they have become my second family.
“I have been impressed with the direction the team has taken over the last twelve months and that gives me confidence for the future. I believe the best times are still to come and I look forward to celebrating plenty of podiums in the years ahead.”
Racing Point CEO and team boss Otmar Szafnauer said: “We know Sergio very well and it’s great to confirm him on a long-term deal. Over the last six years, we have seen him become a very complete driver with excellent qualifying speed and exceptional racecraft.”
“Sergio believes in the long-term vision of this project and getting his commitment until the end of 2022 gives us valuable consistency going forward.”
Tomorrow’s qualifying is going to be a fight between Ferrari and Mercedes, it’s a question I believe is of how good the engine upgrades are. Ferrari will be hoping that in the heat of the Q3 they can step up to the same level as Mercedes.
I think Hamilton’s comments about the gap in practice is a little bit of a bluff because they will turn up the engine, plus they have pulled it out of the bag in most of the sessions this season. We know that Red Bull will not be in the fight for the top end of the grid.
There are a number of penalties for engine changes, but it will be an opportunity for some.