F1 Today – Belgian Prixview – 26/08/2021

F1 Today

No decision by Mercedes on driver line up

George Russell and Valtteri Bottas remained coy over any decision by Mercedes for its 2022 driver line-up, both saying there is currently “no news to share”. The question about who partners Sir Lewis Hamilton has been the main talking point this season, with Russell looking to partner Hamilton.

Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff previously said the team would look to decide on who would partner Hamilton next year during the summer months, but no announcement has yet been made following the summer break, but no announcement has been made.

Russell and Bottas were paired together in the opening part of the press conference, naturally, the questions were about next year. Bottas said “There is no news to share yet. Maybe I know something, maybe I don’t. But like I said, there’s no news to share.”

Asked directly if there was no news to share because a decision had not yet been made, or if it was not the right time to reveal anything, Bottas replied: “There is no news to share. I don’t need to clarify any reasons for that. I think the same for me and George, that we have a job to do here, and there’s no news.”

Russell said he doubted there would be any announcement before next weekend, saying there is no news. Adding we were “still obviously in discussions over the summer break, but there’s nothing to announce one way or another this weekend, and probably not next weekend either, to be honest. I think it’s no problem. Do things right rather than quickly, let’s say.”

When Mercedes makes the decision it is set to trigger the domino effect in the driver market, Russell also says there no problem that nothing had been announced yet when asked by Motorsport.com if a delay in a decision would be at all problematic. He says that it doesn’t matter if the decision came after Abu Dhabi.

Bottas agreed that it was “not problematic” that nothing had been announced yet as it was “nothing new” for him, having waited as late as Spa to have his future with Mercedes resolved in previous years.

Wolff had hinted before the summer break that the team may not necessarily go public with its driver decision immediately after it had been made.

 

Hamilton-Bottas relationship “better than ever”

Lewis Hamilton says his working relationship with Valtteri Bottas is “better than ever”, but will support whatever decision Mercedes takes over his team-mate for 2022. The two drivers have been teammates for the past four years, in which they have lead Mercedes to four drivers and constructors championships.

Mercedes is currently weighing up whether to continue with Bottas as Hamilton’s teammate for next year or promote junior driver George Russell into the seat from Williams. Hamilton has spoken highly of Bottas throughout their time as teammates, and said in June that he did not “necessarily see that it needs to change” for 2022.

On Thursday, it was announced by both Bottas and Russell that there is currently “no news to share”. That followed CEO and team principal Toto Wolff saying that a decision would be made over this weekend.

Asked by Motorsport.com if he was talking to Wolff about things or was involved in the process, Hamilton said they had naturally spoken about plans, but that he would support Mercedes’ final decision.

The seven-times champion said, “I’ve obviously been vocal in the past of my loyalty to Valtteri, and worked incredibly closely with him. I think our working relationship is better than ever. Toto’s a great leader, and as I’ve said in the past, we always stay connected. Of course, we talk about these things.

“Naturally, we’re all part of the same team, we want what’s best for the team moving forwards, we want to win more championships, and so we just have conversations. At the end of the day, it’s just down to him and the board at Mercedes to make that decision. I’m a part of the team so I’ll support them whichever way they go, naturally.”

Hamilton heads into the second half of the season leading title rival Max Verstappen by eight points after a swing in momentum towards him following dramatic weekends in Silverstone and Budapest, where Verstappen retired and finished ninth.

He added, “We’ve also, even just during this break, in terms of taking time to reflect on looking at where we’ve been and where we’re going, I have no doubts that we will take another step forward in our processes and how we apply ourselves.”

 

Verstappen not concerned by Red Bull continuing developing

Max Verstappen says he has no concerns about Red Bull decided to continue to develop this year’s car, despite rivals Mercedes deciding to stop developing this year’s car. One of the challenges for the teams with next years regulation change is when to stop developing this year’s car and focus on next year.

Mercedes brought its final update of the year to the British Grand Prix in July, but Red Bull has opted to keep developing its current car, the RB16B, as well as placing resources on next year’s chassis.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has previously said, it was “not in our culture” to give up on the current season and end development early, and that he felt the balance between the 2021 and 2022 cars was “about right”.

Speaking to the Dutch edition of Motorsport.com, Verstappen echoed Horner and was confident that the team was putting the resources into next years car. Asked if he had any concerns about the impact focusing on 2021 could have on the 2022 car, he said, “To be honest, I don’t think so.”

“We have enough people already also working on next year’s car. We can talk about it for a long time, but also I personally don’t know how good or how bad it’s going to be next year. Nobody knows, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Verstappen has had a thirty-two-point lead reduced to just eight points going into this weekend, following his retirement at Silverstone after a clash from Hamilton and could only finish ninth in Hungary after picking up damage at the first corner.

Reflecting on the season so far, Verstappen said there had been “quite a bit of bad luck” for Red Bull, but felt the pace advantage had been with Mercedes at the most recent events.

Saying “I think it’s very close. I do think that the last two races were in the advantage of Mercedes with their latest upgrades, but we also know that we still have a few things [updates] to come. I hope that will give us a bit more lap time.”

 

Red Bull set for grid penalties at some point

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are likely to take a grid penalty at some point this season for exceeding his permitted engine allocation. Honda announced on Thursday that their investigation into repairing the power unit damaged in the first lap accident with Lewis Hamilton cannot be repaired.

The Dutchman is already on his third of three allowed engines, meaning he will likely need to use a fourth engine, which would mean a start from the back at a future race. The situation is a significant blow for Verstappen in his title battle with Hamilton, who leads the championship by eight points ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

It remains unclear how many races remain this season because of the pandemic and travel restrictions. Honda said it was working on the assumption of there being at least another eleven races. This is almost certainly more than can be completed with each Red Bull driver’s current engine allocation.

Technical director Toyoharu Tanabe said on Thursday, “We lost a power unit for each driver of Red Bull Racing and it looks like we will have around 22-23 races on the current basis, so we must think our PU strategy accordingly.”

The situation means Verstappen and Perez effectively have only one engine to do half the season with when each power unit is designed to be able to sustain a mileage equivalent to about a third of the championship.

 

Vettel opens up on Budapest disqualification

Sebastian Vettel has opened up on “very bitter” podium-losing disqualification at the Hungarian Grand Prix and says he hopes no other driver has to go through a similar situation in the future.

Vettel was stripped of second place as the FIA were unable to take the required one-litre fuel sample from his car after the race. Aston Martin cited a fuel system failure and leak as the reason for the rules breach, but dropped their appeal against the disqualification with the governing body unwilling to budge on their initial ruling. That cost him eighteen points in the championship.

Vettel told reporters, “I guess rules are rules. We didn’t know we had a problem to be honest. When we checked, the fuel wasn’t in the car and we got disqualified. but we thought the fuel was in the car. So I don’t know for future whether there is a better way to handle this, but I don’t think there’s much that could have been done.”

“It’s very bitter because first I think we did not have an advantage, second there was no intention or no way we could explain that too little fuel was in the car. So something happened over the course of the race, a leakage or something and then the fuel wasn’t there anymore.”

The four-times champion then called for “more tolerance” over the rules in such exceptional circumstances such as his, adding “you don’t wish that [for] anyone else to happen.”

 

Alonso decodes cryptic messages announcing he’s staying with Alpine

Fernando Alonso has decoded the cryptic messages post on social media on Wednesday announcing he will stay with Alpine next season. The double world champion returned to F1 this season with the team after two years away.

The Spaniard took some time to re-find his feet in the sport following his return and was outperformed by teammate Esteban Ocon, but since Baku, in June he appeared to turn a corner managing to score points in every race since. He played a major role in allowing Ocon to take his first win in the chaotic race in Budapest

Ocon found himself in the lead after a chaotic start, and Alonso held off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for eleven key laps towards the end of the race, without which the seven-time champion may well have caught and passed Ocon for the victory.

Alpine chief executive officer Laurent Rossi said: “Fernando has impressed us all since he returned to the sport at the beginning of this year. His dedication, teamwork and focus to extract the maximum from the team is incredible to be a part of and certainly special to witness.”

Alonso was on a so-called “one-plus-one” contract with Alpine, with an option for the team to keep him on for 2022. Rossi described the line up as “a perfect driver line-up, amongst the strongest on the grid.”

Ocon had already announced a new contract two months ago, Alonso’s contract renewal was almost an evitability having been on what was described as a “one-plus-one” contract with Alpine, with an option for the team to keep him on for 2022.

Alonso said he was “very happy” to stay at Alpine, adding: “I felt at home the moment I returned to this team and have been welcomed back with open arms. It is a pleasure to work again with some of the brightest minds in our sport at [the UK and French bases at] Enstone and Viry-Châtillon.

 

FIA Circuit Changes

The FIA have announced they will be monitoring track limits on the exit of Raidillion/Eau Rouge (Turn Four), the exit of Les Combe (turn nine) and through the Bus Stop Chicane (Turns Nineteen).

In at Eau Rouge, any time achieved by leaving the track defined by the red and yellow kerb will be deleted, with the teams being told through the messaging system. On the third occasion, the driver will be shown a black and white flag, any further cutting will then be reported to the stewards.

While if a driver overshoots the first part of Les Combes (Turn Five) he must follow the run off road to the exit of the section (Turn Nine). These will not apply to any driver who is judged to have been forced off the track, each such case will be judged individually.

 

Emotional weekend for Schumacher thirty years after fathers debut

Mick Schumacher says entering this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix will be “great and emotional racing” on the 30th anniversary of his father Michael’s debut at Spa. The German heads to Spa for the first time as an F1 driver this weekend, where his father started his career with Jordan in 1991.

Speaking to Autosport, Schumacher outlined his thoughts on discussions that make comparisons between the F1 age where Michael began his career. Over the next two decades he would start 306 races started, ninety-one wins and seven world titles, and the current era, as well as how he feels about competing in the upcoming race.

Schumacher said, “Well, a comparison is very difficult to talk about right now – to compare 1991 and now. Just because there were a lot of reliability issues back in the days, and obviously also some of the developments some teams could do was just very different to how it is now.”

“if you think how quick these cars are today, the gaps are not as big as they were maybe in the past. So yeah, it’s a very difficult question to answer. But it’s still fun that it’s 30 years exactly. On the day at Spa, it’s going to be great and emotional racing.”

Mick says he been thinking “Very little” about the milestone, but when he signed for Haas it would be thirty years.” He also pointed out he and his father started at the same age.

Schumacher is currently nineteenth in the 2021 drivers’ championship only ahead of his Haas teammate, Nikita Mazepin, with a best result of twelfth in the chaotic race in Hungary that preceded the summer break.

 

Daimler & Aston Martin cleared following FCA investigation

German and British financial regulators BaFin and the Financial Conduct Authority, have announced they have found no evidence to pursue an insider trading investigation in the shares of Daimler, including the purchase of a stake in the Aston Martin by Mercedes’ F1 CEO Toto Wolff.

BaFin had been looking into the trading in Aston Martin shares, with the FCA also finding no evidence to pursue a probe, the Financial Times reported earlier. A statement said “I can confirm that BaFin looked into the transaction with regard to possible suspicions of insider trading [in Daimler securities], but did not find any clues.’

Daimler said it had no comment. FCA and Aston Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular working hours.

Wolff,  who owns about a third of the Mercedes team, purchased shares in luxury carmaker Aston Martin in April last year. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes, also owns a minority stake in Aston Martin.

Wolff bought a 0.95% stake in Aston Martin from a vehicle controlled by Lawrence Stroll, the U.K. carmaker’s executive chair, according to the FT.

In the following month, Aston Martin appointed Tobias Moers, the former head of Mercedes’ AMG business, as its CEO. In October, Daimler said it would raise its stake in Aston Martin to 20% by 2023.

A Mercedes spokesman told the FT Wolff had not been aware of either plan when he acquired the shares and that “all relevant disclosures were made to the U.K. financial authorities at the appropriate time,” according to the FT. Wolff did not acquire or trade any Daimler shares or securities last year, the newspaper added.

 

The weekend ahead

This weekend the season resumes following the summer break at Spa, the first race in a triple header. As ever the focus remains on the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, I think it could be a race where they could be matching each other in terms of performance.

This circuit has been slightly mixed for Mercedes in the hybrid era, but on paper you need to think that they can be slightly ahead of Red Bull. But I still think its going to be close, Verstappen also might be hungrier for victory as this is his second home race. Spa could put them head-to-head, that will create drama and excitement this weekend.

But this season, you have to be cautious when saying which team is ahead and that’s always at the back of my mind. I don’t think we will truly know until FP3 or qualifying, that’s good for the sport. Upgrades as well, who has managed to bring updates and find those tenths.

McLaren and particularly Lando Norris I think should go well too, they have made the next step and the English-Belgian driver has been one of the stand out performers this season. McLaren have gone well at circuits like this and are currently fighting Ferrari, I think though Ferrari had that strong race at Silverstone I haven’t really seen consistency at this kind of circuit.

Alpine could join that group following the win in Budapest, they are making steps forwards as well. Aston Martin is an unknown, as we always say Spa for some reason is a very good circuit for them, we don’t know why.

 

You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix via Twitter @FormulaOneVault starting with FP1 Friday from 11:15  / 10:15 BST, Qualifying 14:45/13:45 and race coverage 14:30/13:30 lights out 15:00 / 14:00
Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.