Notebook – Belgian Practice
Mercedes and Red Bull topped a practice session each ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. In FP1, it was Valtteri Bottas who was half a hundredth faster than his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton with Max Verstappen third.
While in FP2, the dutchman was four-hundredths faster than the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton. This weekend is again going to be about Mercedes v Red Bull, this is a power circuit and that is where Mercedes has looked strong throughout the season.
They certainly have the pace on Friday but as ever the question is what wasn’t Mercedes showing? The world champions have been stronger at these types of circuits this season when we get into qualifying and the race. Spa was always going to be either a Silverstone where Red Bull was going to be ahead or a Barcelona where Mercedes were dominant.
However, speaking after the session, Hamilton told the media he believes Red Bull are ahead and that Mercedes had work to do, but seemed not overly alarmed.
Saying, “I think the Red Bulls are just a little bit quicker at the moment. But even Racing Point, I think it is right with us. And then also Daniel Ricciardo is very close. So that makes it exciting. We’ve got some work to do, that’s for sure, to try and dial in the car a bit more. But it doesn’t feel bad at all.”
He says, however, that he anticipated this weekend that Red Bull was going to be closer and now was the time to try and understand why, to resolve that.
Verstappen, on the other hand, believes that Mercedes will be ahead as they in his view were struggling with balance. Saying “I expect them to be stronger tomorrow. You can see already on the long runs they are also very competitive. I’m not expecting to fight for pole position, but if we can be a bit closer, that would be good.”
The Dutchman is expecting the battle for Red Bull to be with Racing Point. Racing Point historically has been very strong at Spa, and in FP2 Sergio Perez was only four-tenths behind Verstappen’s fastest time. But he remains confident that he can go after a sixth consecutive podium.
Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon was a lot closer finishing fourth in FP2 just three tenths off the pace. He said and appeared to be a lot more comfortable with his car. Saying “We brought some things here this weekend and it’s making the car just gel a little bit better. Corner balance feels good as well, so I’m happy that it’s progressing the right way.”
Ricciardo had a stoppage on track during FP2 because of a hydraulic failure. Team principal Cyril Abiteboul explained, “Obviously there is the disappointment of the run that was cut short because of the hydraulic problem, but as far as I understand no damage to the gearbox, which was new, or to the engine, which is what matters.”
However, the Renault boss believes that the team has made progress when it comes to aerodynamic performance competitiveness. At a low downforce track, a bit like Silverstone, but even a different extreme here, we feel good.
Ferrari, and Ferrari power, appear to be in a very difficult position going into this triple header with all six cars being in the bottom thirteen. Ferrari the works team was even slower than the Alfa Romeos, which doesn’t help going to Monza and Mugello over the next fortnight.
Ferrari expected to “suffer” this weekend, but its still shocking to see a works Ferrari fighting outside the top ten. Charles Leclerc was over a second and a half off the lead in FP2, as well as 1.3 off his pole time last year and is a little surprised to be that far off.
He said, “We’ve tried quite a lot of things. At the beginning, I tried something quite aggressive in downforce levels, but it didn’t really work out. We came back on that. We are just lacking pace at the moment. We need to work hard to catch back, but I don’t expect miracles for this weekend.”
“It’s doesn’t feel good, and it’s sad to see Ferrari so far down. As always, our work as drivers is to give our best, and that’s exactly what I’m trying and what Seb is trying to do in the car.”
Vettel appears still to be finding his Ferrari “difficult and tricky to drive”.
Saying “We’re looking currently to find options with the set-up. We tried a lot this afternoon. Reset and try again, and try something different. I’m sure tomorrow will be a bit better. I’m not sure what the weather will be like, but yeah, we’ll tackle it tomorrow.”