Hamilton untouchable as he delivers a Spa masterclass


Looking around the headlines this morning, as we head into the Belgian Grand Prix for which his team has (once again) locked out the front row, Toto Wolff appears to be "wary" of everyone bar the Duracell bunny.

Honestly, there's playing the underdog card at every turn and then there's taking the absolute p***, and Toto appears to be doing the latter.

Be it the weather, Red Bull, Ricciardo, tyres, the start, the finish, the middle, Racing Point, Susie's cooking or Lewis getting over-emotional, Toto has a whole litany of things that could (but won't) go wrong.

On the other hand, at Ferrari, poor old Mattia Binotto is overseeing a team where nothing is going right.

Sadly, the weather Gods are unlikely to play a part, and while there could be a little rain at the very end of the race - though unlikely at this stage - for the most part conditions will be ideal for Mercedes.

Of course, it could all go pear-shaped at La Source, as it has done before, but this is something the midfield (cue Mattia) has to worry about rather than the Black Arrows. In all honesty, based on the evidence of the various sessions, nobody is starting out of position, so the 'usual suspects' are unlikely to worry the front couple of rows - not that this will cut any ice with Toto.

All that said, Toto might have something to genuinely fear in terms of Max Verstappen, for the Dutchman has looked strong all weekend. Though the RB16 doesn't have the outright grunt of the W11, certainly in qualifying, on the longer runs so far this weekend it has kept the German team honest.

Furthermore, cat-lover, Alex Albon is looking a lot stronger this weekend. Hopefully a good result will give the youngster a much-needed confidence boost.

If Bottas is to take his second win of the year, and, more importantly close the gap to his teammate, he needs the very best of starts and either nails Lewis at La Source or passes him on the run up to Les Combes. If he fails to do this, it's basically game over for the Finn.

Despite a few technical glitches the Renaults have looked hot, a far cry from the misery that was Barcelona. McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo continues to impress, continually getting the better of his teammate - who is no pushover - and showing impressive speed throughout.

As we ponder Toto's negativity, one wonders how he would cope as boss at McLaren or Racing Point, two teams that continually frustrate with their performance swings. When you expect them to do well they disappoint and just as you begin to write them off they hit back.

That said, a strong result for Renault today would certainly add some much needed extra spice to that battle for 'best of the rest' behind Mercedes and Red Bull.

Behind this little lot, in a sort of F1 'no man's land', if you will, we have AlphaTauri, and behind them we have Ferrari.

At Alpha, for the first time this season Daniil Kvyat has out-qualified his teammate, the Russian, fearing he could be dumped for a third (?) time clearly having heard Helmut Marko's recent comments not to mention the new that F2 star Yuki Tsunoda is to test for the team in Abu Dhabi.

Despite the family connections, the Faenza outfit hasn't impressed thus far, and like a couple of other teams has shown erratic consistency.

And then there's Ferrari.

If Toto has a whole list of things to fear, Mattia and the boys have a whole load of things to blame for the team's extraordinary lack of pace.

Stopping short of the Duracell bunny - though give it time - we are told the tyres, aero, the chassis, rules, Seb's cooking, the weather and COVID are to blame, whilst avoiding mention of the elephant in the garage, the fact that the Italian team was essentially caught cheating last year and is still paying the price.

Add in the Maranello outfit's ability to shoot itself in the foot at every given opportunity, its Machiavellian approach to politics, pressure from the Italian media and a team boss who would actually prefer to be back in the engineering department and you have a recipe for disaster.

The one thing the team can be thankful for is that there will be no tifosi present at Monza next weekend to witness this ongoing horror story.

At a time George Russell is anticipating a battle with the SF1000s, it is not unreasonable to suspect that Kimi Raikkonen might give his former team a run for its money also.

Much as we believe Max is capable of pulling off the win today, Lewis is on sublime form at present, and it is hard to see him being beaten on his current form.

While Toto will be biting his nails down to the quick, it's unlikely that he has much to fear, other than Valtteri continuing to lose ground to both his teammate and Verstappen.

The optimal strategy today is a (groan) one-stopper, but as usual the tactics will be heavily influenced by the weather. Aside from the slight possibility of rain, ambient and track temperatures will also play a part.

The fastest theoretical strategy is to start on the softs for 18 laps and then complete the race on the medium. The exact opposite can work too, which is no doubt what Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen - the only drivers in the Top Ten starting on the yellow-banded rubber - are planning.

Second-quickest is another one-stopper, with the softs for 16 laps and the hards for 28 laps, while a two-stopper is feasible as well: starting on the softs for 14 laps, then mediums for 16 laps, then softs for 14 laps.
Slower is a one-stopper using mediums for 20 laps and hard for 24 laps - but in all honesty all these strategies are actually quite close, so it will come down to individual race circumstances.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers begin to head out.

A suspect puff of smoke from Sainz' McLaren sees the Spaniard head back to his garage, where the Ferrari-bound driver jumps from his car. "Something broke," he reports.

Moments later, McLaren announces that Sainz, who qualified seventh, will not start the race after it was discovered that he had suffered an exhaust failure.

"The engine doesn't feel smooth, making lots of noises in mode 6," reports Verstappen.

Ahead of the race, other than the 'end racism' protocol and the national anthem, there will be a minute's silence for F2 star, Anthoine Hubert who perished here twelve months ago.

Air temperature is 18.4 degrees C, while the track temperature is 30.3 degrees. According to Race Control there is a 40% chance of rain.

"Don't be afraid to use lots of DAS on the formation lap," Bottas is told, and they are not referring to a washing powder.

Other than the leading three, Kvyat, Vettel, Russell, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Magnussen start on the mediums, while Leclerc is on softs and Gasly hards.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap. All get away cleanly.

The grid forms.

They're away! Hamilton holds the inside at La Source, while Ricciardo looks to go around the outside of Verstappen. Behind, exiting La Source, Albon challenges Ricciardo while the Points are side-by-side.

Thy head through Eau Rouge as though tied with string, Bottas tucked in behind Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo, with Ocon right behind, just ahead of Albon who heads the Points.

Up the Kemmel Straight, Leclerc, who got a good start, heads Norris and the AlphaTauris, with Vettel and Russell just behind.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.

At Les Combes Verstappen and Ricciardo are alongside, the Australian having to run wide to avoid his former teammate.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon, Stroll, Perez, Leclerc and Gasly. Magnussen is up to 15th.

Perez and Gasly are side-by-side in Eau Rouge but the Frenchman has the advantage. Indeed, Perez is now under attack from Norris.

Giovinazzi is all over the back of Vettel with Magnussen in hot pursuit, all three powered by Ferrari engines.

Leclerc has passed Perez and is now hunting down Gasly.

Replay shows Perez and Gasly battling on the run down to Eau rouge on the opening lap, very, very reminiscent of the Mexican's tangle with Ocon when they were team 'mates'.

"I'm struggling so much on the straights," complains Leclerc as he is re-passed by Perez.

Latifi asks if all is OK with his rear-left, he is assured that it is.

Gasly is hard on the heels of Stroll as the Points struggle once again.

Down in 12th, Kvyat goes quickest in S1.

After 4 laps, as Bottas goes quickest (49.937), Hamilton leads by 1.669, with Verstappen 2.577 behind the Finn. Next time around Hamilton posts 49.470.

Despite his struggles, Norris passes Leclerc with ease on the Kemmel Straight, while Bottas is told that he is not to attack Hamilton.

"We agreed not to go against each other," Bottas is told." "I never heard that," he responds. As you do.

Leclerc really struggling on his softs and as Kvyat closes in the youngster struggles heading into T1. The Russian passes the Ferrari, which is about to fall prey to its Maranello stablemate.

Gasly - on hards remember - is pushing Stroll hard, the Frenchman seeking out the point at which to make a move that will stick.

Ricciardo, the leading soft runner, has slipped to 6.9s behind Verstappen.

Yet again, another stunning start from Magnussen, but now the Dane has slipped back to 18th (of 19).

After 9 laps, Verstappen is 4.3s adrift of Bottas. "Feels like I have no grip on these tyres," he complains.

Oh dear, the safety car is deployed after Russell and Giovinazzi clash.

The teams take the opportunity to pit, Leclerc, Grosjean, Magnussen, Latifi and Raikkonen, however the leaders have almost a full lap to complete before they can stop.

The leaders have to weave their way past the crash scene where there is lots of debris on the track.

Hamilton subsequently pits, as do Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Albon and a whole host of other. Gasly does not pit, nor Perez.

Replay shows Giovinazzi lose the car at the exit to T13 and hitting the barriers, and Russell hitting the Italian's wheel which had become detached.

Hamilton complains about the amount of debris on the track.

Behind the safety car, it's Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Perez, Ricciardo, Albon, Ocon, Stroll and Norris. Everyone on hards now bar Perez (soft) and Albon (medium).

Of course, the driver most disadvantaged by all this is Gasly.

The safety car withdraws at the end of lap 14, as Hamilton pulls away, Verstappen is all over Bottas, as both Mercedes drivers take full advantage of their party modes, possibly for the last time.

"Loss of power," reports Hamilton as he posts a new fastest lap (48.325). "Just energy management," he is told, "should be back to normal now."

Elsewhere, Raikkonen passes Vettel for 12th, the German having passed his teammate during the stops after the crew were not ready for Leclerc.

As Bottas goes quickest (48.156), Ricciardo sweeps by Perez on the run to Lex Combes.

Albon goes around the outside of Perez in the final chicane, as the Mexican continues on 17-lap old softs.

As Perez pits at the end of lap 18, Bottas is warned that it's "going to be a long stint". Perez rejoins in 17th (last) on hards.

Leclerc attempts to pass Vettel at Les Combes but the German slams the door firmly shut.

Next time around, though Leclerc is hard on Vettel's heels, the youngster has his mirrors full of Grosjean. Elsewhere, Ricciardo is harrying Gasly.

Though he's doing a "good job" with management, Hamilton is warned that it will "get a bit tricky at the end".

Gasly offers no resistance when Ricciardo makes his move to relieve the Frenchman of fourth place.

"Really poor traction in 19," reports Magnussen.

In eleventh, Raikkonen is hard on the heels of Kvyat.

On lap 24, taking full advantage of DRS, Albon sweeps by Gasly on the approach to Les Combes. "Don't worry about these guys," Gasly is told, "we will get them back at the end of the race."

At the end of lap 24, Leclerc pits again, the Monegasque rejoining in last position (17th) on mediums. As the team boosts his hydraulic pressure he loses valuable time. The youngster is not happy with the slow stops.

Now Ocon nails Gasly on the run up the Kemmel Straight.

In clear air, Ocon is setting a blistering pace, as Gasly finally pits. The AlphaTauri driver rejoins in 16th on mediums, ahead of Leclerc.

"Everything you've got Valtteri," Bottas is told, as the Finn slips to 3.7 behind his teammate, who makes a minor, unforced error in the final chicane.

"I'm not going to pass these guys in front, **** think about pitting," urges Vettel, who is 2.5s down on former teammate Raikkonen. "I'm happy to box," he adds.

Moments later, Perez sweeps past the German with ease to take 11th.

Vettel is warned that it's best to remain as is.

Gasly passes Grosjean for 13th.

After 32 laps, it's: Hamilton, Bottas (+ 4.5), Verstappen (+ 3.3), Ricciardo (+ 16.9), Albon (+ 4.2) and Ocon (+ 4.1).

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.

Latifi makes his second stop of the afternoon.

Norris is warned that Perez is three cars and 6s behind and that Leclerc has also pitted. Suggesting that McLaren fears for the Briton's 8th place.

A major lock-up for Vettel as he attempts - and fails - to resist Gasly at Les Combes. "There's nothing on these tyres left," he reports.

Meanwhile, clearly heeding the previous advice, Norris post a PB (49.036).

Perez passes Raikkonen to move into the final point scoring position.

"Do you have vibrations," Vettel is asked. "Not too bad," he replies, "but I'm going to get eaten up."

Bottas is told the team can see vibration on his rears. The Finn is now 5s adrift of his teammate.

Ricciardo is told his pace is better than Albon's, the Thai driver currently 7.2s behind the Australian.

"Vibrations are getting worse," warns Verstappen.

Leclerc passes Magnussen for 15th.

Running as one, Perez and Gasly close in on 9th-placed Kvyat.

The Mexican nails the Russian at Les Combes while the AlphaTauri driver is almost certain to be told to allow his teammate through also.

In fourth, Ricciardo posts a new PB (48.556).

As he is about to be warned about track limits, Norris, currently 7th, retorts: "I don't care about the guys behind, er... OK," clearly feeling he was in for another update on his rivals' progress.

A mistake for Hamilton in the final chicane which suggests a tyre issue. We're on lap 38 of 44.

Leclerc lines up Grosjean as the Ferrari driver seeks to deprive the Haas man of 14th.

Shades of Silverstone as Verstappen is told to watch his front-right as Bottas is told to avoid the kerbs, the Finn subsequently making a mistake in the final chicane, like his teammate before him.

Gasly passes Perez for 9th., the Frenchman going on to go quickest in S1.

"I don't like the feel of this front tyre," reports Hamilton.

As Gasly closes on Stroll, up ahead Norris is closing on Ocon.

Lap 42 sees another PB for Ricciardo (48.293) as he maintains an 11s gap to Verstappen.

Ocon closes right in on Albon at Les Combes, but the cat loving Thai slams the door. Norris keeps a watching eye.

Indeed, Norris goes quickest in S1 as he closes in on the Renault.

Gasly passes Stroll for 8th.

Hamilton begins his last lap, 7.8s clear of his teammate, who is 6.3s clear of Verstappen.

Ocon passes Albon at Les Combes, but Norris is unable to follow the Frenchman through.

Hamilton takes the flag. Bottas is second, ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon, Norris, Gasly, Stroll and Perez.

Kvyat is eleventh, ahead of Raikkonen, Vettel, Leclerc, Grosjean, Latifi and Magnussen.

Not the race we'd been hoping for, and while it is wrong to rely on the weather Gods mixing things up, so too it is wrong that we have to hope the tyres don't go the distance.

Taking absolutely nothing away from Lewis, once again we end up with the same three guys from the front of the grid filling the podium. Once again we have to rely on the weather and tyre degradation. Once again, the order was decided at the first corner.

As for overtaking, here at this the most majestic of circuits, the so-called drivers' track, DRS makes a mockery of the art of overtaking.

There is clearly so much potential out there, so much talent, but one cannot help but feel that we are all - drivers included - being short-changed.

Some excellent performances today, but due to strategic errors or even the timing of the safety car we're not getting to see them.

Again, a great performance from Lewis and Mercedes, but Spa deserves better, we deserve better.

That said, Renault's result certainly does bring the Constructors' Championship alive, with McLaren, Racing Point, Ferrari and the French outfit covered by just 9 points.

From God's Scalextric track in the Ardennes we head to the Cathedral of Speed, Monza, and no doubt, if you listen carefully, you can already hear Ferrari praying.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 30/08/2020
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