It was a long summer break with no Formula One on TV and only the drivers’ vacation photos on Instagram to keep fans entertained. But now our long Grand Prix-less nightmare is over! The series descended on Spa, the longest track on the 2022 schedule.
A number of teams elected to change components on their cars, resulting in a long list of cars starting at the rear of the grid. But not even starting 15th could prevent Max Verstappen from putting on an absolute clinic. He is Alabama playing a buy game against Middle Somewhere State A&M. He is inevitable.
Immediate reaction: I love Spa but…
Spa is one of my favorite tracks that F1 goes to and I would watch them race there every week, but I would hope more often than not we get a more interesting race than we did on Sunday. Even with the fun of watching Max cruising through the field, which he basically did in 13 laps, the rest of the race was just a bit of jostling in the mid-field and seeing if George Russell could manage to outrun the Ferraris.
Driver of the race: Max Verstappen
Not sure I’ve had an easier pick than this. Max also had a great drive in Hungary going from 10th to 1st, but then you also had Lewis Hamilton over-performing going from 7th to 2nd. Sunday at Spa was all Max.
Moment of the race: Hamilton goes airborne
On lap 1 Lewis attempted to go around the outside of Fernando Alonso, misjudged where Alonso was, and made contact with his front tire, which sent his car into the air. The incident ended up putting Hamilton out of the race and ruined what likely would’ve been a great day for Mercedes. Based on how well Russell ran today, Hamilton likely would have been contending for a podium once again, and instead slowed their progress catching Ferrari.
Thoughts moving forward: The break changed nothing
I had high hopes that we might see teams come out of the break with some improvements/changes that might cause some intrigue, and instead we ended up with more of the same. Red Bull was dominant, Ferrari likely had the next best car, and Mercedes continued to push Ferrari while not making mistakes.
Bonus section: Just Ferrari things
This section might just have to stay in my write-ups at this point. I hate using up other sections talking about Ferrari and their incompetence so I’ll honor them with their own. Coming to the end of lap 42, Ferrari decided they would pit Charles Leclerc for soft tires and attempt to take the point for fastest lap. The problem is Alonso was close enough to overtake him as he came out of the pits and ruined the attempt. Leclerc ended up taking the spot back on the last lap, but failed to set the fastest lap time because of it. To make matters worse, Leclerc sped on pit road during the stop and was hit with a five second penalty, meaning he finished in 6th instead of 5th. Oh and to make it EVEN WORSE, when Leclerc was interviewed after the race and asked about it, we found out that the team had not informed him of the penalty.
The Belgian Grand Prix initially looked like it might be a bit chaotic with contact between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, as well as Nicholas Latifi and Valtteri Bottas to start the race. The mid-pack was more interesting than the front later, with several long DRS trains forming. But after the final pit stops, the race was extremely boring as everyone seemed to accept where they would finish. The straight line speed of the Red Bull cars was on full display all weekend. It easily crushed anyone’s desire to fight at the front of the field.
Outside of the top three teams, McLaren looked lost, Alpine had another solid day, and Alex Albon actually made a Williams look like a serviceable F1 car.
Driver of the race
There’s no one to give this to other than Max Verstappen. The only pressure he faced was avoiding the wrecks in the opening laps as he drove through the field due to engine penalty. The respect of others was evident as several drivers more or less pulled over to let him through, knowing that if they didn’t, he would eat them and their tires for lunch. He built up such an advantage over everyone that he made a pit stop without surrendering the lead.
Moment of the race
I’m going to start calling this category the WTFerrari of the race. After starting at the back due to another engine penalty, Charles Leclerc worked his way up to P5. He was riding around by himself as he was no match for the top four, but was better than the mid-pack cars.
Then Ferrari galaxy brain struck. The team called him in for another pit stop just before the last lap to put soft tires on the car so he could go snatch the fastest lap bonus point from Max. The move was a bit risky for such as small reward, especially given that Verstappen’s championship lead over Leclerc was significant even before the race. And if anyone suspected that Ferrari might suffer on the execution, they were proven correct. Leclerc exited the pits alongside the sixth place car of Alonso and couldn’t get up to speed fast enough to protect his position. He eventually passed Alonso back, but didn’t pick up the fastest lap. A lot of stress for no gain. AND THAT’S NOT ALL! The call came after the race that Leclerc was penalized for speeding in the pit lane… giving P5 back to Alonso. Ferrari later revealed that the speeding occurred because the sensor was damaged in an incident on lap 4 when a visor tear-off got caught in the car’s brake ducts. They knew the sensor was broken and they pitted anyway.
Mattia Binotto, for the billionth time, stubbornly defended his team’s decision, calling it “brave.” I suppose some might call it “brave” to risk two points to gain one, trying to record a faster lap than a car that has driven circles around everyone all week. Others might call it “stupid.” A gamble is not a smart idea just by virtue of being a gamble!
Thoughts moving forward
Ferrari cannot afford to have tracks where they have absolutely nothing for Red Bull’s performance. Mercedes gets away with it a little more because they can fine tune the car over a race weekend so that a “shitbox” on Friday takes a podium spot on Sunday. Ferrari appears to start the weekend with a competitive car, only to see Red Bull pull away and Mercedes pull even or ahead of them by the end. They should use the rest of this season to identify if they have the right people in the garage who are capable of making improvements. If not, that needs to be straightened out before next season, when it counts again.