Six things we learned from the Belgian Grand Prix

Formula 1 returned to the track (after its customary summer break) this past weekend as the fastest show in the world descended upon the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

The race delivered its action in instalments, rather than being all-out-drama from start to finish, but was kept intriguing due to the simmering duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the front of things. In the end, it was the Mercedes man who triumphed, securing a significant win, but there were several other things to learn from F1’s visit to Spa…

Better than expected for Ferrari

The fast, flowing layout of the Spa circuit, coupled with several long, full-throttle sections, meant that Mercedes were the firm favourites heading into the weekend. While they made good on that expectation via a fine win for Hamilton, Ferrari can leave Belgium in the knowledge that proceedings could have gone a lot worse. The last time the sport visited a fast and flowing circuit was at Silverstone, where Mercedes utterly put Ferrari to the sword. However, the Scuderia appear to have made some progress in this area of weakness in the interim, and while Hamilton was all but impervious out front on Sunday, Ferrari had the pace to keep him honest. Vettel even had a shot at victory in the closing stages, and while it was ultimately not to be, Ferrari can look forward to their home race at Monza this weekend with more optimism than some may have expected.

A blow for Bottas

Two pole positions, two victories, and third place in the title battle. Things could certainly be going worse for Valtteri Bottas. The good news for the new man at Mercedes is that he has, at times, displayed the electric pace required to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Hamilton and Vettel. The bad news is that those two drivers perform at that level every weekend, while Bottas has only been doing so about 50% of the time. The costly mistake in the closing stages of yesterday’s race that saw Bottas drop from P3 to P5 means that he now trails Hamilton by 34 points, and Vettel by 41. Those margins are by no means impossible to turn around, but unless some misfortune befalls his two rivals, Bottas’ bid for the title may be all but faded away. It isn’t impossible for the Silver Finn, just a little unlikely.

The Force India flop

Force India were looking set for a useful result in Spa, with both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon spending most of the race in the top ten. However, their controversial collision (for which neither driver was willing to accept responsibility) on lap 30 of the race put paid to most of their good work. The underlying issue at the team has been that they have a young driver who is fast and constantly improving, coupled with a more experienced driver who wants to protect his status as team leader.

The result has been a series of unnecessary and unsavoury incidents between the pair, which has been to the detriment of the drivers individually, and the team as a whole. On a more positive note, Force India are largely secure in fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, and they look likely to hold on to that position until the end of the season. However, it is also clear that the current situation between the two drivers is unsustainable, both from a performance viewpoint and in terms of team morale. It will be interesting to see how the team manages the pair from now on, especially in a future situation where a truly important result, like a potential podium finish, is at stake.

No home joy for Verstappen

Max Verstappen has suffered more than his fair share of misfortune so far in 2017, and that trend continued in Belgium as he was forced to retire due to a loss of power during the early stages of the race. The Red Bull man has now failed to finish in six out of twelve races so far this year, but to do so on a weekend where he was being cheered on by an enormous orange-clad army seems to have left him even more unimpressed than usual.

The Dutchman (who was born in Belgium) will surely be left all the more frustrated by the comparative success of Daniel Ricciardo in the sister car. The Australian has only retired three times this season, and he has made the most of his chances to claim a string of strong results, including a spectacular win in Baku. Verstappen is undoubtedly a special talent, and he has a vast amount of time on his side. He should not be hasty to leave a Red Bull team that will surely produce a lightning-fast car again at some point. However, he also knows that he should be at the front fighting for the champagne, and to be hindered from doing so while his teammate’s personal trophy cabinet grows ever larger will leave a bitter taste in his mouth.

A minor milestone for Haas

When Haas marked their F1 debut (at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix) by claiming a remarkable P6 finish with Romain Grosjean, they made clear that they hadn’t entered F1 to bring up the rear behind their more established rivals. The team enjoyed some good weekends in 2016, and some that were less good, amassing a total of 29 points in the process, which was good enough for P8 in the Constructor’s Championship. In 2017, the team has carried on its steady progress, with Grosjean’s P7 finish in Spa taking their points tally for the season to 35. With so much racing still to come, Haas, who currently sit in P7 in the Constructor’s Championship, have every opportunity to improve significantly on their debut season. The road to the front of the pack remains long and difficult, but Haas are a good advertisement of the potential for a team to enter the sport and enjoy respectable performance immediately. To be frank, after the overall failure of all three the teams that joined the grid back in 2010, F1 could do with an example of a successful newcomer.

Williams feel the heat

Williams initially entered the current season with the hope of fighting Force India for fourth place. Unfortunately for the team, even at this relatively early stage, it is clear that such an outcome is highly unlikely. Williams have endured several difficult weekends of late, and find themselves under pressure from Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault for P5 in the Constructor’s Championship. Their current tally of 45 points will leave the Grove-based squad disappointed, and to be frank, that number is rather inflated by Lance Stroll’s well-deserved but unlikely-to-be-repeated P2 finish in Baku. The team were uncharacteristically slow around Spa, with both Stroll and Felipe Massa failing to progress from Q1, and while Massa ultimately came home in P8, that result owes a significant debt to external circumstances rather than electric pace. On the whole, Williams are a team under pressure, and with their rivals behind turning up the heat, they could conceivably finish the season anywhere between P5 and P8.

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