Mercedes trim their wings to keep Ferrari behind

2017 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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For the fifth time this year the top championship contenders Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton share the front row of the grid.

And, as on every previous occasion so far, Hamilton has the advantage of starting from pole position. But Spa is one of few circuits where it is potentially not as great an advantage.

Belgian GP qualifying in pictures
That could be even more the case this year, as the increased performance of the cars means Eau Rouge can easily be tackled flat-out. That means the run from Eau Rouge to La Source on lap one tomorrow will be critically important, and could offer Hamilton’s rivals the chance to slipstream by on the approach to turn one.

Out-dragging a Mercedes is a tall order, of course. But remember Vettel did just that in Spain, one of the other occasions where the two shared the front row.

The concern for Vettel will be that Ferrari haven’t quite been on the pace of Mercedes this weekend and he hasn’t quite been a match for Kimi Raikkonen either. Raikkonen took second place with their first runs in Q3, then helped Vettel get up to second place by giving him a tow after apparently spoiling his final run.

However it has been a consistent feature of the season so far that Ferrari’s race pace is more competitive. Mercedes expect that to be the case again tomorrow.

“Ferrari showed very impressive pace on the ultra-soft tyre during Friday’s long runs,” said chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin. “We are expecting a close race.”

Pirelli’s simulations indicate drivers who start the race on the ultra-soft tyre – which will include all the drivers from Q3 – would be best off to run to lap 14 before changing to soft tyres and running to the end. Those with a free tyre choice could use the super-softs at the start and run slightly longer.

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Raikkonen was quick in practice but slipped up in Q3
Interestingly, both Ferrari drivers have kept a spare set of fresh ultra-soft tyres. This could give them a potential extra line of attack late in the race if they have enough of a gap to make a ‘free’ pit stop.

Mercedes are sufficiently concerned about Ferrari’s potential that they’ve taken it into account in their car set-up. “We have chosen a lighter wing level than them which will help us both attacking and defending in the first and third sectors,” said Shovlin. “But it will be a close battle – as we can expect for the rest of the year – and we will be fighting as hard as we can.”

Can Red Bull figure in the fight for victory? “I am positively surprised we are so close to Ferrari,” said Max Verstappen after taking fifth, a tenth of a second behind Raikkonen. “Lewis was way ahead but in the race I think we can be closer so perhaps a good result is possible.”

They too have kept another set of ultra-soft tyres in reserve and should have a good chance to use them at the end of the race as there is likely to be a big gap between them and the next car. However Verstappen needs to avoid a repeat of the first-lap incident which spoiled his last race – and his previous visit to Spa.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’44.1841’42.927 (-1.257)1’42.553 (-0.374)
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’44.2751’43.987 (-0.288)1’42.795 (-1.192)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’44.7731’43.249 (-1.524)1’43.094 (-0.155)
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’44.7291’43.700 (-1.029)1’43.270 (-0.430)
5Max VerstappenRed Bull1’44.5351’43.940 (-0.595)1’43.380 (-0.560)
6Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’45.1141’44.224 (-0.890)1’43.863 (-0.361)
7Nico HulkenbergRenault1’45.2801’44.988 (-0.292)1’44.982 (-0.006)
8Sergio PerezForce India1’45.5911’44.894 (-0.697)1’45.244 (+0.350)
9Esteban OconForce India1’45.2771’45.006 (-0.271)1’45.369 (+0.363)
10Jolyon PalmerRenault1’45.4471’44.685 (-0.762)
11Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’45.6681’45.090 (-0.578)
12Romain GrosjeanHaas1’45.7281’45.133 (-0.595)
13Kevin MagnussenHaas1’45.5351’45.400 (-0.135)
14Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’45.3741’45.439 (+0.065)
15Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’45.441
16Felipe MassaWilliams1’45.823
17Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’46.028
18Lance StrollWilliams1’46.915
19Marcus EricssonSauber1’47.214
20Pascal WehrleinSauber1’47.679

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.038 (1)44.173 (1)28.284 (2)
Sebastian Vettel30.236 (6)44.302 (3)28.257 (1)
Valtteri Bottas30.063 (2)44.648 (5)28.326 (3)
Kimi Raikkonen30.183 (4)44.299 (2)28.502 (7)
Max Verstappen30.532 (7)44.361 (4)28.487 (5)
Daniel Ricciardo30.534 (8)44.742 (6)28.522 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg30.735 (13)45.243 (8)28.887 (14)
Sergio Perez30.137 (3)46.189 (15)28.473 (4)
Esteban Ocon30.187 (5)46.326 (17)28.493 (6)
Jolyon Palmer30.793 (14)45.150 (7)28.877 (13)
Fernando Alonso30.549 (9)45.471 (9)29.070 (17)
Romain Grosjean30.649 (12)45.673 (10)28.811 (10)
Kevin Magnussen30.553 (10)46.004 (14)28.843 (12)
Carlos Sainz Jnr30.636 (11)45.748 (12)28.839 (11)
Stoffel Vandoorne31.033 (17)45.698 (11)28.702 (9)
Felipe Massa30.847 (15)45.957 (13)28.891 (15)
Daniil Kvyat30.880 (16)46.225 (16)28.923 (16)
Lance Stroll31.129 (18)46.604 (19)29.071 (18)
Marcus Ericsson31.413 (20)46.537 (18)29.264 (19)
Pascal Wehrlein31.201 (19)47.081 (20)29.299 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes318.4 (197.8)
2Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes317.6 (197.3)-0.8
3Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes317.4 (197.2)-1.0
4Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes315.9 (196.3)-2.5
5Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari311.9 (193.8)-6.5
6Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari311.5 (193.6)-6.9
7Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari311.1 (193.3)-7.3
8Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari311.0 (193.2)-7.4
9Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda310.5 (192.9)-7.9
10Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer307.8 (191.3)-10.6
11Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer307.3 (190.9)-11.1
12Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoRenault306.9 (190.7)-11.5
13Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes306.7 (190.6)-11.7
14Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes304.8 (189.4)-13.6
15Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault304.3 (189.1)-14.1
16Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault304.2 (189.0)-14.2
17Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenHonda303.5 (188.6)-14.9
18Pascal WehrleinSauberFerrari302.6 (188.0)-15.8
19Jolyon PalmerRenaultRenault302.2 (187.8)-16.2
20Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari301.8 (187.5)-16.6

Drivers remaining tyres

Lewis HamiltonMercedes200103
Valtteri BottasMercedes200103
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull101013
Max VerstappenRed Bull101013
Sebastian VettelFerrari200112
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari200112
Sergio PerezForce India012003
Esteban OconForce India012003
Felipe MassaWilliams101032
Lance StrollWilliams011041
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren101014
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren102022
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso101014
Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso101032
Romain GrosjeanHaas101014
Kevin MagnussenHaas101014
Nico HulkenbergRenault101004
Jolyon PalmerRenault101013
Marcus EricssonSauber201022
Pascal WehrleinSauber201022

Over to you

Will Hamilton take his third win at Spa and cut into Vettel’s lead? And will Raikkonen figure in the fight for victory following his strong practice pace.

Share your views on the Belgian Grand Prix in the comments.

2017 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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14 comments on “Mercedes trim their wings to keep Ferrari behind”

  1. I’m puzzled why that speed trap is located at the beginning of the Kemmel straight. That doesn’t make any sense. This speed trap mainly measures engine power (acceleration), not power to drag. It’s pretty much Mercedes-Ferrari-Renault in this ranking. The main exception is Williams. It’s almost as if they have a problem with their engines.

    I’d like to know the real top speed of the Ferraris. They were 4 kph slower at the beginning of the straight, but how much was it at the end of the straight? Hamilton was hitting 339 kph at the end of the straight.

    1. @f1infigures, they also have a separate detection point at the end of the Kemmel straight, which is coincident with the timing beam for the first sector.

      For comparison, whilst Hamilton hit 339.3kph (Bottas was even faster, at 340.6kph), Vettel hit 332.5kph and Kimi 332.1kph. Mind you, because it doesn’t specify when in the session they hit that speed, it is possible that some of those figures were with the assistance of a tow – Alonso, for example, had the 5th highest top speed in the first sector at 337.8kph.

      1. Thx. :)
        The top speeds are consistent with the fact that Mercedes are running less downforce. In the race things will be different because the drivers cannot use DRS all the time, but this suggests that it will be very hard for Vettel to slipstream Hamilton in the first lap. Hamilton, however, may have a go at Vettel if he loses the lead at the start.

    2. It made sense back in the day as it’s right after Raidillon; it was a good indication had a driver taken Eau Rouge flatout or not. Nowadays, as you say, it really does not mean anything.

    3. The closer the speed trap is to the previous corner, the more effect cornering speed has.
      Williams is weak there, apparently; maybe that’s what keeping them down at the speed trap.

      Mercedes have the holy grail: low drag and still enough grip in the corners. Red Bull have a likewise grail, but less power.

  2. Keith nails it quite good here.

    The (only) key to the race will be the first lap, and the fun fact is that we will see the true personality of Vettel tomorrow. Because this race will be the tipping point as I predicted, and Vettel knows the first lap will be his only chance in the race. Seb’s clear air pace will lack so much after the first stint because with the lower fuel rates more parts of S2 will be flat out and the Mercedes will not lose enough there for Ferrari to try something in S1.

    My prediction is: Hot-headed Vettel will cause something to Lewis as the guy always shows to not handle pressure on vital moments when he needs to fight for his championship instead of getting it handed. Like in 2009 or more iconic the 2015 Bahrain GP, remember that dumb lack of concentration in which he broke his wing? He was Ferrari’s comeback kid back then remember? Same thing now.

    I don’t think he’s just satisfied with the most realistic scenario for tomorrow; Kimi jumps Bottas, gains on him in S2 and keeps him off in the first stint, some SC causes some trouble for Bottas but all ends well when he sails past both Ferrari’s as DRS will be nuts tomorrow without any wind whatsoever.

    PS: If I was Ricciardo I’d be scared as hell. Look who’s around him. Even Alonso will be mad and eager tomorrow.

    1. @xiasitlo Funny you talk about SV not handling pressure then you use Bahrain 2015, not Malaysia or Hungary (Mercedes were also dominant that year and Vettel didn’t have a realistic shot at the title) and you talk about 2009 where Brawn were out of reach but ignore the four titles that followed.

      1. @david-a

        — I’m taking Bahrain as everyone was hyping Ferrari had caught Mercedes as remember, VET won in Malaysia (simply because of Mercedes making a strategy error) and brought Ferrari their first win in over 23 races, so Bahrain everyone was looking if Ferrari could race with the Mercs. It was a breaking point and gave him enormous pressure in his first Ferrari year. Everyone knows this.

        — Brawn where not out of reach second part of the season and even in Bahrain (2nd of the season) if you watch the weekend you’d remember Brawn were beaten in Bahrain quali 2009 by both Toyotas (with Timo Glock of all people) – Seb had all chance to race Button and he just got caught on vital moments in that race.

        But then again I’m not a Ferrari fan. I must be wrong on this.

        1. @xiasitlo
          But the race that followed Vettel’s 2015 Malaysia win was actually China. So it’s odd that you cherrypick Bahrain for your pressure claims. It was hardly an “iconic” race.

          Brawn mightn’t have been out f reach in the second part of the season, but they were in the first, with 6 wins in 8 races for Button, and a few 1-2s with Barrichello “of all people”.

          1. @david-a

            People thought the hype could last in China, because Hamilton tried some tactic of backing Rosberg into the Ferrar i- while some extra wear issues played along – and because of that SC of Verstappen Ferrari stayed very close until the end but couldn’t try anything as the race ended under the SC, so most were suggesting in China ”we didn’t got to see the Merc running at full speed there”.

            Yeah I already discussed that last week here – when Button didn’t have clear air and a superior race pace in that car Barrichello outperformed him for more then 50% of that season. End of discussion.

    2. bottas will overtake vettel on the straight after eu rouge.

  3. ‘That means the run from Eau Rouge to La Source on lap one’

    Not to be pedantic, but they’re doing the circuit in reverse?

  4. forget about mercedes and ferrari, if not for the freakin honda engine, alonso should be on pole today.

  5. I’ve got a feeling we’ll see a 2013 style start to the race where Vettel nails eau-rouge and passes Hamilton on the Kemmel straight.

    As a Mercedes fan I hope that doesn’t happen, but nobody can deny Vettel’s hunger and ruthlessness in a title fight and I suspect we’ll get another showing of that today.

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