Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018

Will Ferrari’s superior speed give Vettel the winning edge over Hamilton?

2018 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Sebastian Vettel must be thinking this feels a bit too familiar.

In Belgium, as in Hungary, Ferrari turned up with the quickest car over a single lap. But once again rain in qualifying handed an opportunity to Lewis Hamilton, and he took it, giving him the upper hand going into Sunday’s race.

But Spa is a completely different beast to the Hungaroring, and Vettel will start directly behind his championship rival, which should set up an exciting race.

After the short sprint to the La Source hairpin, the long, high-speed run through Eau Rouge, Raidillon and along Kemmel gives drivers the chance to slipstream and pass at the start. Vettel’s Ferrari is quick off the line and has a 4kph advantage in a straight line, so expect him to be on the attack from the start.

Energy deployment in the opening phase of the race will be critical. However Hamilton and Vettel use their power boosts to attack and defend in the opening corners could decide who emerges on top. During their brief battle last year, Hamilton wielded his to great effect o keep Vettel behind. But this time around, with the latest upgrades fitted to their cars, Mercedes is believed to have a slight edge.

However the full picture isn’t clear yet, according to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “It’s very difficult to judge because we haven’t seen the real performance because it was wet in the session where everybody would have switched [up] the engines,” he said.

“What we have seen in the wet is pretty similar. Different performance characteristics, but pretty similar.”

Nonetheless it is clear that Ferrari’s strength is on the straights. In dry running Vettel was quickest in sectors one and three but Hamilton pulled almost four tenths on him in the middle of the lap.

That suggests Hamilton is running slightly more downforce on his Mercedes. This could help him reduce tyre sliding and make his rubber last longer.

Note that Q2 was dry, so the drivers who reached Q3 will have to start the race on the tyres they used in Q2. They all used super-softs with the exception of Bottas, who will start on softs after being relegated to the back row by his power unit change penalty.

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Pirelli believes drivers should be able to make the super-softs last until lap 16, at which point they can run to the end on the next-softest compound, the soft. Strategy will therefore be all about who dares to make that pit stop first.

But Spa is also a track where Safety Car and VSC periods are a constant risk due to the high-speed nature of the circuit. Several times already this year these have created unexpected changes at the front.

Esteban Ocon, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
Force India pulled off a surprise in qualifying
The championship protagonists won’t have their team mates close at hand to begin with due to Bottas’s penalty and Kimi Raikkonen running out of fuel during qualifying. If the latter makes his way past Romain Grosjean and the Force Indias quickly he could become a factor in the fight for victory.

Following their rescue from administration, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez’s sweep of the second row for Force India is the feel-good story of the weekend. But what kind of result can they expect to come away with? They’re unlikely to keep Raikkonen and Bottas behind, but they may be able to offer more of a challenge to Red Bull.

Over a single lap, Force India were giving away less than half a second to Red Bull in qualifying. That gap is likely to rise in the race, as Force India won’t have the benefit of Mercedes’ qualifying engine modes.

But the contrasting strengths of the cars shows Red Bull could have difficulty making their way past the Force Indias. The RB14s may be almost a second quicker through the middle of the lap, but that’s not usually where the overtaking gets done. The Force Indias are quicker through sectors one and three, indicating Red Bull may have to rely on strategy to get them ahead.

For Force India the priority will clearly be to bag as many points as possible, having had their tally reset to zero. Above all the team needs to avoid a repeat of the costly clashes between its two drivers at this track 12 months ago.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’42.9771’41.553 (-1.424)1’58.179 (+16.626)
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’43.0351’41.501 (-1.534)1’58.905 (+17.404)
3Esteban OconForce India1’44.0031’43.302 (-0.701)2’01.851 (+18.549)
4Sergio PerezForce India1’44.0041’43.014 (-0.990)2’01.894 (+18.880)
5Romain GrosjeanHaas1’43.5971’43.042 (-0.555)2’02.122 (+19.080)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’42.5851’41.533 (-1.052)2’02.671 (+21.138)
7Max VerstappenRed Bull1’43.1991’42.554 (-0.645)2’02.769 (+20.215)
8Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’43.6041’43.126 (-0.478)2’02.939 (+19.813)
9Kevin MagnussenHaas1’43.8341’43.320 (-0.514)2’04.933 (+21.613)
10Valtteri BottasMercedes1’42.8051’42.191 (-0.614)
11Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’44.2211’43.844 (-0.377)
12Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1’44.1531’43.865 (-0.288)
13Charles LeclercSauber1’43.6541’44.062 (+0.408)
14Marcus EricssonSauber1’43.8461’44.301 (+0.455)
15Nico HulkenbergRenault1’44.145
16Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’44.489
17Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’44.917
18Sergey SirotkinWilliams1’44.998
19Lance StrollWilliams1’45.134
20Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’45.307

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.217 (5)43.115 (1)28.221 (3)
Sebastian Vettel29.872 (1)43.496 (3)28.120 (1)
Esteban Ocon30.154 (4)44.821 (14)28.327 (5)
Sergio Perez29.963 (3)44.663 (11)28.388 (7)
Romain Grosjean30.251 (7)44.140 (6)28.481 (9)
Kimi Raikkonen29.957 (2)43.426 (2)28.135 (2)
Max Verstappen30.421 (11)43.909 (5)28.224 (4)
Daniel Ricciardo30.369 (9)44.429 (7)28.328 (6)
Kevin Magnussen30.238 (6)44.496 (9)28.510 (11)
Valtteri Bottas30.262 (8)43.521 (4)28.408 (8)
Pierre Gasly30.633 (15)44.560 (10)28.645 (15)
Brendon Hartley30.410 (10)44.795 (13)28.557 (13)
Charles Leclerc30.600 (13)44.439 (8)28.503 (10)
Marcus Ericsson30.532 (12)44.678 (12)28.549 (12)
Nico Hulkenberg30.687 (17)44.859 (15)28.599 (14)
Carlos Sainz Jnr30.603 (14)44.941 (16)28.718 (17)
Fernando Alonso30.699 (18)45.325 (18)28.804 (19)
Sergey Sirotkin30.824 (19)45.221 (17)28.953 (20)
Lance Stroll30.665 (16)45.650 (20)28.752 (18)
Stoffel Vandoorne31.066 (20)45.576 (19)28.649 (16)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari315.6 (196.1)
2Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes315.6 (196.1)-0.0
3Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes314.9 (195.7)-0.7
4Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer313.2 (194.6)-2.4
5Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari312.7 (194.3)-2.9
6Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari312.6 (194.2)-3.0
7Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari312.4 (194.1)-3.2
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes311.8 (193.7)-3.8
9Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari311.0 (193.2)-4.6
10Fernando AlonsoMcLarenRenault310.6 (193.0)-5.0
11Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer310.3 (192.8)-5.3
12Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes309.6 (192.4)-6.0
13Carlos Sainz JnrRenaultRenault309.3 (192.2)-6.3
14Charles LeclercSauberFerrari309.2 (192.1)-6.4
15Brendon HartleyToro RossoHonda308.3 (191.6)-7.3
16Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes307.8 (191.3)-7.8
17Sergey SirotkinWilliamsMercedes306.9 (190.7)-8.7
18Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda306.3 (190.3)-9.3
19Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenRenault306.2 (190.3)-9.4
20Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault302.9 (188.2)-12.7

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Over to you

Will it be Hamilton or Vettel? Or can you see a surprise winner emerging in the Belgian Grand Prix?

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

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Belgian Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 Belgian Grand Prix articles

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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