Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2019

Ferrari running out of chances to win: Five Belgian GP talking points

2019 Belgian Grand Prix

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Will Ferrari finally get their first win of 2019? How will Alexander Albon fare on his Red Bull debut? Here are five talking points for this weekend’s race.

Ferrari need a win

The red cars finished a full minute behind Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in Hungary. Fortunately for them, Spa is pretty much the opposite of the Hungaroring.

It’s not just that it boasts several long, flat-out sections where Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc can tap the best from the Ferrari 064 power unit. It also has far fewer of the slower corners which expose the car’s most significant vulnerability.

The team therefore are cautiously positive about this weekend. But they know the competition won’t have stood still, and sure enough, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said the engine facility at Brixworth had “worked straight through the F1 summer break to improve the performance and reliability of our power unit”.

Nor can the threat of Red Bull be discounted. The team made a major step forward in performance between the French and Austrian Grand Prix. This weekend will provide a fascinating measure of how competitive they and Honda are at a circuit where power is vital.

Red Bull’s driver swap

The last time Red Bull swapped two of their drivers in the middle of a season the incoming racer, Max Verstappen, won his first race. Given their form in recent races, with two wins from the last four, Alexander Albon arguably has an even better chance of doing the same than Verstappen did three years ago in Spain.

While such heroics would undoubtedly be welcomed by Red Bull, the realistic expectation of Albon is he’s going to be a more regular contender for the top six than Pierre Gasly.

As for the driver moving in the opposite direction, Gasly at least has an opportunity to rescue his reputation at a team he thrived in 12 months ago. But he only needs to look across at Daniil Kvyat on the other side of the garage for a reminder that Red Bull don’t often give their drivers second chances at the top team.

Silly season 2020

Esteban Ocon, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2019
Ocon is closing in on a return
While Albon seeks to demonstrate he deserves to spend the 2020 F1 season at Red Bull, many other drivers are vying for places on next year’s grid.

Rumours persist that Valtteri Bottas will get an extended stay at Mercedes, meaning a place will have to be found elsewhere for Esteban Ocon. Renault seems a likely destination, as they came close to signing him 12 months ago, but it remains to be seen what that could mean for their current line-up.

There is also speculation around a possible change in line-up at Haas, whose drivers have collided three times already this year, and Williams, where the gulf in performance between the two drivers speaks for itself. And the rumours Sebastian Vettel may not stick around for a sixth season at Ferrari haven’t gone away either.

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Williams finally in the mix

George Russell, Williams, Hungaroring, 2019
Are Williams now legitimate midfield contenders?
Hungary signalled a major change in fortunes for Williams. They had lagged far off the pace of the next-slowest cars earlier in the season, but finally out-qualified and out-raced some of their rivals on merit.

This was not expected. As Robert Kubica pointed out before the race, the car’s Mercedes power unit is by far its greatest strength, and the Hungaroring is not exactly blessed with opportunities to use it. Spa, therefore, could be another good weekend for them.

Qualifying tactics

Those long Spa straights make running in the slipstream of another car especially important during qualifying. On several occasions this year we’ve seen drivers jockeying for position ahead of their final flying laps, and sometimes drivers have had their qualifying efforts spoiled.

The high-speed run through Blanchimont into the very slow chicane at the end of the lap could make late moves like this risky. Keep an eye on the action there at the end of each phase of qualifying.

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2019 Belgian Grand Prix

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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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17 comments on “Ferrari running out of chances to win: Five Belgian GP talking points”

  1. Does Albon getting the Red Bull seat count as a demotion for Kvyat? If yes, the odds are heavily stacked in Max’s favour for a win

    1. No. Demotion and glass ceiling are not one in the same thing.

    2. Kvyat is a known quantity; Albon isn’t.
      I think what we are seeing here is RB rolling the dice. With Kvyat they will get a 3 or 4. With Albon, they might get a 5 or 6 but might also get a 1 or 2 and as an added bonus get a much clearer perspective on their relative driver strengths for determining their 2020 lineup.

  2. Since pole position means (almost) nothing at SPA, I can see Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen working on race setup all the way trough the weekend.

    That may leave Bottas and Leclerc with a mission for sunday: start ahead, burn fuel and rubber until the gap is wide enough to protect their teamates from smart strategies.

    That is of course If everything goes right at turn one… It never does at SPA…

    1. It’s almost as if P2 is the coveted spot to start at, isn’t it?

      1. Agreed! I would joke “start at any position but away from Vettel”, but I am not going to do that.

        1. I would not laugh, but i might not be able to resist that.

    2. Good call, wouldn’t be surprised to see Bottas on pole here and then struggle a bit in the race.

  3. Mercedes is ridding themselves from the latest spec Pu so no way for Ferrari and they’ll lose .5 alone in the bus stop and 1st turn.

  4. As a fan of theirs, I’d really like to see Ferrari win the next two races (Leclerc in Spa and Vettel in Monza) but I just have a feeling something catastrophic will happen allowing either Merc or RedBull to seize the win. Ferrari as a whole is just not mentally ready to win. The car sucks yes but I’d rank it above the F14-T and SF16-h cars by far. As far as things stand, 4th and 5th in the driver’s championship is theirs.

  5. 3rd and 4th maximum for Ferrari if either bottas or max has a bad race.

  6. I am mostly interested in what Albon can achieve in Spa qualifying. 6th for him would be “satisfactory”, 5th – “almost good”, 4th – “good”, 3rd – “very good”, 2nd – “excellent”, pole – Horner talking to Max – “Max, we have a problem…” :)

    1. just placed the more realistic remarks.

      6th for him would be “good”, 5th – “very good”, 4th – “excellent”, 3rd – “great”, 2nd – “unlikely”, pole – Horner talking to Marco – “Marco, we have a winner…” :)

      1. Given that Merc and Ferrari are likely to be the teams to beat I think RB may be fighting for 5th and 6th. 6th would be a great result for Albon so long as his time is close to Max’s

  7. Max is 8/1 to win the race, seems generous.

    Mercedes should be favourites but perhaps they run too much downforce, might hurt them on the straights?

    Ferrari vs Honda, have Honda caught up?

  8. I wish people would get only straight line speed as to were the ferrari is better, its more to do with low downforce settings, the merc and red bull produce more downforce and the ferrari less so it goes well at track with lower downforce, its not just straight line speed.

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