Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019

Hamilton suspects Mercedes can find tactical edge over flying Ferraris

2019 Belgian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Could this weekend finally see Ferrari’s long overdue first win of 2019?

The headline times after the first two practice sessions gave some cause for optimism. Ferrari were one-two in first and second practice, and Charles Leclerc was eight-tenths of a second faster than the quickest non-Ferrari at the end of the day.

But Sebastian Vettel is not reading much into it. “We’ve seen a couple of times that we’re very quick on Fridays so I’m not blind about that,” he said.

Mercedes were playing themselves in on Friday having introduced a new specification power unit across the board for them and all their customer teams. Lewis Hamilton had a day of niggling faults, some of which related to the engine.

It’s clear from Racing Points’ lap times that Mercedes’ Friday times were highly unrepresentative. The Mercedes-powered RP19 has typically lapped around 2.3% slower than the W10 this year, yet today Sergio Perez was little more than a tenth of a second slower than the quickest Mercedes. Even allowing for the fact Spa is usually one of the strongest tracks for this team, it’s no stretch of the imagination to assume Mercedes could have a second or so in hand.

Lewis Hamilton says Ferrari are strong in the usual places, while characteristically stretching Mercedes’ expectations-managing PR line a little too far.

“All that time is on the straights, mostly,” he said. “There’s not really a lot we can do to generally catch that up. They’ve always been strong all year long, on the straights. I had a feeling this weekend would work pretty well for them.”

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Mercedes’ race simulation looked strong
However Hamilton conceded that when it comes to long run pace Mercedes appear to have a clear line of attack against Ferrari, whose pace dropped off quite quickly on long runs.

“We’ll just have to somehow apply the pressure another way. I think the long run was very strong, I’m about to find out now, but they kept telling me Vettel’s times which were in the high 50s, mid-51s and I was in the low-to-mid 50s. So it’ll be interesting then which fuel load we were on and what tyre life we had. That’ll be interesting to see.”

“You can be quick but then you can’t overtake them on the straights,” he added. “But as long as you can keep up with them you can do it maybe on strategy so we’ll see.”

Despite favourable weather conditions the pace at Spa has been slower so far this year than it was 12 months ago. Leclerc’s pace-setting time was seven-tenths slower than what we saw on Friday in 2018. F1 cars have been quicker at most races this year, but it could be that their draggier nature is penalising them more at this track than last year.

Red Bull appear to have one of the more efficient cars and Max Verstappen is confident that he has more time in hand.

“In [second practice] the car was actually quite good but we had to run a bit with lower power mode on my side of the garage because my engine was a bit older,” he said. “Around here it’s quite hard on the engine so we had to be safe there. So I think tomorrow it will be better.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Red Bull have pace in hand Verstappen believes
But he also predicts Ferrari will be the team to beat in qualifying. “I think Ferrari will be very fast. They will be very hard to beat but we will try to be close to Mercedes and we’ll see what happens.”

So far six drivers have collected grid penalties for power unit component changes this weekend. A seventh could follow if Perez’s stoppage in second practice means he needs more new parts.

Previously this situation led to several drivers sitting out Q2, not wanting to risk progressing into Q3 and having to start the race on used tyres. However under a rules change for this season the starting order for those sent to the back of the grid is now set by their qualifying times, so hopefully we won’t see a repeat of, for example, the lack of action in Q2 at Sochi last year.

The draggy nature of the cars has made finding a slipstream important at tracks with long straights this year. This is why we have seen so many drivers tripping over each other at the end of out-laps in qualifying. This is likely to be important at Spa too, as the first corner is followed by one of the longest flat-out blasts of the year.

F1 is discussing whether to introduce qualifying races next year, but we could well see more wheel-to-wheel action tomorrow.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’44.7881’44.12348
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’44.5741’44.75350
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’45.8821’44.96953
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’45.9731’45.01542
5Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’46.4331’45.11747
6Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’45.5071’45.39438
7Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda1’45.5841’45.77140
8Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’47.0241’45.70845
9Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’46.1981’45.73237
10Daniel RicciardoRenault1’46.4261’45.73549
11Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’46.5571’45.99948
12Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’47.1761’46.12039
13Nico HulkenbergRenault1’46.6691’46.20949
14Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Honda1’47.6361’46.21444
15Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’46.6701’46.25848
16Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’47.3331’46.32846
17Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’47.9681’46.37454
18Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’47.4881’46.39942
19George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’47.88730
20Robert KubicaWilliams-Mercedes1’48.9661’48.33156

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Teams’ progress vs 2018

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2019 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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13 comments on “Hamilton suspects Mercedes can find tactical edge over flying Ferraris”

  1. Not sure if tactics will do the trick.
    In Hungary they only could use the tactics to win because max had no backup in the form of his teammate.
    If Gasly performed merc never could use the free pitstop.
    With both Ferrari following each other this tactic will not work.
    The only tactics that could help Lewis will be the Ferrari tactics.

    1. Hamilton didn’t say they’ll use the same strategy as Hungary’s.

      1. They seldom give a tactic beforehand,

    2. Merc underperformed in Q in hungary, their race pace is better here…

    3. Actually Hamilton didn’t need the extra stop in Hungary. Verstappen’s tyres were well dead before the end of the race anyway. Hamilton was much better at conserving his tyres.

  2. Ferrari is just too strong on the straights and i predict a comfortable 1-2 in qualifying by the Ferrari team. Mercedes have better race pace and tyre life but overtaking a Ferrari even with DRS looking difficult.

    1. Merc have been running a hobbled PU for half a year and they still won almost every Gp, the new PU looks to be bad again… still quick on race pace.

  3. Why worry about it, Ferrari will find a way to throw a win away and he just needs to be there to pick up the pieces.

  4. Mercs are just sand bagging as usual

  5. Ferrari have the faster car, Mercedes the faster driver. Tactics will win.

  6. I too am not going to assume Ferrari’s pace today means a win on Sunday.

  7. Vettel’s race pace and drop-off was pretty awful. They will need to find a magic bullet for that in FP3 for sure.

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