Will softer tyres trouble Mercedes again? Five Belgian GP talking points

2020 Belgian Grand Prix

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Will Pirelli’s decision to bring softer tyres for the Belgian Grand Prix than last year put Mercedes at risk of the blistering they encountered at Silverstone? And what next for the Racing Point case after Renault dropped its appeal?

Here are the talking points for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Faster cars, softer tyres

The only defeat Mercedes have suffered so far this season was on Pirelli’s C2, C3 and C4 tyre compounds in the second race at Silverstone. It wasn’t the first time that selection had appeared this year, but the combination of the softer and a high severity track provoked blistering which hampered the W11s on race day.

For Spa Pirelli has chosen the same tyre compounds, which are one stage softer than those used at the same race last year. Could Mercedes see a repeat of the problems which helped Max Verstappen beat them two races ago?

They’ve had time to work on the problem, and the weather conditions may be cooler this weekend, easing the strain on the rubber. But it should give Red Bull cause to be positive about their chances.

12 months on from the Hubert tragedy

The horrific crash in last year’s Formula 2 feature race will undoubtedly be on the minds of many when they return to the track. Anthoine Hubert was killed in the collision at the top of Raidillon on lap two, and Juan Manuel Correa suffered serious leg injuries. Many drivers and team principals knew either or both, and Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi took part in the race.

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Renault’s Racing Point appeal U-turn

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Rebault’s Abiteboul argued for a stiffer penalty against Racing Point
On Tuesday evening Renault unexpectedly announced it was abandoning its appeal against Racing Point’s penalty, which it had argued was too lenient. Why the sudden change by the team which at the last race was arguing its rivals should have a much stronger points deduction?

Moreover, what implications will Renault’s move have for the other appeals brought by Ferrari and Racing Point? If they follow suit, many will be pleased to see the messy and contentious affair concluded without the International Court of Appeal having to get involved.

One last blast for ‘quali modes’

The FIA confirmed to teams last week that engine ‘quali modes’ will be banned under a new technical directive following Sunday’s race. We can therefore expect this weekend will be the last time teams can ‘turn their engines up’ for maximum power.

Both Spa and the next venue, Monza, are among the most demanding tracks for power units on the calendar. So any differences in performance between the two may lay to rest whether any manufacturer was gaining a particular advantage through these modes.

Still Covid-free?

This is the second time the paddock has reconvened following a two-week gap between races. The last time this happened one driver – Sergio Perez – tested positive for Covid-19.

Have all the team personnel managed to steer clear of the virus this time? No doubt many will have taken note of Perez’s experience and resolved to be extra-cautious.

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Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Belgian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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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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31 comments on “Will softer tyres trouble Mercedes again? Five Belgian GP talking points”

  1. On the Marbles
    26th August 2020, 8:37

    16 degrees a very small chance of rain and quite different track from Silverstone suggests to me these compounds won’t be much of an issue. It may be more interesting to see what effect the new rules on engine modes have on both qualifying positions and race pace (i.e. if teams compensate for less qualifyiong stress by modifying the race mode slightly).

    1. On the Marbles, furthermore, it is worth remembering that the C2 and C3 tyres also appeared at the Spanish Grand Prix, with the C2 considered to be a pretty useful race tyre despite the extremely high track temperatures in that race. In fact, whilst some thought Mercedes might hit trouble in Spain, it was Verstappen who was far more vocal about problems with blistering and tyre wear problems, particularly on the C2 compound.

      Those problems Mercedes had in the 70th Anniversary GP don’t seem to be solely about the tyre compound, but rather the fact that those tyres were used with abnormally high inflation pressures – Pirelli ordering minimum tyre pressures of 23psi front and 27psi rear (by contrast, the Spanish GP saw 23psi rear tyre pressures).

      It seems that the tyre pressures are often forgotten about in this discussion, but they were extremely important in Silverstone – and since Spa’s not going to see pressures that are anything like as high, it’s rather unlikely you’re going to see the same combination of factors that could cause issues.

    2. Also, will we have any overtakes left if an overtake mode is no longer allowed?

  2. Let’s give Max a sporting chance, he not longer weaves in the breaking zones, nor on the kennel straight.

    As for both mercs: sincerely hope the softs don’t make it.

    1. Kemmel. Damn auto correct.

      1. Rodber: Thought you were having a go at Max there😝

    2. The season is still young and leopards can’t change their spots.

    3. Max never weaves in the breaking zone as that would disavantage his turn exit too much. And on the Kemmel straight is more usage of the rules as Max never were faulted for those fictal rule breaking

      1. @macleod Ha, good one!

  3. Is Spa really more power-sensitive than Silverstone? I don’t know why Spa and Monza are always classed together, Spa is closer to Silverstone in that you have teams running a combination of different rear wing configurations, so maybe Spa should be classed as a medium-downforce track like Silverstone (and some others, like Bahrain and Spielberg) in my opinion.

    1. Spa is definitely hard on power units, having a couple of really slow corners (La Source and final chicane) and a long straight. There are a lot of high acceleration events on short, sprinty straights too. Silverstone’s tightest corners all open out onto other corners rather than straights, which is kinder on the engine.

      Spa is a tricky track in terms of downforce and really punishes ineffficient cars. Minimum drag (low downforce) is best from La Source until the end of the Kemmel straight. Most of the rest of the track requires a relatively high level of downforce (high drag). It’s a balancing act, which is why there’s such a variety in the way the teams approach it.

      1. @gardenfella72 a balancing act for sure, but far less than it used to be. I’m expecting the ferrari powered cars to be running almost Monza levels of wing. the red bulls will get away with very skinny wings too just from their inherently aero efficient car (at least that is my presumption, not seen any figures. the mercs are surely supremely aero efficient too, but they also have the best engine). the drag from La Source to Les Combes is a big part of the lap and it’s completely flat nowadays, even with low wing levels. same with the run from Stavelot through Blanchimont to the Bus Stop – so it’s only really the middle sector where downforce is demanded and even Pouhon will be flat for some, so it really is a power circuit now.

    2. @gardenfella72 @frood19 @wsrgo
      The balancing act in Spa is similar to that in Baku. These two are the most difficult ones in this regard, less straightforward than all the other circuits.

    3. The difference between Spa and Silverstone is that Silverstone has more demands on the tyres. Its like Suzuka.

    4. @wsrgo Spa is usually considered to be more of a medium downforce circuit, with Silverstone usually considered to be more of a high downforce circuit due to the number of high speed corners (especially in the final sector).

      In the case of Spa, it’s mainly paired with Monza because both circuits have long stretches of circuit where the driver is constantly accelerating, meaning they have unusually long periods of time on full throttle. Traditionally, the run from La Source to Les Combes used to be the longest period of constant full throttle application on the calendar (Baku might now have replaced that), which is why it is considered to be one of the more taxing in terms of engine wear.

      As for downforce levels, whilst in the past it seemed to be the case that there were more questions of whether to compromise for the middle or the first and last sectors, it seems that there has been an increase in the number of teams leaning towards a lower downforce configuration.

      Firstly, to some extent the cars don’t need to use as much wing as they used to – the floors of the cars are fairly effective these days. Secondly, it is harder to pass an opponent in the middle sector and the main overtaking spots are concentrated in the first and last sectors – so, bearing that in mind, teams seem to be a bit more prepared to slightly compromise on the middle sector to improve straight line performance, either to defend against others or to give them more of a chance to overtake in those sectors.

      If you look at the 2019 Spa aero packages and the 2019 Monza aero packages for Ferrari, they used pretty much the same aero package in both races – they used slightly more wing angle on the rear wing upper flap element in Spa, but it was fundamentally the same rear wing. Similarly, Mercedes seem to have used basically the same aero package in Spa and Monza – in their case, it seems that the main difference was the use of a gurney flap on the upper wing flap in Spa.

      Even most of the midfield to lower order teams, such as Alfa Romeo, basically ran the same aero packages in Spa and Monza – it’s really shifting more towards a low downforce circuit now as the teams basically don’t need to use that much wing to get the downforce they need at Spa these days.

      1. Thanks anon, very lucidly explained.

        I remember watching Leclerc’s pole lap from Spa last year and he was really uneven with his steering input at some of the corners, like La Source and No Name. Could it be that because of the low downforce configurations teams run the cars are harder to handle on tight apex corners, but the time lost in dealing with that lack of grip is miniscule compared to that gained at Kemmel or at the end of Blanchimont?

      2. Very informative.
        Thanks anon.

  4. Looks like it might rain anyway… hope so.

    1. Rain = Hamilton win

    2. At this moment looks were have rain all three days.

  5. Paul Bertenshaw
    26th August 2020, 11:09

    Weather will be much cooler than Silverstone with temps no higher than 21C on Friday and possibly as low as 16C on race day. Getting heat into the tyres may be more of a problem, which may play to one of Mercs strengths, especially when coupled to optimisation of DAS.

  6. No because the weather is not blazing like in Silverstone. It will be way cooler and high chances of rain as well.

  7. The 2020 Pirelli tire isn’t up to current racing standards. Meaning unfit for today’s challenges. You want to solve the Pirelli nonsense? Introduce a second manufacturer to compete. I think we’d see Improvement and hopefully no more garbage from Pirelli. Maybe Pirelli should walk away. I hate seeing such a crappy product essentially ruin the potential of a modern Grand Prix.
    Imagine what we could be seeing…

    1. these tyres are actually the 2019 ones because the teams wanted to keep them

      1. @anunaki Yeah imagine that, the 2020 tyres were even worse than the 2019 ones.

  8. Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Belgian Grand Prix? – Mercedes, of course.

  9. New format that should be tried.
    25/20/15 minute quali sessions on the harder of the two tyres available.
    0/1/2 stop race on the softer of the two tyres available.
    No more gimmicks necessary in F1.

  10. The sad part is that Red Bull has just as much trouble with the tyres as Mercedes, so it will surely be another walkover. At least we can take pleasure in the midfield battle.

    Still refreshing to be back at Spa. Such a joy to watch F1 cars here, and overtaking is also possible.

    1. @balue Yes it was odd that Verstappen had such tyre issues in Spain. Much more than Hamilton at least. Albon as well, although he was sent out to test the hards that didn’t work for anyone. Bottas also was struggling with tyres actually.

      Some people claim Hamilton specifically set out to solve the tyre issues during all practice sessions rather than work on finding more pace. Seeing how the race unfolded, there is some likelihood that this is true.

  11. Robert Dorrans
    27th August 2020, 6:05

    Time to get back to basics the car and engine should only be controlled by the driver with NO interference from anyone else. If 3 tyre compounds are available each driver should have to use All 3 with the driver making the decision of which to use when. This would sort out the real seat of the pants drivers from the mere pilots who have the best gizmos and back up team. Let’s get back to real drivers who can feel the car themselves and work out how to get in front and stay in front. Let’s get away from who can manipulate the rules most and hide the loopholes they have exploited. Let the real talented drivers shine and let the sport get away from the best controlled car getting out in front and just staying there because the backroom engineers can magically produce another 100 hp remotely. As for quali again take away quali modes and let us see real true driver performance

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