Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2020

Mercedes expect “worrying moments” at starts and restarts on Sunday

2020 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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With the possibility of rain hanging over the Belgian Grand Prix, teams faced a set-up dilemma ahead of qualifying.

A lower downforce level could help them overtake on the straights in the dry, but will be more of a penalty if race day is wet. Running more downforce could also help prolong tyre life – particularly important if the race remains dry, given that Pirelli has brought a softer tyre range than last year.

While the differences between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ set-ups are more subtle than in past seasons, there is a distinction. The cars’ performance through the winding middle sector tends to show it up best, and it was here that Mercedes were especially impressive in qualifying. Lewis Hamilton was more than half a second faster than anyone.

Despite having what is, by general consensus, the best engine in the sport, Mercedes will have traded off some straight-line speed by running more wing. They can afford to do so, but they expect it could put them at greater risk at the start.

“The run down to turn five [Les Combes] is going to be one of the more worrying moments of our race,” said the team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin. “Because with the slowest car of the top four [in a straight line] getting that right is going to be a challenge.”

The Mercedes pair swept the front row of the grid as usual, but they see both third-placed Max Verstappen and fourth-placed Daniel Ricciardo as threats.

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“You’ve got Verstappen who’s quicker than us behind,” said Shovlin. “He’s got a couple of tenths and that’s going to be a few car lengths when you get down to turn five because they’re doing 300kph by that point so two tenths is quite a lot of distance.

“Behind him you’ve got Ricciardo, who’s even quicker again. He was about 8kph up on us. So, to be honest, that’s going to be quite an exciting part of the race. And then if we keep getting Safety Cars we get to do it each time again and again.”

Friday also made it difficult to build up a picture of the relative strengths of the different teams over a race distance, according to Shovlin.

“One of the problems of Friday was there was red flags and VSCs and things. You’re trying to piece together the learning from literally a handful of laps. We got like three laps to try and base it on and everyone was trying to learn on different tyres.

“So there is very little data and our poring over that data leads us to believe that [Red Bull] are about the same speed as we are. Now, you never quite know what fuel load they’re running or engine mode. They’re normally closer to us in the race than they are in quali. And here they’re closer in quali than they have been at other circuits. So I think it’ll be pretty close.”

Red Bull, aided by their recent updates, were closer to Mercedes in qualifying than in recent races, and have consistently been much closer on race day. It does look like being a closer fight than the last race at Circuit de Catalunya, but there’s no denying Mercedes go into the race with a clear upper hand.

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.337 (10)42.466 (1)28.365 (8)
Valtteri Bottas30.427 (12)42.692 (2)28.301 (4)
Max Verstappen30.419 (11)43.042 (3)28.286 (3)
Daniel Ricciardo30.252 (7)43.594 (6)28.158 (1)
Alexander Albon30.313 (9)43.243 (4)28.333 (5)
Esteban Ocon30.162 (4)43.808 (10)28.257 (2)
Carlos Sainz Jnr30.182 (5)43.718 (7)28.339 (6)
Sergio Perez30.249 (6)43.774 (8)28.397 (9)
Lance Stroll30.112 (1)43.806 (9)28.340 (7)
Lando Norris30.309 (8)43.489 (5)28.462 (11)
Daniil Kvyat30.141 (3)44.104 (16)28.439 (10)
Pierre Gasly30.135 (2)44.056 (13)28.480 (12)
Charles Leclerc30.450 (13)43.925 (11)28.621 (13)
Sebastian Vettel30.533 (14)44.008 (12)28.720 (15)
George Russell30.562 (15)44.102 (15)28.713 (14)
Kimi Raikkonen30.638 (16)44.081 (14)28.788 (18)
Romain Grosjean30.732 (18)44.232 (17)28.874 (19)
Antonio Giovinazzi30.802 (20)44.366 (19)28.752 (17)
Nicholas Latifi30.763 (19)44.566 (20)28.723 (16)
Kevin Magnussen30.666 (17)44.330 (18)28.914 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Esteban OconRenaultRenault313.4 (194.7)
2Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault312.7 (194.3)-0.7
3Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes312.6 (194.2)-0.8
4Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault312.6 (194.2)-0.8
5Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda312.0 (193.9)-1.4
6Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda311.9 (193.8)-1.5
7Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes311.4 (193.5)-2.0
8Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault310.8 (193.1)-2.6
9Alexander AlbonRed BullHonda309.5 (192.3)-3.9
10George RussellWilliamsMercedes308.9 (191.9)-4.5
11Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari308.1 (191.4)-5.3
12Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes308.0 (191.4)-5.4
13Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes307.7 (191.2)-5.7
14Max VerstappenRed BullHonda307.5 (191.1)-5.9
15Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes307.4 (191.0)-6.0
16Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari307.4 (191.0)-6.0
17Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari307.3 (190.9)-6.1
18Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari306.7 (190.6)-6.7
19Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari306.4 (190.4)-7.0
20Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari304.3 (189.1)-9.1

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Over to you

Will Mercedes take another routine one-two at Spa? Can anyone challenge them in dry or wet conditions? And what can Ferrari do after their dismal qualifying performance?

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

2020 Belgian Grand Prix

Browse all 2020 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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22 comments on “Mercedes expect “worrying moments” at starts and restarts on Sunday”

  1. Mercedes pulling the whole “the quicker cars are behind us” all over again. I wish it were the case. Should be a very straightforward race tomorrow.

    1. I think Lewis was more saying “faster” cars, faster in a straight line, and the trap speeds support that. He was saying it would be an issue on the start, and restarts, with the run to the first turn. In the turns is where Merc is much faster.

    2. Agreed. Forever talking up the opposition when there’s no substance behind it.

  2. Merc worried about the run to Pouhon? What a troll. They’re the fastest in the middle sector by 1/2 a second, and will pull clear of others on corner exits. The run to Pouhon is short, and they have more grip through it anyway.

    1. @roodda it’s a typo in the article. Turn 5 is les combes, at the end of the long straight. The sector times are barmy – merc have really sacrificed the first and third sectors.

    2. Pretty sure Pouhon is typo there, it should say Les Combes (which is Turn 5).

    3. @roodda as others have noted, the editor is the one who has made the error there – it’s quite clear from the rest of the quote that Shovlin is talking about the run to Les Combes, but the editor has put the wrong corner name.

      @frood19 well, generally the attitude at Spa is that you either aim to maximise performance in the first and last sectors, or you aim to maximise the middle sector. That said, I can see an advantage for a slightly higher downforce set up in the first sector, mainly by helping to protect the tyres and thus manage tyre wear – in that situation, it could help with a cleaner exit from La Source, so over a race stint it might prove to be more advantageous.

      Whilst Max’s final sector looks impressive, his first sector isn’t exactly all that impressive either – he’s right there with the two Mercedes drivers – and his relatively fast middle sector points towards him being on a higher downforce set up as well. That would be consistent with his post-qualifying comments, where he indicated that Red Bull, whilst not going for quite as high a downforce set up as Mercedes, were going for a higher downforce setting than most other teams have gone for.

  3. I’ve seen various corners identified as “turn 5” but Pouhon???!!! Surely no way.
    Doesn’t anyone have clear answer on the corner numbering?
    Pouhon must be about turn 10!
    From context, I think he must mean Les Combes here.

    1. By “he” I mean Shov.

    2. Yes brain fade moment for someone @jb784, it’s Les Combes as you say.

      Shov is right though, Merc are in trouble up there, could be four wide into there on Lap 1…

  4. Will Mercedes take another routine one-two at Spa? Yes.
    Can anyone challenge them in dry or wet conditions? No.
    And what can Ferrari do after their dismal qualifying performance? Nothing.

  5. Poor Mercedes, hopefully they can pull a miracle today and get the win… fingers crossed

    1. I think the win is out of question. Podium max if others retire.

  6. Mercedes is like the school friend who says his exam didn’t went well and missed lots of answers. Then he gets a 9.75/10 score.
    For 7 consecutive years.
    This is getting old and boring. The only interesting thing right now in F1 is entering online boards and trolling as much as you can.

    1. Apologies, that was meant in reply to the article, not to L037_tm comment.

      I agree! Ha.

    2. Joe Pineapples
      30th August 2020, 11:46

      Hehe, I had ‘mates’ like that.

      1. English Translation: Mercedes 1-2 Confirmed

  7. I think Toto prepared these statements before season start and his PA just sends them to journos when they ask him a question.

  8. Oooh nooo poor mercedes,you freaking kidding me,even if raining meteor on the track they will still “GET IN THERE LEWIS!”

    1. All we ever hear from you is Blah Blah Blah!

  9. Here we go again.

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