George Russell, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021

Hamilton’s other ‘team mate’ is key wildcard for potentially wild race

2021 Belgian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Fresh from a four week reprieve from racing, the F1 paddock could be forgiven for hoping for a typical, straightforward race to ease them back into a groove before the second half of what is still scheduled to be the sport’s most heavily-populated calendar ever.

Instead, the notorious microclimate around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit has conspired against the ten teams and 20 drivers to present them with what looks like being one of the most challenging Sundays they’ll likely endure throughout 2021.

While there’s already plenty of intrigue heading into the Belgian Grand Prix as it is, the more than 80% chance of rain at the circuit for the 3pm local start time could prove a major wildcard that leads to a chaotic afternoon for the field.

At the sharp end of the grid, Max Verstappen has given himself the best chance possible of turning his championship fortunes around by taking pole position. After scoring only five points in the last two rounds and being faster than rival Lewis Hamilton over the opening two days of this weekends, Verstappen knows that he has the power and the opportunity to head into his first home grand prix next weekend with the championship lead once again.

The driver alongside him, however, is one who is likely to be a most curious element in the race – especially should the rain indeed fall as expected.

George Russell, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021
Will Russell play disruptor for Mercedes?
Starting from a remarkable second on the grid, George Russell may be a Williams driver, yet Mercedes will be very happy to have him within reach of Verstappen at the start of the race. After his infamous accident with Valtteri Bottas in Imola back in April and a rather uncomfortable conversation with Toto Wolff, Russell said he had realised that despite not sharing the same car as the factory Mercedes drivers, he needed to treat them more cautiously while on the circuit.

“Lewis and Valtteri are team mates to me of sorts,” Russell had said after reflecting on his Imola crash. “I am in this position because of Mercedes.”

Russell’s desire to achieve a good result for his current team is undeniable and he may very well attack Verstappen at the start if the gap is there to be taken, but with Hamilton and Mercedes’ championship lead vulnerable to Verstappen and Red Bull, it’s also likely that Russell will not want to hold up Hamilton too much, should he find himself exiting La Source ahead of the current championship leader.

The other side of the coin for Mercedes is their second driver, Bottas, is starting from a lowly 13th on the grid – a result of taking too much temperature out of his intermediate tyres on his final Q3 run compounded by a five place grid penalty for his botched braking in Budapest.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021
Keeping wet tyres in the window will be vital
Despite starting deep in the field, Bottas still eyes a top three finish thanks to a low downforce solution for the weekend that should allow him to pick off the cars ahead during the race.

“We should have an advantage on the straights to most cars,” says Bottas. “I hope at some point tomorrow it’s going to be dry and it will help overtaking.”

Bottas could well start near another driver out-of-position – Lando Norris. Depending on the required repairs to Norris’s McLaren overnight following his ugly end to qualifying into the Raidillon tyre wall, Norris may well fall five places on the grid to line up 14th, just ahead of Bottas. That’s if he only needs a gearbox change, and not more drastic repairs to his McLaren.

With Norris arguably having been as good at extracting the maximum from his car this season as anyone on the grid, we can expect to see the orange McLaren navigate its way up through the field no matter the conditions. And should Norris be forced to start from the pitlane, then at least he will have the benefit of adjusting wing levels to best suit whatever conditions Spa may bring for the start of the race.

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But assuming the race requires the use of wet weather tyres at some stage, the most critical factor for all the drivers will be to keep the temperamental Pirelli wet and intermediate tyres within the notoriously narrow operating window. Bottas and Hamilton demonstrated the difficulties caused by failing to generate enough energy into the tyres in Q3, while Fernando Alonso blamed his Q2 exit on overheating his inters after rushing to reach the timing line to begin his final lap before the chequered flag.

As the track conditions can change constantly around various corners on the Spa circuit, there’s a clear risk of Safety Cars, Virtual Safety Cars and even red flag stoppages and restarts potentially throwing all strategy out of the window and meaning drivers and teams will simply have to react.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021
Red Bull have banked a potential tyre advantage
“We know what we will do if it’s a dry race,” says Alpine executive director, Marcin Budkowski. “It’s quite a simple, clear strategy if it’s a dry race.”

But on Saturday evening the official FIA weather forecast stated the chance of rain for the race was over 80%.

“If it’s a wet-dry race… it’s all up in the air,” Budkowski continued. “You could do a whole race on an inter if it’s wet, but if it’s drying they go away very quickly. So it could be a quite interesting race tomorrow if the conditions are wet-drying-wet-drying.”

Which team may hold an advantage in mixed conditions? Red Bull.

“Both drivers have managed to retain a set of inters,” revealed Christian Horner on Sky after qualifying during another downpour. “I think we’re the only team in the top 10 to have that. So if it’s like this – more ‘summer’ conditions – tomorrow, then at least we’ve got something up our sleeve.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’58.717 1’56.559 (-2.158) 1’59.765 (+3.206)
2 George Russell Williams 1’59.864 1’56.950 (-2.914) 2’00.086 (+3.136)
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’59.218 1’56.229 (-2.989) 2’00.099 (+3.870)
4 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 2’01.583 1’57.127 (-4.456) 2’00.864 (+3.737)
5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 2’00.175 1’56.814 (-3.361) 2’00.935 (+4.121)
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 2’00.387 1’56.440 (-3.947) 2’01.164 (+4.724)
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1’59.334 1’56.886 (-2.448) 2’02.112 (+5.226)
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’59.870 1’56.295 (-3.575) 2’02.502 (+6.207)
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine 2’01.824 1’57.354 (-4.470) 2’03.513 (+6.159)
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1’58.301 1’56.025 (-2.276)
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2’00.728 1’57.721 (-3.007)
12 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2’00.966 1’58.056 (-2.910)
13 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 2’01.184 1’58.137 (-3.047)
14 Fernando Alonso Alpine 2’01.653 1’58.205 (-3.448)
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 2’01.597 1’58.231 (-3.366)
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 2’02.306
17 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 2’02.413
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 2’03.973
19 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 2’04.452
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2’04.939

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Max Verstappen 32.756 (13) 52.662 (4) 30.969 (1)
George Russell 32.419 (5) 53.209 (7) 31.322 (12)
Lewis Hamilton 32.257 (1) 52.989 (6) 30.983 (2)
Daniel Ricciardo 32.532 (7) 53.521 (10) 31.074 (5)
Sebastian Vettel 32.343 (3) 53.247 (9) 31.200 (8)
Pierre Gasly 32.334 (2) 52.657 (3) 31.244 (10)
Sergio Perez 32.939 (14) 52.598 (2) 31.110 (6)
Valtteri Bottas 32.390 (4) 52.764 (5) 31.141 (7)
Esteban Ocon 32.603 (9) 53.233 (8) 31.518 (13)
Lando Norris 32.741 (12) 52.116 (1) 31.063 (3)
Charles Leclerc 32.595 (8) 53.684 (14) 31.215 (9)
Nicholas Latifi 32.643 (10) 53.542 (11) 31.540 (14)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 32.531 (6) 54.170 (15) 31.312 (11)
Fernando Alonso 32.717 (11) 53.614 (12) 31.874 (15)
Lance Stroll 33.158 (15) 53.683 (13) 31.071 (4)
Antonio Giovinazzi 33.354 (17) 56.986 (17) 31.966 (16)
Yuki Tsunoda 33.290 (16) 56.510 (16) 32.075 (17)
Mick Schumacher 33.815 (18) 57.282 (18) 32.559 (19)
Kimi Raikkonen 33.936 (20) 58.004 (20) 32.359 (18)
Nikita Mazepin 33.855 (19) 57.521 (19) 32.628 (20)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes 308.9 (191.9)
2 George Russell Williams Mercedes 308.5 (191.7) -0.4
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 307.6 (191.1) -1.3
4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 307.3 (190.9) -1.6
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Honda 306.2 (190.3) -2.7
6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 305.7 (190.0) -3.2
7 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes 305.1 (189.6) -3.8
8 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari Ferrari 304.2 (189.0) -4.7
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 302.4 (187.9) -6.5
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 301.7 (187.5) -7.2
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault 301.3 (187.2) -7.6
12 Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda 301.1 (187.1) -7.8
13 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 297.2 (184.7) -11.7
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Ferrari 294.5 (183.0) -14.4
15 Sergio Perez Red Bull Honda 292.8 (181.9) -16.1
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes 292.5 (181.8) -16.4
17 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda 286.3 (177.9) -22.6
18 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari 284.3 (176.7) -24.6
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas Ferrari 278.1 (172.8) -30.8
20 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Ferrari 274.7 (170.7) -34.2

Over to you

Will Verstappen reclaim the championship lead from Hamilton? Could we see another shock winner? And what can Bottas and Norris salvage from their compromised starting positions?

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

2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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43 comments on “Hamilton’s other ‘team mate’ is key wildcard for potentially wild race”

  1. Russell has tendency to making bad starts, but if he makes a good start he has nothing to lose and he can go for broke.

    1. And then again, at Spa a bad start is not necessarily the end of the world: you might even prefer to be second after La Source so you get a nice run up the straight, and attempt a pass into Les Combes.

      1. If it rains, Max will just drive off in the distance. You can’t follow with that spray.

  2. S1 on lap 1 is going to be fireworks. Hamilton, Ricciardo and Russell are all considerably faster than Verstappen through the speed trap and through the end of S1.

    1. @krichelle S1 timing top speed differences weren’t necessarily considerable in QLF
      QLF maximum speeds:
      RUS 315.7
      RIC 314.7
      HAM 313.5
      VER 310.7
      Speed Trap at Raidillon exit: More difference, yes, but the race could be a different matter
      RIC 308.9
      RUS 308.5
      HAM 307.6
      VER 301.1

  3. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    29th August 2021, 4:12

    Me thinks Russell will let Lewis through at the start and focus on finishing in the top 10. Leading the race is of no use to him as he’ll use up his tyres quickly trying to keep RB and Merc behind, which he anyway can’t. Instead, allow them to duke it out and focus on keeping a top 10 place.

    1. Unlikely. In the rain, Williams won’t be that much slower than others. Tyre degradation is not a trouble in wet and drying races.

      Russell will do his own race. He will fight Hamilton lesser than Verstappen whenever those 2 get alongside him. But Russell will definitely not ‘let Hamilton through’

      1. Tyre degradation is not a trouble in wet and drying races.

        Partly true. The inters will last for a race if it is wet. When there is a drying track they will be consumed in a few laps.

        1. Also on a drying track, one can wear the inters and convert them into usable slicks similar to what Hamilton and Checo did at Turkey last year. While Leclerc’s newer inters were faster than Checo’s inters-turned-slicks, they weren’t faster by much.

          1. I don’t think you understand how rare and exceptional that was. Yes it’s possible, but everything has to go perfectly for it to happen, strategy needs to perfectly line up with track evolution which needs to line up with tire deg, and all needs to be fine tuned by the driver to make sure it works perfectly. Any 2 of those events happening is rare as hell, let alone all of them happening with a driver skilled enough to not only fine tune the deg to line up perfectly with those factors, but also to survive driving with virtually no grip for a couple of laps in the intermittent time.

    2. He is going to do like Ocon, he is going to do anything he can in order to aid mercedes. If he has a good start he’ll aim at Max just like Ocon. if he does not he’d be smart not to race Hamilton.

  4. I think a standing ovation should be given to not just Russell but also to the Williams team and the strategist!

    They did an awesome job setting up Latifi and Russell for the opportunity; with Russell making the most out of it, in spades.
    Great to see Williams & Russell make such an improvement and creating this momentum, the employees must walking around with a more hope and smiles of their faces.
    Hope they have a great race tomorrow; it’s going to be an interesting one, especially the start.

  5. Will Verstappen reclaim the championship lead from Hamilton? – Maybe
    Could we see another shock winner? – Yes, if the race is wet
    And what can Bottas and Norris salvage from their compromised starting positions? – Bottas, I reckon P3-P4,
    Norris, lower-top ten.

    1. @jerejj Don’t forget Perez and how he factors in if he does well. We know Hamilton and Verstappen typically do well or at least finish close to each other points wise. The difference between Bottas and Perez finishes could be the deciding factor on who will lead the WCC title by Sunday evening; there’s only a 12 point difference between the two teams.

      Of course, if it’s wet (as forecasted) then we could certainly see a shock winner, but right now Verstappen looks to be in a good position but all of it could quickly change with a timely flag or downpour or sunshine.

      All the drivers by now have probably woken up and eating breakfast. Which one will win today?

      I’m very much looking forward to seeing this race.

    2. I think if it stays wet Bottas will struggle. He is an awful wet-weather driver. Who will be successful depends on strategy, as well as who can find the set-up sweet spot. For example, last year in Turkey Mercedes was closer to a dry set-up than most, which helped them when the track started to dry. Some teams may have gambled on a full wet-weather set-up, whereas others have an intermediate set-up. Which one is best is hard to tell. Norris at least has the advantage that he can set the car up for the expected conditions on race day. If his ego isn’t bruised, he may still do very well in the race.

  6. Question of the Day:
    Will Russell finish ahead of, or behind, Lando?

  7. A collision of sorts amongst the top five drivers starting on the grid will be the stuff of conspiracy theories for a long time and Netflix will make a killing…

  8. Not really.It’s HAM himself that risks a DNF not clearing RUS cleanly…

  9. Nikos (@exeviolthor)
    29th August 2021, 7:24

    If in football a player who is on a loan transfer performs deliberately poorly against the team that owns him this is a reason for a heavy ban.

    In F1 Toto openly says that Russel should not have raced Bottas and it is business as usual. Now it is openly suggested that Russel will help Hamilton and he actually said that they are like teammates.

    Sorry, but I cannot understand how F1 gets away with some stuff sometimes.

    1. @exeviolthor It is not new. Remember the Toro Rossos diving out of Vettel’s way as he recovered into the points in the 2012 championship decider. One of them was almost too enthusiastic, slowing to let him past even as yellow flags waved (Vettel got away with it due to a marshalling mix-up).

      But that doesn’t make it right. Toto Wolff’s conflicts of interest are significant, and the fact that he is willing to openly leverage them is concerning.

      1. Let´s not turn this into “Toto´s Wolff” problem only. This is mainly about engine (& gearbox supply) which gives some teams considerable leverage over their customers (including drivers line-up).

        So as of now, the situation between the top teams is quite balanced as Mercedes has Williams (& Russell especially), Red Bull has Alpha Tauri (and Gasly especially – who is in a situation comparable to that of Russel) & Ferrari (if you want to count it as top team) has Alfa Romeo. The teams that can´t benefit from such relations are McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin. So if any changes are made it should be to the benefit of these three teams (& of course all the teams that are as of now the ones under the top teams influence).

        1. It is true that it is a bigger issue than just Wolff, but he takes it to a new level. Apart from the customer agreement with Williams (including Russell’s position), he is also a shareholder in Aston Martin and manages Ocon.

          1. I think he is (a minor) shareholder in the car company, not F1 team. Correct me if I am wrong.

            That he is a driver manager to Ocon, is not problematic to me. If he would try to exert any pressure on Ocon to drive or behave in any way he would feel uncomfortable, he can simply ditch him or (worse for Toto) report the incident to FIA (or simply leak it to the press).

            The only controversial thing about Toto Wolff is that to many people (including myself) he has become the personification of the influence that a top team exerts over teams from back of the pack. But I believe these top team and their suppliers relations will be altered significantly with the incoming budget cap.

          2. I think he is (a minor) shareholder in the car company, not F1 team

            That’s correct but the two entities – the car company and the F1 team – are headed by Lawrence Stroll and from that comes the influence of Wolff over the Aston Martin F1 team. He is also known to be a dear friend to Lawrence Stroll.

        2. It is certainly not new and not just Toto’s problem, but nobody so far has had the nerve to openly say they plan to profit from it. It should disqualify forever Toto as a TP, and land Merc a huge fine and the lose of the WCC points at the very least. But F1 being what it is, Toto knows he can get away with mrdr.

      2. I totally agree. In fact the Red Bull-Toro Rosso relationship is even more blatant and it would never be allowed in any other sport.
        I am sure that in the Premier League (or any other serious League) no one can own two teams.

  10. I’m really worried about madness into La Source and then on the straight up until Eau Rouge. Could be mayhem.

    1. @hahostolze Yes, especially on wet.

    2. Is it expected to be a wet race?

  11. Schumi-alonso
    29th August 2021, 9:12

    Looking forward to 4-5 abreast going into Les Combes. But fingers crossed for a serious incident-free race, wet or dry.

  12. Those sector times above seem a tad off.

    I hope that there will be no Red Flag today (or ever again during a race).
    We can all do without the dangerous accidents causing a Red Flag.
    But also I find a race where gaps are reset, cars repaired, and tyres replaced without a time loss not GP worthy.

    PS not too sure if Russell will be accommodating towards Hamilton. You don’t start an inner team battle by rolling over on the first opportunity.

  13. 6.5 kph advantage Hamilton over Verstappen is unsurmountable

    1. @balue
      He need to make it to Les Combes in one piece and then build a gap through the twisty sector 2. If Russell will get a descent start then Verstappen might be safe otherwise he must be aware of Hamilton attempting a desperate move in La Source and especially after Eau Rouge – Raidillon.

  14. It was already very embarrassing to defeat two mercs by a Williams. But if Georges start will impeed Lewis it wil be unthinkable.
    The alternative, Lewis using his signature move on George and putting him in the wall at raidilion will end a partnership even before it begins.
    Interesting start…

    1. Ridiculous

  15. If it’s wet, I really hope nobody spins out through Eau Rouge on lap 1, especially anyone near the front of the pack as it could get very messy and ugly if the car bounces back onto the track.

    1. @mashiat It’s hard to understand how Spa or FIA hasn’t sorted that yet

  16. petebaldwin (@)
    29th August 2021, 11:13

    Russell will race hard but he’s friends with Max so he won’t be willing to punt him off.

    1. I don’t he is willing to punt anyone off.
      But never heard him and max being friends

  17. Two races ago Toto’s no.1 driver collided with Max. Last race, his no.2 driver collided with Max, amongst others. All set for it to be his no.3 driver doing the honours today. (Just kidding before anyone gets riled).

    I hope George keeps it clean and bags some more points. I think he already has the Mercedes seat for ’22 so I expect him to not hinder LH.

    And if wet start, I expect 2 or 3 laps behind SC to prevent a Hungary repeat. With the weather, the mixed up grid and the lack of new inters/wets this could be an epic race so no need for someone to take out half the field at the first braking event.

  18. Can’t be any worse than the 98 race!

  19. I just hope they rather delay the start of the race rather than waste laps behind the safety car.

Comments are closed.