The Saturday in F1 Belgian GP had Mercedes take command but Red Bull Racing close behind along with Renault while Ferrari left to bite the dust.
Saturday of the F1 Belgian GP weekend at Spa-Francorchamps was the 93rd in Formula 1’s history to be dominated by Lewis Hamilton, this time on the day immediately after the passing of famous Hollywood actor, Chadwick Boseman – to whom the Brit dedicated his pole position.
Throughout FP3 and Qualifying, Hamilton’s best laps went unrivaled, he appeared to have total control over his car on every occasion. The Mercedes F1 driver broke lap records in succession, and ultimately took pole with a time of 1m41.252 – a lap time 0.511s faster than that of his teammate and closest competitor in the session, Valtteri Bottas.
Notably, Hamilton achieved this feat without a tow of any form. The six-time champion opted instead for clean air, and the luxury of being able to focus on his own lap, and not surrounding cars. “I studied that and of course there have been times where we have had to try to get a tow,” he said.
“You’ve got these three difficult sections where you’ve got the straight line in the first section, which is pretty straightforward, but getting the right wing level here is not so easy and some, as you can see, are really quick in the first and last sector but not so good in the middle sector. We are not the strongest I would say in the first and the last but the middle is really, really strong and I think for me this weekend it was my choice to go first or second out of Valtteri and I chose to go first.
“I just wanted to be out in the clean air not having to worry about people up ahead of me, getting a gap in the last corner, wondering whether it’s four or eight seconds gap – because you’re still getting a tow from someone at seven seconds behind and I didn’t want anything coming in my way so it worked out perfectly I think.”
As for the decimation of his 2019 lap time at Spa, Hamilton brushed this off as the product of one years’ worth of development work by the team, who he once again thanked. He also spoke emotionally on the matter of Boseman’s untimely death. The 35-year-old discussed the significance of his role in the 2018 movie ‘Black Panther’ – a film that was an inspiration to those in the Black community, who had long been underrepresented in the genre.
“I was saying downstairs, it’s not been an easy day for the world,” said Hamilton. “Our superhero, a superhero died last night, so that was really weighing heavy on me today, so I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad who I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. Because not all these… I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero.
“[Clark Kent] didn’t look like me but I still thought Superman was the greatest. And so, when Chad became the king, when he became a superhero in Wakanda, it was such a special day for so many people because I know that young kids, like myself, will be able to now look up to him and see that is possible to be able to do what he did. So this one’s dedicated to him,” summed up Hamilton.
Meanwhile, teammate Bottas found the result of F1 Belgian GP qualifying to be acceptable, as he stated he’s ‘not too bothered’ starting second, as he hopes to utilise the slip stream down the Kemmel Straight to overtake his teammate. “Turn 1 was a bit inconsistent,” he said. “I think we got the car right there, just in Q1 in the first run, the tyres were too cool or something at the start of the lap, so I had a bit of a lock-up. The first run was there.
“The second run felt actually pretty good overall, so I don’t really know why the gap to Lewis [is big]. I’m not too bothered, because I know that second place is quite a good place to start here. It should be an interesting run into Turn 5. Of course I need to attack if I still want to keep the title hopes there. It’s not over until it’s over and I’m definitely going to go for it. The first lap is a great opportunity because here the racing is always pretty good. I know already there will be opportunities to do it,” summed up Bottas.
Third-place starting driver Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was pleased with his result given the struggles his team anticipated for this weekend. He did well to keep the upper mid-field cars at bay, and narrowly missed out on P2. “I think overall, it’s been a very positive weekend,” he said. “We expected to come here with the long straights around here, it’s never going to be the easiest for us but I think we managed to find a good a good balance on the car actually straight away when we came here, from FP1, so that helps.
“I didn’t really have a lot to complain. If I’m not mistaken, this is the closest we’ve been to Mercedes in qualifying, on a track where we didn’t expect it to bet like this – so yeah, very, very happy with that.” Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon, too, was rather chuffed with his result of P5. The Thai F1 driver was once again within 0.5 seconds of his teammate in Qualifying, after failing to achieve this for several rounds running.
“I’m happy with P5 but I think P4 was possible but I made a small mistake into turn one on my final run which cost me some time otherwise I think we could have been there,” said Albon. “My best lap was actually in Q2 so there are little bits for me to improve on but I’m happy. It’s been a much smoother weekend and the car felt good straightaway from the start of FP1 and it hasn’t changed much since.
“We’ve been chipping away, fine tuning it, and it’s been a positive weekend. I think there’s been a step forward on my side too which hopefully we can take forwards. We’re on a different strategy to Max. The start is obviously important here with such a short run to turn one so we’ll be looking for a good and clean getaway. After that, we’ll see but with the possibility of rain it should be an exciting race.”
Splitting the 24-year-old and his Red Bull teammate was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who showed promise repeatedly throughout the F1 practice sessions, and managed to capitalize on that pace – something he failed to do in prior rounds. The ever-smiling Aussie was grinning yet more after Qualifying. “I’m really happy with Quali,” he said. “I’ve been happy all weekend, obviously we showed speed, and last year these were our stronger tracks, these low downforce [tracks] – Spa, Monza.
“It seems like we’ve replicated that this year.” Looking to the race, Ricciardo stated that he’s hoping for a dry two hours at Spa. He adds that his greatest chance at getting a podium position is early in the race, at which point he’ll line up just behind Verstappen. “If it rains, it rains but I’m kind of hoping for a dry one.
“We’ve got good track position, and pretty good straight-line speed, so I think at the start of the race we’ll have a real opportunity. And then, I think I could defend if I had to so that’s the plan: try and go a few better on the start – elbows out.” On the other side of the Renault F1 garage, Esteban Ocon, who lines up sixth, was satisfied with his team’s competitiveness, which he says was apparent from the moment the car was put on track.
The performance of Renault was such that they beat both McLaren and Racing Point, where the former’s Carlos Sainz knew that the French F1 team will be quick but stated that their outfit actually closed the gap to them from 2019 to 2020. Teammate Lando Norris felt he could have had more but with no slipstream, he was left with little to improve.
Meanwhile, Racing Point’s medium tyre strategy in Q2 didn’t work, which meant, they were left with no extra set of fresh soft tyres for a second Q3 run. Despite having no tyres, both the F1 drivers felt a bit down as they struggled to find the performance they showed all-through the practice sessions, where they just beat AlphaTauri in the end.
In stark contrast to the three midfield F1 teams of 2020, Ferrari grossly under-performed, coming P13 and P14 – a result that once again demonstrated their team’s vast disadvantage in the area of straight-line speed. Of the marque’s two drivers, Charles Leclerc was the better-performing.
The Monegasque was satisfied with his lap, irrespective of the underwhelming position it earned him, saying the car had little more to offer. “It doesn’t feel good when you do a good lap and finish P13, but that’s life at the moment,” he said. “We need to work hard. To be honest it’s very difficult to find an explanation. It’s a big step back from the others so we need to try and find the main issue to try and address it.
“It’s not a good day but it’s like this at the moment. We need to keep working hard, I think everybody in the team needs to keep their heads up even though it’s very difficult on a day like this. As drivers we’ll try to make the best race possible tomorrow even though we can’t expect any miracles.”
Sebastian Vettel, starting Sunday’s race in 14th position, added: “If you look at the practice sessions, it looked a bit worse, and therefore its looking a little bit better but still not where we want it to be. This morning was a bit scrappier but it felt a little bit better, and this afternoon is a true picture of where we are.
“We seem to be a bit more exposed at this track, and maybe it doesn’t come in our direction. Obviously we tried everything we can and there was a lot of effort going in from last night trying to make things better. I think we did a little bit, obviously we’re not where we want to be.”
Aside the intense on-track fights, F1 shared a light moment which wasn’t captured on TV, where Sainz came across a squirrel crossing the Spa track – here’s the video of the same (we cannot embed due to FOM restrictions):
Here’s how F1 Belgian GP qualifying panned out