Lewis Hamilton took his fifth victory of the season, but it was a race that is unlikely to be remembered fondly among his 89 career wins. All the ingredients were there: a semi-competitive Red Bull, a circuit where overtaking is possible and the potential for Hamilton to lose the lead on the long run to Les Combes on the first lap. Yet the race never really came alive…
Spa fails to deliver
There’s no way of dressing it up, Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix did not make for great viewing. Spa-Francorchamps remains one of the most spectacular settings to watch an F1 car, but even with corners like Eau Rouge and Pouhon, 44 laps of tyre management gets pretty dull.
Part of the reason for that was the timing of the Safety Car on lap 10. Antonio Giovinazzi’s mistake on the exit of the Fagnes chicane was a reminder of how challenging a circuit Spa is, but for the engineers on the pit wall it was simply an opportunity to pit their cars for fresh tyres.
In doing that, the drivers were tasked with making a single set of tyres last 34 laps when in normal circumstances they would have only asked 26 or 27 laps from them. That required some cautious driving, especially with the memory of the tyre failures at the British Grand Prix still fresh in their minds.
Both Verstappen and Bottas reported vibrations – as Bottas had done at Silverstone – and as a result they both settled for a podium. It wasn’t exciting to watch and, it seems, it wasn’t that exciting to drive.
“It was pretty boring, to be honest,” Verstappen said after the race. “Not really interesting; not much to do. I couldn’t really keep up with them when they were pushing and from my side I ran out of tyres at the end.
“The last eight laps I was just backing it out, saving the front tyres. It was not really enjoyable out there today.
“On the medium I didn’t really have a lot of grip and on the hard tyre, initially I was trying to put a bit of pressure on Valtteri, but then they told him to speed up and I couldn’t keep up. Yeah, a bit lonely.”
Not a race worthy of the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit, but then again, they can’t all be thrillers.
Ricciardo shows his class
Daniel Ricciardo is one of the standout performers of the season so far. He drove a magnificent race to fourth position, matching his qualifying effort of Saturday afternoon. In the closing laps he was slashing away at the gap to Max Verstappen and finished just three seconds behind his former Red Bull teammate.
He left with an extra point, too, claiming the fastest lap of the race on the last time around the circuit. There hasn’t been much hype around the Renault this year but it looks very competitive in a low-drag set-up.
Asked if he could have “pulled the pin out” earlier in terms of his late pace and taken the fight to Verstappen, he said: “I honestly felt like the ‘pin was out’ as soon as I passed Gasly really, the pin was out. It just came to me.
“I think fighting with Perez and Gasly, the tyres overheat so it takes a few laps for them to come back and once it did, it crept up and crept up. I wasn’t really leaving anything on the table and then the last lap I put everything into it but that wasn’t sustainable to hit those laps for much longer. I feel like I used everything.”
Ricciardo is one of the best racers on the grid and it was great to see him go wheel to wheel with Verstappen on two different occasions in the opening laps. F1 has missed having the Australian driver in a position to fight for competitive positions.
With the long straights of Monza awaiting next week, Ricciardo is traveling to Italy in good spirits.
“It’s been very good, it’s been a strong weekend,” he said. “The car’s been quick.
“We’re turning a very difficult weekend like Barcelona to a very, very positive one here. Massive improvement. Very happy and pleased with that.
“It smells good as well because next week, I think the track will have the same characteristic, even more extreme so we should be at ease as well. We’re going to try and do the same, or even better.”