Midweek Wrap: Driver Market Heats Up, Seb v Charles, RIP Anthoine

A week that provided plenty of interesting stories in the F1 world, all of it was overshadowed by the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert.

Bottas Re-Signs with Mercedes, Ocon Confirmed at Renault: It was assumed as much in last week’s wrap, but on Thursday it became official, with Valtteri Bottas back at the Mercedes for 2020, with Esteban Ocon moving to Renault. Honestly I don’t feel there’s much I haven’t already said – it’s the safe option for the Silver Arrows, and as far as fallbacks go, things could’ve gone worse for Ocon.

That said, now the silly season rumours shift to Nico Hulkenberg, and where he might land. Will it be Red Bull, Haas, or somewhere else? I guess we’ll see…

First Cracks in Renault-McLaren Relationship? A customer team looking to Renault for answers after an engine failure costs them a result – hmm, for some reason I feel like we’ve been here before…

Out on the opening lap while his teammate lost a promising P5 due to failed power units, I don’t think anyone can blame Carlos Sainz for taking a little shot at the French manufacturer. Such happenings are never acceptable, but particularly considering this is year six of the V6-turbo era, and Renault are still having double-DNFs happen due to engine failures, it’s just embarrassing.

On a related note, it would certainly be remarkable if that Marca report turned out to be true, and the team opted for a return to Mercedes power. How different would the last five years had been had they never parted?

Ericsson to replace Giovinazzi? Suffice to say, Antonio Giovinazzi has not exactly set the world alight in his first full season in F1, and now the rumours have started that he could see it end prematurely should he not deliver a strong performance in Monza, with Marcus Ericsson set to replace him.

As disappointing as that would be for the young Italian, it would also make a lot of sense for Alfa Romeo. Ericsson is a known quantity who brings with him a decent chunk of cash, and while he’s not going to push Kimi Raikkonen, he’s also more likely to keep it out of the wall. Giovinazzi simply hasn’t contributed anything of significance in his 13 races so far – how likely is that to change with another eight?

Vettel the Number Two at Ferrari? A reaction that I think we all saw coming in the wake of Charles Leclerc’s victory in Belgium, the whole “is Seb Vettel still Ferrari’s number one driver?” discussion has been really kicked into overdrive. I’ll admit, I’ve done my part in the past to further that narrative, and yet while I’m certainly glad Vettel is being provided some competition, I still think it’s a tad premature.

The thing is, with the absolute disaster 2019 has been for the Scuderia in the championship standings, it’s also given them a fantastic opportunity post-summer break to let their drivers have a straight fight without the need for politicking. Right now, Leclerc is winning that battle, but there’s eight races still to go. Let’s see how Seb responds.

RIP Anthoine Hubert: There’s really nothing I want to add to what I said on Monday about this terrible tragedy, but as this is undoubtedly the story of the week, it would be remiss if I didn’t include it here. Our thoughts continue to be with the Hubert family, as well as Juan-Manuel Correa, who we wish a speedy recovery as he continues his recuperation in the UK.

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Mercedes find culprit for Hamilton’s slow Spa stop

Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has revealed a wheel nut problem caused Lewis Hamilton’s slow stop in Belgium.

The team believe that Hamilton lost around a second in the pits when the problem occurred, a similar margin to that which the Brit finished behind race winner Charles Leclerc at Spa.

“We did have a slow stop with Lewis [Hamilton], it was the rear left wheel and the issue was actually getting the nut tight again on the wheel,” Shovlin explained in Mercedes’ PurePitWall debrief.

“These problems are often not as simple as they seem, but we do have quite a lot of data to look at.

We’ve got video data from above the car during the pit stop, we’ve also got the data logging of the pit stop system itself and we’re piecing through that to understand exactly what happened and make sure we can put countermeasures in place for Monza.

“The loss was about a second or so, whether or not that would have had an impact on Lewis’ race it’s really impossible to say, but he did come out a bit further back, he had to work the tyres a little bit harder to catch [Charles] Leclerc, but you never know whether it would have been a significant factor.”

Valtteri Bottas struggled to get involved in the fight for victory before being told to save his engine in the closing stages, and Shovlin said this was to avoid any “unnecessary pressure” on the power unit.

“In the same way that we could predict Lewis would be able to catch up with Charles at the end of the race, we were also able to predict that Valtteri [Bottas] wasn’t going to get into that fight,” he confirmed.

“He was too far back when he started closing him [Leclerc] down, so for that reason five or six laps from the end of the race you will have heard us instruct him to go to a different engine mode – that engine mode has got less aggressive ignition and it just saves the engine, making sure we don’t put it under any unnecessary pressure.”

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Correa Moved to UK As Recovery Continues

American-Ecuadorian Formula Two racer Juan Manuel Correa is being moved to intensive care in Britain after being injured in an accident that killed French driver Anthoine Hubert at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium last weekend.

The 20-year-old suffered a spinal injury and fractures to his legs in Saturday’s horrific crash during the support race for the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix.

“Juan Manuel Correa will be transferred today (to) a specialised ICU located in the United Kingdom,” a statement issued by his media team said on Tuesday.

“He will continue his recovery process in the care of a specialist team of physicians.”

Correa, a development driver for the Alfa Romeo Formula One team and grandson of former Ecuadorian president Rodrigo Borja, underwent more than four hours of surgery in Liege after the accident. He remains in a stable condition.

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Mercedes explain Hamilton’s late Spa pit stop

Mercedes trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, has suggested the early Safety Car at Spa took the optimal strategy away from Lewis Hamilton.

The World Championship leader finished within a second of Charles Leclerc, who clinched both his and Ferrari’s first win of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes were asked by fans why Hamilton pitted later than Leclerc, especially after both Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff gave the impression that they should have pitted sooner.

“We stopped Lewis a lap later than Leclerc,” Shovlin said in Mercedes’ Pure Pitwall debrief regarding the Spa race.

“Now because Lewis was out on his older tyres, he lost a bit of time there and Leclerc was on fresh tyres and could build that gap whilst we stayed out on track. It gave Lewis a bit more of a gap to close down.

“Now we came very close to getting into an overtaking position but the race was just a little bit too short for us.

“So the big question is…had we gone one lap earlier, two laps earlier, would we have been in a better position to overtake [Leclerc]?

“Now certainly we would have been closer on track, but our tyres were going off, as were Leclerc’s. We would have had older tyres and a bit less performance.

“It’s a very difficult question to answer but as always if what you try didn’t work, you’re always thinking you should have done something a bit differently.”

Shovlin went on to add that the Safety Car caused by Max Verstappen’s early exit took away precious time to make Hamilton’s race strategy work.

He said: “The big factor there though was if we had not had that Safety Car at the start, the whole race would have been four laps longer.

“That would have probably given us the distance, the time for Leclerc’s tyres to degrade, that we could have perhaps made a move stick.”

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Engine penalties for six drivers at Belgian GP

Engine upgrades from Mercedes, Honda and Renault mean six drivers will face penalties at the Belgian GP.

Mercedes, along with customer teams Williams and SportPesa Racing Point are all running an updated Merc power unit at Spa, leaving Racing Point’s Lance Stroll with a penalty for exceeding the component limits for the season by taking a new turbocharger and MGU-H.

His engine failure in free practice at the Canadian Grand Prix had left him on a higher number than the remaining drivers taking new Mercedes components.

Stroll will start from the back of the grid as a result, along with Red Bull’s Alex Albon and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat after they took the Honda Spec 4 engine.

The C-Spec ICE is in at Renault, with Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz all fitting this for the Belgian Grand Prix.

A five-place drop from their qualifying position is the fate for all three drivers.

Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Giovinazzi have all taken new power unit elements themselves, but remain within their limits for 2019 and so will not face any penalties.

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FP1: Vettel powers his way to P1 at Spa

Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari 1-2 in FP1 for the Belgian GP, a session in which Lewis Hamilton’s W10 suffered two different issues limiting his running.

Formula 1 arrived at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit to beautiful blue skies and a near-perfect summer day.

But for new Red Bull signing Alexander Albon, plus Daniil Kvyat, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll there was a dark cloud hanging over their heads with all six drivers facing grid penalties.

The drivers were quickly out onto the track for their installation laps, all but Mercedes. However, that was followed by a lull before 20 minutes into FP1 the W10s took to the circuit.

That didn’t go well for Hamilton who slowed coasted around the track, reporting that he had “lost power”. The Brit, and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, were both running Mercedes’ new Spec 3 engine.

While Bottas posted the morning’s first lap time, a 2:04.174, Hamilton was able to reboot and told the team that “power came back”. He headed back into the pits with Bottas lowering the benchmark to a 1:47.444.

Mercedes stated that it was a problem with Hamilton’s throttle sensor that caused the problem, resulting in a change of pedal.

There were early spins for Kyvat and Robert Kubica as the drivers struggled with a lack of grip on the dirty grid. Kvyat put his spin down to a “torque spike”.

There was also a bit of drama over at Racing Point as Lance Stroll’s engine cover was loose and he lost the right side of the cover the Kemmel Straight. The VSC was shown as marshals cleared the debris.

Lance Stroll

Hamilton returned to the track for a second lap just before the 40-minute mark at which point it was Max Verstappen holding down P1 with a 1:45.803.

Ricciardo, with his updated Renault engine, was second ahead of Albon and Bottas.

Having returned their first set of tyres to Pirelli, the drivers ventured back out onto the track with fresh rubber.

Carlos Sainz moved up to second on the soft tyres before he was dropped by Ricciardo and then Albon. The rookie closing the gap to Verstappen to 0.281s.

While they were laying down laps, Hamilton ran into more trouble as he was told to “box, we have lost telemetry”.

Charles Leclerc, with his SF90 sporting the red Pirellis, went quickest with a 1:44.788 only to lose out seconds later to Vettel – a 1:44.574 for the Ferrari driver and defending Belgian GP champ.

That stood as the time to beat through to the chequered flag with the Ferrari’s 1-2 ahead of Verstappen and Albon, the latter less than a tenth slower than his new team-mate.

Bottas was fifth while Hamilton was finally able to do some proper running in the first 30 minutes and worked his way up to eighth place. He was, however, 1.399s down on Vettel with Mercedes running the slower tyres.

Stroll, Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Sainz completed the top ten.

Despite concerns about a leg injury, Kimi Raikkonen covered 20 laps in FP1, finishing the session 13th fastest.

He wasn’t the only one to arrive at Spa sporting an injury with Lando Norris also having done himself mischief. He was P12 with 19 laps on the board.

Pierre Gasly was 18th on his Toro Rosso return, 0.33s down on new team-mate Kvyat.

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:44.574 20 laps
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.214s 20 laps
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.933s 18 laps
4 Alex Albon Red Bull 1.010s 19 laps
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1.308s 25 laps
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1.399s 16 laps
7 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1.624s 16 laps
8 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1.852s 23 laps
9 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1.859s 22 laps
10 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.983s 20 laps
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 2.095s 23 laps
12 Lando Norris McLaren 2.096s 19 laps
13 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 2.450s 20 laps
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 2.602s 18 laps
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 2.759s 22 laps
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 2.914s 21 laps
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 3.062s 20 laps
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 3.394s 26 laps
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams 4.210s 24 laps
20 Robert Kubica Williams 4.392s 24 laps

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Pedal issues for Hamilton, Stroll’s cover is blown

Lewis Hamilton’s return from the summer break did not get off to the best of starts; Lance Stroll’s Racing Point gives us a striptease.

Here is how Friday practice unfolded…

First up, here is your first race weekend schedule after the summer break…

Before the lights went green for FP1, we had confirmation that Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat are all set for grid penalties on Sunday. Welcome back, gents!

Daniel Ricciardo

The FIA later confirmed that Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll are also set for grid drops. Our heads hurt.

On track, Lewis Hamilton had the first bit of teething problems after he lost power just 20 minutes into the FP1 session.

He managed to get going again but spent a lengthy amount of time back in the garage.

Meanwhile, part of Lance Stroll’s engine cover just decided to blow off…

Lance Stroll

As Hamilton was able to make up for some lost time, it was the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at the top of the timesheet after FP1. Alex Albon in close quarters with Max Verstappen.


More to follow…

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Mercedes bring ‘improved’ engine to Spa

Mercedes, as well as customer teams Racing Point and Williams, will have an upgraded power unit available at this weekend’s Belgian GP.

Earlier this week Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff revealed that the company’s Brixworth factory had been working throughout the summer break in order to improve their engine.

“Our team members in Brixworth worked straight through the F1 summer break to improve the performance and reliability of our power unit; in Brackley, we used the relatively quiet days to do some work on our factory,” said the boss.

Those engine updates will be available at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix with Mercedes bringing an updated power until for both their drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, as well as the Racing Point and Williams team-mates.

“Works teams and customers planned to run a new phase PU, barring any unexpected surprises between now and practice,” revealed a Mercedes spokesperson.

“Testing at the factory has shown improved performance and reliability.”

A new ICE won’t come with penalties at Mercedes as Hamilton and Bottas have only used two of their three for this season.

They are, however, both on the limit for MGU-Ks while Bottas is also there on Energy Stores and Control Electronics.

Racing Points’ Lance Stroll, though, is already on his third ICE so he will take a penalty if he runs the new engine.

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