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F1 Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton-Bottas one more time

FIA Formula 1 Rolex Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps
• The Mercedes advantage on display here again

Francorchamps, Belgium, Aug 30/20 (GRW): Of all the Grand Prix circuits I have attended, the classic Spa-Francorchamps has to be my favourite. This year it was the more-or-less same place, albeit without the hordes of fanatics that help create its magic, the longest Grand Prix venue of all and among the most scenic of the current list. Unfortunately, the current Mercedes advantage tends to produce rather predicable – and hence boring – results.

Last year, there were three teams that were more-or-less equally competitive. Okay, the Mercedes had an slight edge over the other two but you could expect to see some close racing between the six cars. As things stand now, the Mercedes have a clear advantage over the Red Bull cars and only when something unusual crops up, as at Silverstone with the tire issue, does Verstappen have a hope of beating the two German cars. As for Ferrari, new rules have cost this team their power advantage and right now, they haven fallen almost to the back of the field. Here at Spa, neither Ferrari was able to make into Q1, ending up 13th and 14th on the starting grid.

Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton set the fastest qualifying lap (1:42.252) a full half-second faster than his teammate. The one ray of hope was that Verstappen was just over 1/100th of a second slower than Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo was only another quarter of a second further back in fourth place on the grid.

The start here is tricky given that the grid is located just before the ‘La Source’ hairpin and one has to start braking for this tight corner almost the instant after the launch. Hamilton did make it through but Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo were close behind as they exited this first turn (see the photo). Down the chute to Eau Rouge/Raidillon and up the long climb to the chicane at the top of the rise – half way around the lap. By this point, Hamilton was already pulling away from Bottas. Behind them, Ricciardo was hounding Verstappen almost side-by-side through these tricky curves – but Verstappen held on and he finished the lap in the lead.

After that – though a safety car session, and all the two or three pit stops each car made, my lap chart records the story – Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen one-two-three every lap to the final one on lap 44. Ricciardo did fall back to sixth momentarily but he soon recovered back to fourth and then he stayed there to the checker. And that’s all she wrote – not much suspense or excitement despite the grandeur of the classic Spa circuit.

The Safety Car came out on lap 10 of the 44-lap race after Antonio Giovinazzi lost control of his ‘Alfa-Romeo’ at the top of the climb after Raidillon at the ‘les Combes’ chicane. He slammed into the Aramco nose-first and busted up his car, a wheel flying loose which was collected by George Russell and destroying his car as well. During this caution period, a number of drivers, including the top four, pitted and took on (mostly) hard tires. Although Verstappen, his teammate Alex Albon and Lando Norris were to again pit in rthe closing laps for tires (‘soft’), the Mercedes team and the others running at the front were able to finish the rest of the race on these hard tires with no problems.

After that early caution, the race unfolded with no real drama. It was notable that the once-great Ferrari team was reduced to running near the back with the other ‘also-rans’, In the end, Sebastian Vettel finished in 13th place with Charles LeClerc one position further back. No points for them.

And so the laps ticked off until the checker flew, yielding Hamilton yet another barely-contested win – after a race which saw little drama but for the two-car crash. Even the TV commentator, David Croft, who is paid to create excitement, said, “This has not been a race to remember.”

After the race, Hamilton said, “The first lap can be a nightmare, because of the huge tow down the big straight, but I managed to keep Valtteri behind me on lap one and from there I had a strong race. Of course, I'd love to be able to win every race wheel to wheel, but today was a different kind of race, it was all about managing the tires and the gap to the cars behind. I was slightly nervous at the end that we might see a repeat of the tire issue we had in Silverstone, but thankfully it held in there. Huge credit to the team, both here and back home in Brackley and Brixworth. No matter how much success we've had over the years, everyone just keeps their heads down and focuses on trying to improve. It's an incredible mentality to have and it's inspiring to be working in that kind of environment.”

The ‘Canadian’ Racing Point team seemed to be off its recent pace a bit. They qualified in eighth (Sergio Perez) and ninth (Lance Stroll) – and they finished the race in the same order – in ninth and tenth. The other Canadian driver, Nicholas Latifi, finished 16th in the Williams car.

• Click HERE for the race results + points standings
• Click HERE for the tire usage history

• The next F1 Grand Prix will be the Italian Grand Prix at Monza next Sunday, September 6.

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