Can Ferrari strike back on home soil?
Despite losing to Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes last Sunday, Ferrari must surely feel encouraged by their race performance. Sebastian Vettel was all over the back of Hamilton, not only at the start, but also at the restart as well, and his ability to keep up with the Mercedes over the entire race distance suggested he was in the faster car. Likewise, Raikkonen showed good pace to pass and then keep Bottas comfortably behind before a 5-second penalty ended his charge for the podium.
We’ve seen so far in 2017 just how difficult it is to pass on track, and Hamilton made the most of this in Belgium, making his car very wide when it needed to be to keep his championship rival behind. It is therefore crucial to Ferrari, and their drivers’ and constructors’ title challenges this year, that they can begin to outqualify Mercedes more often than they have been so far this year, where as things stand Mercedes have 8 poles to Ferrari’s 3.
The first test of this will be on home soil this weekend at Monza, and Ferrari are sounding confident, with Vettel believing that the team have no circuit to fear for the rest of the year. Whether this extends to qualifying at a circuit where the raw power of the Mercedes engine will no doubt come into play remains to be seen, but Ferrari’s performance through slow speed corners, which punctuate Monza’s straights, will give them cause for optimism.
One thing is for sure: if Ferrari can begin to show superior pace on Saturdays, and with Vettel’s stellar record across the races that make up the second half of the season, Lewis Hamilton could have a very difficult job stopping the championship going to Maranello for the first time in a decade.
Verstappen losing faith in Red Bull
Max Verstappen retired for the 6th time this year in Belgium, a tally that gives him the second worst reliability record in F1 this year (in front of only the long-suffering Fernando Alonso at McLaren), and signs are that his faith in his Red Bull team is starting to wane.
Asked after the race how much longer his faith in the team might last, he simply replied that “if it continues like this, not very long.” His father Jos added to this discontent when he spoke to Dutch television, saying that “you start to question everything” when things go wrong this regularly.
Max’s disappointment at this retirement is understandable, especially given the massive Dutch contingent who had travelled to support him, and the fact that teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who Verstappen led at the start, managed to bring home yet another podium that could have quite as easily been his. Despite this though, both father and son stopped short of openly criticising Red Bull, but their message was clear, that these sorts of things shouldn’t be happening in a top team.
The team for their part have ramped up their criticism of Renault and stated that reliability is a crucial area that the manufacturer should be working on.
“It’s hurting them (Renault) as much as it is hurting ourselves,” team principal Christan Horner said after Sunday’s race. “At this level, you can’t afford the kind of failures we’re consistently seeing. Reliability across the three teams is pretty dire. Turbo failures with Kvyat, engine replacements that have had to happen with two cars as we come here. They are working hard at it and hopefully putting in place processes to avoid the kind of issues we are seeing.”
Here’s hoping Renaut can fix their reliability issues, especially on Verstappen’s car, because currently we are seeing one of F1’s most promising talents going to waste. In the meantime, Verstappen’s Italian Grand Prix weekend is already lining up to be a challenging one, as he will face a series of penalties in Monza for an engine change.
Force India to change rules of engagement after Spa clash
After Sunday’s display of utter foolishness from its drivers, Force India have said that they are now changing the rules of engagement moving forward. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer explained, “On lap one, it’s really hard to know where everybody's going to end up while you’re trying to predict the immediate future which is hard to do. But when it’s just the two of you, you kinda know where the other guy is.”
This suggests that the team thought the lap one incident was acceptable due to the close racing at the start, but that the second clash, that damaged both cars and cost the team major points, was unacceptable. When asked how the team could limit the tensions between their drivers, Szafnauer suggested that team orders to “separate them on track” will have to come into play.
Szafnauer followed this statement up with another not long afterwards, stating that Perez and Ocon may face race bans if they keep coming together on the track. “Yes, if it happens again, we have to figure it out. We would have to start thinking about who we would stick in the car.”
Hopefully, this will send the message to the drivers that should have been sent months ago: that the team comes first, always.
Has Alonso given up?
With Fernando Alonso set to announce the decision on his future within the next few weeks, it really seems like he has given up on McLaren. The Spaniard retired for the 8th time in 12 races on Sunday, but what was particularly unusual about this was that Honda reportedly found no issues with his power unit.
“He (Alonso) radioed in with what he thought was a problem with the car, and although there was nothing showing in the data, we decided to stop the car as a precaution,” said Honda’s F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa.
If Alonso did retire his car deliberately though, who can really blame him? He had an excellent start at Spa to sit 7th on the first lap but then had to watch, powerless, as car after car flew past him on the Kemmel Straight, some not even needing the advantage of DRS to pass his hapless McLaren. After the team responded negatively to his enquiries about whether rain might arrive to disrupt the race, his retirement swiftly followed, suggesting that with him out of the points, and with no realistic opportunity to fight for positions, he simply decided to give up.
It seems then that McLaren and Honda both have a challenge on their hands to keep their star driver before he announces his much-anticipated decision. However, with Hasegawa stating before the Belgian Grand Prix that Alonso has ‘no confidence’ in Honda’s ability to produce a competitive engine for 2018, any efforts to keep him in Woking might be futile at this point.
Alonso claims he has other offers from rivals to drive in F1 in 2018, but with the Ferrari and Red Bull seats filled, and Mercedes looking unlikely to rock the boat by pairing him with Hamilton, where else could he go? Recent rumours have suggested a Williams drive may be on the cards, but would such a switch really bring Alonso the competitiveness he craves for 2018? I highly doubt it.
The saga continues.
Williams “going backwards” – Massa
After Saturday’s qualifying session in Belgium, which saw both Williams drivers fail to make the cut for Q2, Felipe Massa expressed concern that the team are falling behind their rivals in the 2017 development race.
“It’s quite disappointing to go out of qualifying in Q1,” the Brazilian said. “It shows that the main issues are that the car is not going forward. Others are going forward, we’re going backwards. It’s pretty clear we need to improve development and to improve the pieces we put on the car to make the car better, which is not happening at the moment.”
Teammate Lance Stroll also commented on the team’s current struggles, explaining that “the downforce is not there in the long corners with a lot of load, and combine entry and traction, and we’re really lacking a lot.”
While race day performances tend to propel their drivers forward through the pack, often finishing way ahead of their lowly grid positions, the real issue for Williams, as Massa suggests, is their worsening qualifying record. We saw before the summer break a real drop in the team’s returns on Saturday following the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw Massa go from regular Q3 participant to scrapping around at the back in an attempt to get into Q2. This has, in turn, limited their ability to climb up the grid and score decent points on a Sunday.
Williams really need to turn this around if they want to have any hope of catching Force India, who are currently 58 points ahead of them in the constructors’ standings. However, if they can recapture some of the form that had Massa regularly mixing it in the top 10 on Saturdays, and saw them run so well in Baku, then surely the team can get back to the position they desperately want and need to be in, competing with the likes of Force India, and maybe even Red Bull, for the title of best of the rest.
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