Formula One is back from its summer break as the action resumed in Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps.
As part and parcel of the first race post summer break, several teams brought upgrades whilst drivers are refreshed and ready for the run in, but who has hit ground running and which Formula Two driver has provided one team with a taste of the future?
Ferrari on Fire?
Ferrari definitely look like they are ready to maintain a title bid after their new power unit appeared to be stronger than that of Mercedes.
Around this circuit, it wasn’t clear to see just how significant a step forward the engine upgrade is because both teams were closely matched over a single lap before Vettel ran away in the race to win by 11 seconds, after overtaking Lewis Hamilton at start on run to Les Combes.
Free practice however suggests that Ferrari have a 0.1s advantage with their new power unit, which could prove key in title race if can keep themselves out of trouble and it’s reliable enough to last till end of season.
Mercedes however can take comfort from the fact that Kimi Raikkonen will need to change some parts in upcoming races, thus taking a penalty whilst Hamilton and Vettel are in exact same scenario at present when it come to number of parts used.
Force India Hit Ground Running
After a hectic summer break finding a new owner, nobody would of thought that Force India would turn up and produce their best weekend of season so far.
Right from the get-go, both cars were impressive as Esteban Ocon mounted a fantastic recovery from taking a ‘different direction’ in FP2 to take third on grid and lock out second row with Perez alongside him, following a wet Q3.
Despite questions surrounding his future at Force India, Ocon rightfully described this as a ‘special moment’ because that result despite recent struggles is a great reward for the team’s effort and motivation despite challenging times.
Sergio Perez meanwhile as one of the main creditors who instigated administration, rewarded the team for their patience throughout the process by delivering a brilliant weekend.
He was on it from the get-go and really one of this weekend’s most consistent drivers and has definitely ‘sent a strong message’ to the new owners with one seat most definitely up for grabs at the team next season.
Although both drivers were eventually overhauled by Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, fifth and sixth on the team’s debut as Racing Point Force India is an exceptional feat.
The results mean that they have already overhauled Williams in Constructors Championship, with Sauber and Toro Rosso within striking distance so the ground is well and truly running for Force India.
Wet Lessons Learned
Before the summer break, we saw Sebastian Vettel struggle with rain as he crashed out of lead in Germany before failing to get in top three at end of a wet qualifying session in Hungary.
Well it seems that he has used the break wisely to sort out his wet weather driving issues in that Ferrari, because he was surprisingly strong in a wet Q3 to take second on grid.
Speaking post Qualifying to Ferrari’s website, Vettel said that the day was “ok” but compared to recent attempts in rain, this is probably one of Vettel’s better results so he should be pleased with whatever progress has been made.
McLaren Gets Glimpse of Future
Following Fernando Alonso’s decision to move on at end of season, the Spaniard sat out FP1 as McLaren handed Lando Norris a chance to impress.
Well, the Brit definitely grabbed the opportunity with both hands to outpace Stoffel Vandoorne who is facing an uncertain future.
During that opening practice session, McLaren also cleverly tested Norris’ potential by putting him on mediums whilst Vandoorne had the softs and let them do a lap within close proximity of one another midway through session.
Surprisingly, it was Norris who won that particular battle by over a second, despite having the slower tyres therefore boosting his prospects of a F1 drive next season with the team.
Ultimately, Norris finished 18th but still outpaced Vandoorne and Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin.
This might well not be the last time that we see these two doing battle in FP1 if Norris is handed more chances to prove his worth. If not then he has produced a strong statement as to why he deserve the seat.
Contrasting Fortunes for Belgians
For Max Verstappen and Stoffel Vandoorne, this weekend brought contrasting fortunes at their home race (Verstappen was born in Belgium despite racing under Dutch license).
Starting with Verstappen, he delivered a solid weekend despite battling a power deflict and having to overcome a ‘tricky’ Q3. He however acknowledged that Force India made his race tougher with their ‘very strong’ pace before pushing on to a lonely third place.
Vandoorne on other hand struggled all weekend, finishing last in every session (last in race of those who completed the race).
After making progress in Hungary, whatever problems he used to have are clearly back despite him describing his race as ‘boring‘.
With Monza also being about power, things are probably not going to get much if any better till at least Singapore but progress is needed if Vandoorne is to have a decent stab at trying to keep his seat for next season.
Missed any of the first ten race weekends and want to get up to date? Click on any of the hyperlinks below to go and check out my round up of the weekend/s.