2019 Belgian Grand Prix Review

RIP Anthoine Hubert, 1996-2019 (Image credit: FIA Formula Two)

This weekend saw Formula One return from its summer break as teams gathered for the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, unaware that this would turn out to be one of the sport’s darkest weekends in recent times.

There is just one place to start this race review which is to pay tribute to Formula Two driver and Renault Academy member, Antoine Hubert who sadly passed away after an accident during F2’s Feature Race on Saturday.

Having followed Hubert since he joined GP3 in 2017, I have to say that he was a genuinely talented driver who produced plenty of brilliant yet intelligent on-track battles but to win the F2 Monaco (pictured below) and French Sprints in a underperforming car earlier this summer in two hugely contrasting drives are amongst his finest highlights which many will remember him by.  

RIP Anthoine Hubert

Hubert Monaco Sprint

Now let crack on with the review of how every team fared during this Belgian GP weekend, because they all did a great job in tough circumstances and this is for Anthoine. 

Mercedes

2019 Belgium Grand Prix, Saturday - Wolfgang Wilhelm
Lewis Hamilton overcame a tough weekend on and off the track to finish second and extend his championship lead to 65 points. (Image credit: Wolfgang Wilhelm)

Race results: Lewis Hamilton – 2nd, Valtteri Bottas – 3rd

Mercedes were simply outdone by Ferrari on pure speed this weekend but their race pace does offer hope of replicating last season’s Italian GP win next weekend because they are kinder on their tyres than the Scuderia, which was evident by Hamilton’s late charge towards Leclerc who deservingly clung on to take the win. 

Hamilton however will be glad to take second after a tough weekend in which he encountered a throttle pedal issue in FP1 before a mistake in FP3 put him into the barrier at Campos and almost rule him out of qualifying in which he took a solid third. 

Bottas meanwhile enjoyed a solid weekend but could of tried to push Hamilton more during the race, eventually benefitting from Sebastian Vettel’s two stop strategy to take third even though he has now lost more ground in the title race. 

In summary, a tough weekend and with reliability issues surrounding their power unit upgrade having affected their customer teams, Mercedes have plenty of work to do if aren’t to suffer a similar fate in coming races. 

 

Ferrari

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Race results: Charles Leclerc – 1st, Sebastian Vettel – 4th

This track suited Ferrari to absolute perfection but we must applaud Charles Leclerc for how he dealt with the loss of a close friend in Hubert by taking his first F1 victory through a brilliantly managed mature performance.

In fact Leclerc was in a league of his own all weekend in topping second and third practice then qualifying, which only makes this win all the more bittersweet because he executed a brilliant race strategy to fend off a late charge from Hamilton but it was the perfect tribute that Leclerc could of possibly given his fallen comrade.

Vettel meanwhile seemed to plateau out throughout practice after topping FP1 which probably cost him a proper battle with Leclerc in qualifying, whilst mistakes still seem to be an issue in the race.

A lock up at the start into La Source definitely wrecked his race but he did a good job at maximising Ferrari’s straight-line speed to defend from Hamilton for several laps mid race, otherwise it’s unlikely that Leclerc would of won given the contrast in pace on mediums between the Ferraris and Mercedes.

Now the pressure is on Ferrari to take this momentum into Monza where qualifying looks likely to be key, because if the race is wet then pole could very well be the best place to be.

 

Red Bull

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Race results: Alexander Albon – 5th, Max Verstappen – Retired

Having enjoyed a strong end to the first half of this season, Red Bull should be disappointed with their overall performance this weekend because they were simply off the pace from the get-go on. 

Verstappen complained of power related issues all weekend before getting tangled with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen at the start, which consequently broke his steering to send him sliding into the barrier at Radillon and we must be thankful that he didn’t collect anyone, given the speed that everyone was reaching at that corner after what happened in F2 on Saturday. 

Whilst Verstappen’s retirement cost the team valuable points as they look to catch Ferrari in the Constructors’ championship, the future does look promising because Alex Albon drove an impressive debut race on his promotion from Toro Rosso. 

The Thai had focused on long runs for the majority of this weekend which clearly paid dividends with a calm strategic drive from the back of the grid to fifth using the alternative tyre strategy.

Albon’s performance rightfully picked up praise from Team Principal, Christian Horner who was ‘very impressed’ with his performances throughout the entire weekend, and with rain forecast for next weekend we could very well see Albon in the mix up front if it’s a wet race.

Overall, this has been a great weekend of transition with promising signs for the future at Red Bull even if we all would prefer to just forget this weekend.  

 

McLaren

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Race results: Carlos Sainz – Retired, Lando Norris – Retired

This has been quite a quiet weekend for McLaren by recent standards with both cars struggling to extract single lap pace, although Norris did a great job of getting himself up to fifth from mid pack before driving a controlled race until a power unit failure on the penultimate lap. 

Sainz meanwhile just had rotten luck throughout with a upgrade meaning that he was starting from the back, before a second red flag in Q1 wrecked his final run and a power failure at the start before eventually retiring at the end of lap three with a terminal power unit issue. 

Definitely a weekend for McLaren to forget for so many reasons but Monza should hopefully suit their car better with it’s low downforce. 

 

Toro Rosso

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Race results: Daniil Kvyat – 7th, Pierre Gasly – 9th

Eight points from the race doesn’t tell the story of Toro Rosso’s weekend because they surprisingly struggled for single lap pace throughout practice and qualifying which Chief Racing Engineer, Jonathan Eddolls has put down to the fact that ‘… a few of the corners on this track wouldn’t necessarily suit some of the handling characteristics of our car…’

Their race pace however was impressive with Kvyat a particular stand-out after going from 19th on the grid to an eventual seventh placed finish, ahead of Gasly who should view this result as a positive step after being demoted from Red Bull in the summer break despite the heartbreak of losing a close friend in Hubert this weekend.

Next weekend however will be interesting with rain forecast for Friday practice and the race, which should provide the team with additional motivation after their Germany heroics.

 

Renault

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Race results: Nico Hulkenberg – 8th , Daniel Ricciardo – 14th

This weekend has been one rollercoaster of emotions for Renault because throughout practice and qualifying, they were enjoying one of their strongest weekends in recent races with a new upgraded power unit which bodes well for Monza with their grid penalty having been served here. 

All that progress and Sunday’s race result however pales into insignificance given that Hubert was part of their academy and a popular figure in the paddock, who would surely of been proud of their race performance after Hulkenberg benefitted from late drama to take four points. 

As for Ricciardo, he drove a valiant race on mediums for 43 laps after a first corner incident on the opening lap and although 14th is a disappointing result, the data gathered will be invaluable for future race strategies. 

Ultimately, this has been a bittersweet weekend for the French constructor but one that holds promise for the future if can continue to make steps forward with their power units. 

 

Racing Point

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Race results: Sergio Perez – 6th, Lance Stroll – 8th

Despite the difficult circumstances that lingered over the race, this weekend was more like the old days of Force India with both cars in great form throughout despite reliability issues of the new Mercedes power unit upgrade which meant that Stroll had to take a grid penalty.

The Canadian however did deliver a brilliant fightback courtesy of late drama to take the final point, although if the finish line had been further up the run to La Source, he could of possibly got Gasly for ninth on better power alone. 

Perez meanwhile was back to his best with a strong qualifying and race, even if he eventually missed out on fifth after a brilliant move by Albon on the Kemmel Straight which would of surely been debatable on any other day.

Racing Point now needs to harness their new found pace and take that forward to Monza because if Mercedes sort out their reliability issues surrounding the upgraded power units, we should see an even better performance next weekend. 

 

Alfa Romeo

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Race results: Kimi Raikkonen – 16th, Antonio Giovinazzi – 18th

It’s really much of the same at Alfa Romeo with Raikkonen once again outperforming the car, although a first lap hit by Verstappen did wreck his chances of points but to finish ahead of Williams’ Robert Kubica despite suffering damage is a huge positive. 

Giovinazzi meanwhile continues to underperform but did enjoy a strong FP3 and surely would of been in the Q3 mix if it wasn’t for a technical failure at the end of Q1. His race pace however was good enough for points but a mistake at Pouhon ultimately put him out of the race late on.

Either way, there is definitely plenty of potential in the car to unlock over the remaining races which could be key as to where they finish in the teams’ standings. 

 

Haas

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Race results: Kevin Magnussen – 12th, Romain Grosjean – 13th

Having spent recent races comparing their current and Australia specs, Haas stuck with the former for both cars which definitely proved correct after a slow start to the weekend with pace and handling issues. 

Both drivers however reaped their reward with a solid step forward on Saturday, even if a variety of issues cost them points in the race but the data will be useful next weekend at Monza as Haas look to recover lost ground in the battle for fifth. 

 

Williams

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Race results: George Russell – 15th, Robert Kubica – 17th

After showing signs of promise in Hungary, Williams’ weaknesses in term of speed were once again exposed on top of reliability issues affecting most Mercedes powered cars. 

Russell however did a great job to outperform Kubica again all weekend and particularly by half a second, despite sitting out FP1 for Nicholas Latifi who also did a impressive job in bettering the Pole by 0.182s.

Williams therefore should be pleased with how their weekend has gone but Italy next weekend will be more of the same, although there is promise for Singapore in three weeks time which should suit their car more like Budapest did. 

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