F1 has announced before this weekend’s round at Spa in Belgium that the current schedule now has an extra four races. Turkey has a race on November 15 in Istanbul, followed by the Bahrain GP and Sakhir GP for November 29 and December 6. The season is currently set to wrap at Abu Dhabi on December 13 at the spectacular Yas Marina circuit. It’s also been confirmed that the round for China has now been officially abandoned. Under the current schedule, this brings the total amount of races to 17 for this year’s calendar.
The return to the Istanbul location marks the first race to be held there since 2011. It’s a track with a bit of history too, seeing such moments as Fernando Alonso crossing the line with just 0.081 of a second between them, or Sebastian Vettel setting the tone for his relationship with Mark Webber when both raced for Red Bull. There is also the famed Turn 8, a tough left-hander that sees the exit drop away in height. This will bring some real thrills for the drivers that have yet to experience it.
The same applies to Spa, with some of the 2020 field also not having driven this historic track. At 7.004 kilometers in length, it’s the longest circuit and also one of the oldest. The basic design harkens back to 1921 with that being just shy of 15 kilometers in total length using the roads between Francorchamps, Malmedy, and Stavelot in the far eastern section of Belgium. The track was modified in 1979 to its current layout, and the original was one of seven that hosted Formula 1 in its inaugural season in 1950.
For qualifying, it was largely more of the same for the top three. Lewis Hamilton nailed it in practice and carried that over to qualifying, taking pole ahead of Max Verstappen (P3) and Valtteri Bottas (P2). 1:41.252 was his time, leading both Verstappen and Bottas by 0.5 of a second with Bottas heading the Red Bull by 0.015.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was in the frame for P3 late in Q3 and will start alongside his former teammate after clocking a time under 0.3 slower. Esteban Ocon also drove well for Renault and he’ll start from P6 next to Alexander Albon who continues to impress in 2020. Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, and Lando Norris complete the top ten.
Notable for their absence was Ferrari, with Spa seeing their progress go backward. Charles Leclerc was 2/10ths quicker than Sebastian Vettel, with the pair in Q13 and 14. Ahead of them is the AlphaTauri pair of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. Vettel could perhaps count himself lucky to see P14 and George Russell unlucky for one stop behind as he was just 0.2 slower. Bringing up the rear of the field are some of the names that have, in 2020, been there in the sessions so far.
Kimi Raikkonen’s golden F1 days are well and truly gone as he managed P16, but ahead of Romain Grosjean, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen. The Haas team had problems during practice, with power unit changes for both cars and an issue with Magnussen’s cockpit in FP3, leaving the team scratching their heads. His luck continued its waywardness as he went wide in Q1, enough so that his Haas was well and truly in the gravel trap but barely had enough momentum to get back onto the track.
Drivers acknowledged the passing of F2 driver Antoine Hubert last year with a somber moment. A picture of Hubert and his helmet were placed onto the starting grid and was encircled by the drivers. Start time and it would be a start for 19 of the 20. Carlos Sainz reported smoke from his engine on the warmup lap. The McLaren team called him into the garage from where he would not emerge. He’d qualified 7th however an engine and exhaust problem would cruel his best qualifying result in Belgium.
Hamilton led the start and would remain in front for some time. Ocon made a quick move on Albon, and Ricciardo was immediately on the hunt for P3, pressuring Verstappen. Charles Leclerc started on a soft rubber and made up four places in the first two laps whilst tail gunner Magnussen also made up space, clearing his way to 15th. Leclerc and Gasly engaged in a side by side challenge for space, whilst Norris ran wide and lost momentum and track position. Leclerc has already radioed in complaining about his car’s inability to do much on the long Spa straights.
Lap 9 and its mayhem at the rear of the field. Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo lost traction and slammed into the barriers on driver’s right, tearing off a front wheel which bumped its way across the track and into the front left of a hapless George Russell. The younger British driver had reacted with superb speed after seeing Giovinazzi spin however the distance to clear wasn’t enough, and both cars and drivers were out. Both drivers were unharmed.
Most drivers took this opportunity to pit, a wise move given the length of the circuit and lap counts. Sergio Perez didn’t and on soft rubber means his wear rate will be higher, quicker, than others. Hamilton leads the field on the restart, leaving a frustrated Bottas in his wake. Ricciardo has fallen to 6th and behind Perez but he was one of the drivers that pitted for new tires. It takes but a lap for that to change as Perez gets picked off by the Australian then Albon. Lap 19 and Perez finally pits for longer-lasting but slower hard rubber. 17th is where he hits the track after the swap.
Ferrari’s woes continued too, with both Vettel and Leclerc in the mid-pack and having to fight each other for track space. It would be an indication of how their race would go as news broke Leclerc is to visit the stewards for allegedly driving too slowly on the warm-up lap. Verstappen sits comfortably in P3, with a gap to Bottas ahead, and a hungry Ricciardo behind. Further back is Gasly, Ocon, and Albon squabbling for position. Lap 24 and finally Albon motors his Red Bull past Gasly.
Hamilton sets the fastest lap so far and it’s just over half race distance. Leclerc pits and drops to last position. It’ll be a struggle to get into the top ten from here. Gasly also pits, and he’s the final driver to do so. Medium is his choice and this sets him up for a charge in the remaining laps. His garage radios in with their belief he can make it to the end on the new rubber but they feel everyone else in the top ten will have to do another stop.
Perez and Gasly’s new tires pay off, as lap 31 sees the pair quickly into P11 and P13. Norris gets the call to check his mirrors as his P8 could be under threat. Gasly finds Vettel in P12 and moves the Ferrari back one position. Whilst all of this has been happening, Raikkonen has been quietly moving through and the veteran is in P10. But then he isn’t as Perez makes his move. Gasly’s determined drive pays off as he also passes the Finn.
Issues appear to be hurting both Bottas and Verstappen, as each seem to be having rear rubber problems, sending vibrations through their respective cars. Hamilton has a four-plus second lead over his teammate and is untroubled. This potentially opens the door for Ricciardo to claim a podium. AlphaTauri has cleared Gasly for an attack, which has Kvyat effectively the bumper between Gasly and the following drivers.
Six laps and finally Hamilton has blinked. He’s spun and his near five-second lead is suddenly cut. Tire management is really coming into play in the closing session as Ocon, Albon, and Norris, in the middle of the top ten, are all feeling the strain. Just behind them is Gasly and Perez, with Gasly gunning for Perez. Four laps to go and Bottas echoes Hamilton with a spin on the same section at the Spa chicane. Verstappen now has breathing space for a tilt at P2. Lance Stroll has Gasly breathing down his neck for P8 as he’s also quietly made his way through the field whilst Gasly finally made his move on Perez. This sets him up for a run at Stroll and with just under two laps of the seven-kilometer track left, Gasly nabs his P8.
The front runners are slowing as their rubber goes off, but there’s a lap only to go. The top ten is still reshuffling as P6 becomes a battle between Ocon and Albon with Norris also in the mix. Whilst they battle, Ricciardo is on his own for P4 and looking to snare Verstappen. The Australian grabs the quickest lap but it’s not enough as Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen nurse their exhausted tires across the line.
Hamilton takes the podium and acknowledges the passing of “The Black Panther” with his own crossed arm salute. Verstappen though, was not as excited by his hard-fought P3. “It was pretty boring, not much to do,” he said. Bottas, too, seemed somewhat defeated, acknowledging Hamilton whilst seemingly hinting there’s nothing left in his car to challenge the champion.
P5 goes to Ocon, and he’s happy. “Next week we have the track with the same characteristic, so we will try to do the same. I am excited to go to Monza!” Ricciardo echoes the enthusiasm as Renault claim a best result so far, with the combined 23 points their best since 2016.
Albon and Norris take P6 and P7, with both ruing what could have been as minor errors from both in the final two laps had each other in and out of swapping positions. Gasly claims P8 and is voted as the driver of the day, including a tight pass on Perez before grabbing Stroll. They would be in P10 and P9. Ferrari? Out of the points and so far out of anything resembling a challenge for 2020. Vettel and Leclerc see P4 and P15 against their names. Kvyat and Raikkonen split the Ferraris from the top ten, with a largely ignored Grosjean, Latifi, and Magnussen finishing the field.
Hamilton’s win sees him equal Jim Clark and Raikkonen for wins at Spa, and he’s now equal third. Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna lead that statistic. Monza, the famous Italian track, hosts the next round next weekend for the Formula 1 Gran Premio Heineken D’italia 2020.