Posted on September 5, 2022.
Report by Tony Cotton.
It was good to see a Ferrari driver topping the podium at Spa. The only pity was that it wasn’t in the F1 race but in F3 where the promising 17 year old Ferrari Academy Brit Oliver Bearman won the F3 sprint race and was third in the feature race. As a result he moves up to second in the championship standings, only a point from the leader. Clearly, he has a lot of potential, and when the musical chairs have stopped moving in the F1 driver game, perhaps there may be a place for him in a Haas at some point? I have no idea if the licence rules would allow this, but we can dream.
F3, of course, isn’t what it used to be. It used to be F3000. The 3.4 litre, 380/400hp Mecachrome V6s are closer to the derated DFVs of the ‘80s/90’s series than they are to anything I would recognise as F3. Funnily enough, though, I was reminded of “classic” F3 during the Spa F1 race. I can recall seeing Warren Hughes in 1993 in the first of the successful British F3 Dallaras. They seemed to be from a different planet to the other cars, and despite there being “no development during the summer break, honest guv” the RedBulls at Spa had a similar air. Whether it’s the engines, the chassis or, as is most likely, both, they seem to be in a different race to everybody else, and the only comfort we Tifosi can take is that the F1-75 still looks the best of the rest. However, what’s becoming ever clearer is that there’s a quiet confidence around RedBull that means they don’t have to over-stretch themselves to succeed. The unforced mistakes are highly publicised at Ferrari – tyre selection and pitlane speed are this week’s entry in the list of “50 ways to lose your race ” – but it’s clear from the fiasco of Hamilton driving over Alonso on lap one that the disease has hit Mercedes too. As a result of tricks like that, Hamilton is in danger of being renamed “LAMB” rather than “GOAT”. Not the “Greatest Of All Time”, but just “Lucky At Mercedes Benz”.
Sebastian Vettel was disappointed to be out in Q1 in the increasingly dire Aston. As Stroll was a tenth faster, I’m assuming daddy’s boy got the 1800cc engine. As it happened, the end result would be one of Seb’s “best” grid positions, 10th, of which more later.
In Q2 Charles went out for his first run a couple of minutes after Carlos, giving him a tow on the Kemmel Straight on his warm-up lap. The Spaniard thus made it through while sparing a set of tyres. On his own slowdown lap, Sainz gave a tow to Leclerc in the third sector, thus repaying the favour to his team-mate. The same scheme was planned in Q3, and worked after a fashion. The only snag was that as Charles left the pits he queried the tyres and was told he had been given a set of new softs when he should have had used to give him something to draw on in the race if needed. Whilst he later described it as “no big deal”, it’s a bit disappointing.
With the tow, Carlos put in a superb 1:44.297 for third, a quarter second ahead of Charles in 4th. Pole was the RedBull pair, looking utterly unapproachable, and so confident that both sat out the second runs of Q2. The increasingly surprising and impressive Alpines took 5th and 6th (Ocon edging out Alonso), while Mercedes continued to delight those who don’t like Toto Wolff with 7th and 8th. The real surprise of the day for me was Albon in 9th for Williams, and it looked like genuine speed. Not for the first time I ask why all tracks can’t be like Spa. Making the best of a mediocre McLaren, never-give-up Lando was 10th.
However, this bears no resemblance to the grid and since I am not insane and have a deadline for this report I will not even attempt to describe the various penalties and moves. This is due to teams changing IC units, emptying the ash trays and fitting new points to the distributors (I think they’re on Lucas Electronic systems these days- Ed). Suffice to say that Verstappen ended up 14th and Charles 15th on the grid.
Carlos had a good start and initially led. The expected challenge from Perez didn’t happen as he was overwhelmed by Alonso, Hamilton and Russell. Rather unused over the years to “racing” as opposed to “driving”, Hamilton drove his rear wheel over Alonso’s front going into Les Combes, resulting in his retirement a few metres down the road. The stewards decided it was a no-penalty “first lap incident”, and certainly there’s no argument on mathematical grounds with that judgement, even if anybody who has driven a single seater might have different views on the safety of the move.
Alonso slipped back and then slipped back progressively more over the afternoon, which disappointed your reporter who, as you might have already guessed, is a fan of the old man of F1. Perez made up for his bad start by getting through the troubles to second. The advantage of the RB and (it hurts me to say it) Verstappen’s racecraft had him in 8th by the end of lap 1. Then the ever-reliable Latifi (as in one can always rely on him to do something bad) hit Bottas, leading to more bits to clear up, and allowing Verstappen to close up further. Charles, meanwhile, had a start nearly as good as Verstappen’s and also progressed well through the field, ending lap 1 in 10th. He soon passed Stroll for 9th on Kemmel straight, and then having slotted behind Verstappen, the safety car came out to allow the debris to be recovered. Passing Stroll proved to be a mixed blessing for Charles as Verstappen removed a visor tear-off which got lodged in Charles’s brake duct, necessitating a pit stop on lap 4, a change to mediums and a drop to 17th. Later, it was reported that the tear-off also damaged a speed sensor, and as information is everything in F1, that too must have contributed to Charles’s problems.
By lap 9 Charles was up to 9th. Carlos pitted from the lead at the end of lap 11, rejoining in 6th. By this time, Verstappen was up to 2nd, and realistically Perez was never going to fight so he took the lead on the next lap, to relinquish it only on laps 16 and 17 for a pit stop, when Carlos led for a couple of laps, but I suspect with little joy in his heart.
Charles made up ground, relatively easily rising through the field to seventh behind Stroll by lap 13, partly through passing and partly through opponents pitting. Further pitting had Charles 4th by lap 15, but of course he was on 12 lap old mediums and his opponents were on new tyres, so by the time he was ready to pit on lap 25 (the same lap as Carlos) he was more than ready for the change. In an innovative move, the pit asked him which tyres he would like, and surprisingly he managed a broadcastable response (mediums, while Carlos had hards). I understand that there may be a fan-vote as to which tyres will be chosen at the next race.
As Russell pitted, Carlos took 3rd on lap 29 and held on to it behind the RB’s to the end. Charles, who had rejoined in 7th, passed Ocon and then Vettel to take 5th by lap 31. In a cunning move, Charles was called in for softs to get fastest lap on lap 43. He came out just ahead of Alonso who then passed him. In the fight to get back 5th, behind Russell who was doing a good job for Mercedes to be 4th, he didn’t get fastest lap, and didn’t actually get 5th either because he had gone very slightly too fast in the pitlane and suffered a 5 second penalty putting him behind Alonso. So not really cunning at all. Ocon, Vettel, Gasly and Albon completed the top 10.
What would have happened if the tear-off hadn’t hit the brake duct? Surely a 3-4 was on the cards, which in the current competition environment is like the top 2 steps of the podium.
The pace of the Red Bulls is currently just superb. Mattio Binotto said after the race “we just have to roll up our sleeves and continue to improve the performance of our car”, but frankly it would take a miracle for anybody to catch the RedBulls, so perhaps the answer is the Toto Wolff approach of accusing everybody except your own team of cheating. Except that is not the Ferrari way.