2018 Belgian GP Review and Italian GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
In Belgium, not even Lewis Hamilton’s brilliance could turn around Ferrari’s domination. But you had to feel a little sorry for Kimi Raikkonen and even Valtteri Bottas that they didn’t get more from the weekend. The raison d’etre for the halo was proven and Force India or whatever it’s called at the moment justified whatever position it’s in at the moment. So it was no change after the break, still all the cards in the air!
Ferrari were meant to win several races in that hectic July period of five races in six weeks, and yet it was Lewis Hamilton who scooped wins in France, Germany and Hungary, while Sebastian Vettel won only in Britain. Ferrari should have done so much better in that period, but never did so.
Instead, they had to wait until the first race after the break to finally establish themselves, but when the weather reverted to type at Spa, it was still Lewis Hamilton who took advantage while Ferrari shot themselves in the foot – as they have a habit of so doing – by hobbling the driver who had proved largely dominant in practice, Kimi Raikkonen, by not giving him enough fuel. For a team of their experience, that was a pretty basic mistake and just goes to show their weaknesses. Having said that, Mercedes haven’t been entirely error-free.
But in the race itself, there was no one to match Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. Even the team’s pit stops were immaculate. In the past, Ferrari would still be asleep after their summer holidays at Rimini or Misano or wherever. This time – Kimi’s problems apart – they were on the ball and leading the way.
Sebastian was pushed all the way by Lewis but there was never really any threat to the red car. Mercedes tried for an undercut but Ferrari reacted immediately and effectively. All the right calls came from the pit wall. They were virtually faultless.
In contrast, poor Kimi’s problems persisted in the multi-incidents at turn one, from which he and Daniel Ricciardo never recovered. So both Ferrari and Red Bull were down to half strength. The same virtually applied to Mercedes after Valtteri Bottas took power unit penalties for the race and he was consigned to the role that Lewis has filled so many times, climbing up through the field to an eventual fourth place behind Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen, which allowed Mercedes to score 30 points from a race they lost to the 25 of Ferrari. You could see why they might feel a little positive about it.
Of the rest, there were some interesting performances with Racing Point Force India immediately slotting into ninth place in the championship ahead of sometime fourth placed rival Williams after just one race and one point behind Sauber, even though the Ferrari engine and lack of downforce worked for Marcus Ericsson. Haas, with the same power unit, had a seventh and eighth place which gave them ten points. But it was a disaster for Williams – although Sergey Sirotkin said he drew some positives from it – Renault (Hulkenberg earning a penalty for starting the first corner accident) and McLaren.
And this weekend is surely not going to be much different. We are once again at a high speed circuit, in fact the most high speed of the lot. In spite of those chicanes, the average speed at Monza for the fastest lap (from 2004) is 257 kph. In spite of those chicanes and the fact that cars are at full throttle for 79 per cent of the lap distance, the finishing records have been incredible with 18 finishers for the last couple of years and not a single retirement the year before that.
But the cars that so excelled in the Ardennes will be the ones to beat again in the park north of Milan. With Ferrari now on a roll, surely it will be hard to beat them this weekend. However, while engines have the same demands, there are other demands at stake at Monza. For instance, the ERS suffers because there are only six braking events in Italy. And tyres may have suffered compression at Eau Rouge, they are under different pressures at Monza.
Pirelli are bringing the same selection of compounds to Monza as that used at Spa. There were high G-forces at Spa whereas at Monza it is the exit from the three chicanes which is so important. In each case, it’s vital to be able to ride the kerbs and to put down the speed out of the chicanes.
Downforce is minimal at Monza which once again will favour those cars who don’t have much of it, by which I mean Sauber. But those cars who had a bad time in Spa are likely to suffer again at Monza. For Italian fans, it should be a final European race to savour as their drivers mount the steps of the best podium of the year.
Finally, a word about the halo. Frankly, those of us who see the cars week-in, week-out have scarcely noticed the thing for the past 12 races or so. Sure, we noticed it at the start of the year and it isn’t popular but there was never going to be any doubt that once it was proposed and researched that we were going to be using it and we’d better get used to it.
Whether it saved Charles Leclerc from injury or not isn’t the point. It is there, it is there to save lives and there is absolutely no way that it won’t be in use in the future. It is here to stay and has now been involved in two incidents this year, the first being the two Japanese drivers’ F2 collision at Barcelona earlier this year.
Those of us who dislike it can still say that we do so on aesthetic and even purist reasons, but it won’t do us any good at all. (There are many other things about modern F1 which we can rant against). We might as well get used to it, it is here to stay and if it has saved a life or an injury, good.