Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle delivers his expert verdict on the Belgian GP weekend as Max Verstappen continued Red Bull’s perfect 2023 campaign in the last race before the summer break…

The Sprint format undoubtedly makes for a relentless weekend of meaningful action in Formula 1. Whether you can have too much of a good thing only the fans will decide, but the audience numbers I see, having four of the five F1 track sessions generating a definitive and meaningful result, suggest that it’s popular.

The disconnect of having qualifying on Friday afternoon for the race on Sunday doesn’t feel right to me, and likely precludes a good number of people who like to watch qualifying live from doing so.

The weather was bizarre even for Spa. One moment you needed a robust umbrella in hand and a Sou’wester on your head, and the next some sunglasses and a T-shirt and shorts at the ready. And then be ready to use them like one of those little wooden weather houses which had gone berserk.

Highlights of the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa.

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Highlights of the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa.

Highlights of the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa.

Race control too cautious with wet weather

The wet Friday opening session was frustrating in several ways. For the teams it meant zero running on race tyres and full fuel, so they would be obliged to take an educated guess on both those aspects along with aero levels, suspension set-up, and ride heights for what was always expected to be a drier race afternoon. Talk about jeopardy.

Furthermore, the FIA race control declared that it would not be a competitive session so that teams and drivers would not push too hard in the anticipation that, should qualifying be cancelled, they might well suspect that FP1 finishing order would set the grid. I was disappointed by that, the teams and drivers along with all the appropriate equipment are quite capable of judging such situations especially when setting lap times ideally away from other cars. The fans deserved more track action.

Ted Kravitz is in the paddock as he reviews all the biggest stories from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

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Ted Kravitz is in the paddock as he reviews all the biggest stories from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Ted Kravitz is in the paddock as he reviews all the biggest stories from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Qualifying went ahead and it was great to watch as they grappled with ever-changing track conditions and eventually making it onto dry tyres. It started with the knowledge that Max Verstappen would take a five-place grid drop for taking a new gearbox, but even then, such was the rate of change on track he only just scraped through to the top-10 shootout (Q3) in 10th place.

It was telling that, despite his very commanding championship lead, he was quite upset on the radio about how that all played out, although his friend and engineer Gianpiero Lambiase firmly put that into perspective, not for the first time, or the last.

Max Verstappen has an argument with Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase as the Dutchman is not happy about his run plan.

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Max Verstappen has an argument with Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase as the Dutchman is not happy about his run plan.

Max Verstappen has an argument with Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase as the Dutchman is not happy about his run plan.

Max would then go on to dominate Q3 by an impressive eight tenths of a second and would start the main race from a penalised P6 leaving Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari on pole position.

Piastri stars for McLaren

Oscar Piastri misses out on Sprint Pole at the Belgium Grand Prix by 0.011s to Max Verstappen.

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Oscar Piastri misses out on Sprint Pole at the Belgium Grand Prix by 0.011s to Max Verstappen.

Oscar Piastri misses out on Sprint Pole at the Belgium Grand Prix by 0.011s to Max Verstappen.

Before that we had the Sprint Shootout and the 15 lap Sprint to come on a wet Saturday. Verstappen led all three elements of that qualifying and won the race comfortably, but the real story was Oscar Piastri in his McLaren.

We had a delayed start and then several Safety Car laps so that, inevitably, the track was in such good shape that immediately every driver wanted to take intermediate tyres once it was clear the Safety Car was pulling in.

Again, race control were overly cautious in my view, and the uncomfortable safety paradox here is that many drivers pitted immediately into a wet pitlane populated by 250 team members in chaotic stops, releases, and near misses between cars.

The fallout of this is that many key people, and fans for that matter, were reasonably asking why we even carry full wet tyres around the world, which are mandatory behind Safety Car starts, when we only ever release the cars when the track is at intermediate tyre stage, and even fast heading towards slick dry tyres on occasion.

Highlights of the Sprint from the Belgian GP.

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Highlights of the Sprint from the Belgian GP.

Highlights of the Sprint from the Belgian GP.

Piastri pitted immediately, he’d impressively started alongside Verstappen on the front row after a stellar performance in the Sprint Shootout and was not held up in the pit lane. With an impressive out-lap he took the lead. He always looked reassured up to this point and calmly handled the pressure in a style way beyond his 22 years and limited rookie experience.

After Fernando Alonso uncharacteristically spun out and created a Safety Car intervention Verstappen would relieve Piastri of the lead and win the race. McLaren had opted for significantly higher downforce than any other team which would look inspired in the rain but dire in a dry main race. Not that Piastri would find out sadly.

Alpine sackings ‘brutal’

Following the sacking of Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, vice president Bruno Famin discusses the changes and what the plans are moving forward.

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Following the sacking of Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, vice president Bruno Famin discusses the changes and what the plans are moving forward.

Following the sacking of Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, vice president Bruno Famin discusses the changes and what the plans are moving forward.

Pierre Gasly took third position in the Sprint which was a massive bonus for him and his Alpine team who appear to have accelerated their revolving door senior management style.

We covered that in Sky programming over the weekend, but I’m still taken aback by their wholesale forced departure of experienced F1 folk, and apparently with more to come. I must assume there are wise and knowledgeable people incoming that we’ve yet to hear about.

Publicly binning team boss Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane mid-event while they still had a job to do on the pit wall was brutal even by F1’s less-than-impressive standards in this respect.

Piastri and Sainz collision ‘a shame’

Anthony Davidson analyses what went wrong for Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz after the two collided on Turn One at the Belgian GP.

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Anthony Davidson analyses what went wrong for Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz after the two collided on Turn One at the Belgian GP.

Anthony Davidson analyses what went wrong for Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz after the two collided on Turn One at the Belgian GP.

It was time to draw breath and think about the race. The general chat in the paddock was how long it would take Max to get to the front. The answer was somewhat later than expected on lap 17 because despite a good start, aided by Carlos Sainz and Piastri trying to share the same piece of track in the infamous first corner, Verstappen had the patience to look after his tyres before eventually picking off Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, and his own team-mate Sergio Perez. He could see them all just ahead, so he was happy biding his time.

That first corner clash was pure Spa. From the front row Perez swung hard right to cover off Hamilton, and then hard left to get a better line through T1. Quite a risky strategy at any track. This made Hamilton have to move around behind him and Sainz in a counter direction in an attempt to overtake Lewis. Sainz then locked a wheel and so couldn’t cleanly pass. Piastri was on the inside minding his own business and was quite cautious with a lot of space in front of him.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri reacts to a disappointing end to what he described as a 'a really good weekend'.

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McLaren’s Oscar Piastri reacts to a disappointing end to what he described as a ‘a really good weekend’.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri reacts to a disappointing end to what he described as a ‘a really good weekend’.

That space suddenly became filled with Sainz’s Ferrari, but it didn’t look like Piastri was hell-bent on making an overtake. What he would do next time is get on the brakes earlier rather than coast into an ever-closing wedge, although that can pose risks from those behind. It was a shame because we lost two front runners although McLaren’s high downforce choice would likely have heavily hampered Piastri, just as it did Lando Norris in the sister McLaren who would eventually finish seventh.

What I hadn’t fully realised until after the race was just how many near misses there were with Piastri’s ailing car heading relatively slowly down the hill towards Eau Rouge, and particularly George Russell’s Mercedes was affected. That’s also likely why Piastri elected not to coast along the fast final sector trying to get back to the pits with a broken steering arm suffered when he clouted the inside wall trying to avoid the Ferrari.

Carlos Sainz shares his views on his lap one collision with Oscar Piastri at the Belgian GP.

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Carlos Sainz shares his views on his lap one collision with Oscar Piastri at the Belgian GP.

Carlos Sainz shares his views on his lap one collision with Oscar Piastri at the Belgian GP.

Full of admiration for drivers and fans

Mercedes had another weekend where they promised some speed but didn’t make it to the podium in either race. The aero bouncing has come back for them, and the car looked a handful in various parts of the track. The sheer might of the team keeps them comfortably second in the Constructors’ table but they can’t tame this car so far.

Ferrari quietly had a very strong weekend in both wet and dry conditions and Leclerc took the final podium spot in third place for the main race, albeit 32 seconds behind the man who started five places behind him. It seems they have improved the car regarding tyre degradation.

But then Perez in the other Red Bull was 22 seconds behind, such was Verstappen’s command over his ever-willing car. When Max caught Sergio it was as if he was in a different car (that one is for the conspiracy theorists to seize on) because he was able to take tighter lines and still get better exit traction. He’s found a way to carry speed while continuing to babysit the Pirellis. It’s a touch, feel, and finesse that’s very difficult to learn and achieve in my experience.

Red Bull managed to break another F1 trophy as they celebrated Max Verstappen's win at the Belgian GP.

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Red Bull managed to break another F1 trophy as they celebrated Max Verstappen’s win at the Belgian GP.

Red Bull managed to break another F1 trophy as they celebrated Max Verstappen’s win at the Belgian GP.

Aston Martin had something of a revival after their recent loss of form although Alonso’s fifth place was still 56 seconds behind the winner rather than keeping Max in sight as he was doing early in the season.

I left Spa full of admiration for both the hundreds of thousands of fans who tolerated the weather, and all 20 drivers and 10 teams because that was one hell of a weekend to stay on top of.

MB

Formula 1 returns after the summer break with the Dutch Grand Prix and all sessions will be live on Sky Sports F1 from August 25-27. Stream the biggest sporting events with NOW


By Sandra Winters

Writer | Author | Wordsmith Passionate about crafting stories that captivate and inspire. Published author of [Book Title]. Dedicated to exploring the depths of human emotions and experiences through the power of words. Join me on this literary journey as we delve into the realms of imagination and uncover the beauty of storytelling.