Another race weekend and another terrible time for McLaren.
McLaren not lost for words
Spa was expected to show a real step forward in performance for their Honda engine but, despite going through two new power units per driver, they were a second down on the car ahead of them in qualifying and managed to finish only in 13th and 14th in the race.
Indeed Jenson Button had only intermittent use of his ERS, something he described as “an embarrassment”. And it was. Their season started poorly and now it feels like a car crash that has gone into slo-mo. Yet through it all stands the racing director, Eric Boullier, whose increasingly flowery announcements seem to be hitting new heights in inverse proportion to the team’s lows. Here is last week’s from Spa: “Of all the circuits on the current F1 calendar, to this one is our car indubitably least suited. That being the case, it would be disingenuous indeed if we were to move to look askance at our finishing positions here today. Granted to finish 13th and 14th on a circuit that has hosted 14 McLaren grand prix wins is unpropitious in the extreme but splenetic we are not.” There is not much to admire at McLaren at the moment but Boullier’s words are a work of art. Bravo, Eric, you must be enjoying it, so more please.
Lotus success goes down well
The team have not had a lot to celebrate recently but their third place at Spa was hugely popular in the paddock. Romain Grosjean put in a great drive to go from ninth to third, including some mature, controlled overtakes that were a world away from the charging, accident-prone driver who caused a pile-up at the start of this race in 2012.
But it is the Enstone-based team that deserved the plaudits. They have a rich history in the sport with four world championships under the Benetton and Renault names but under the current owner, Genii Capital, have recently struggled badly for financing. The biggest effect on their racing has been a lack of development, for which they have had almost no money. Given this, to take a podium place is a magnificent feat and a hint at what they might achieve with backing.
This is what everyone is waiting for in the form of Renault’s return as a works outfit by purchasing the team. Their cars may have been impounded on Sunday night due to a financial dispute with the former reserve driver Charles Pic but it absolutely did not spoil the party. They deserved it.
Lewis takes over the tunes
“Lewis, Lewis, Lewis,” went the chants as Hamilton ascended the podium in Spa, a circuit that is increasingly becoming a home from home for many British fans. And why not? It is one of the best tracks in the world and but a four-hour run from Calais. Tickets, too, are at the reasonable end of the market, with general entry at €130 (£95) – easily comparable to Silverstone.
So they came in force and in voice. In the bars of Francorchamps, to the refrain of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, a tune that was once solely the domain of fans of “Ki-mi Rai-kko-nen – Kimi Raikkonen”, the British driver’s supporters had hijacked it and were attempting to out-sing the opposition with “Lew-is Ham-il-ton – Lewis Hamilton”.
They all went at it with gusto and the Hamilton fans probably had the day. He rightly acknowledged them after the race but intriguingly this is the type of support he is now attracting. It has numbers and is full of enthusiasm with an almost tribal level of affiliation. Good for him and good for the sport.
Tyres war not so straightforward
With Sebastian Vettel launching a furious attack on Pirelli after his right-rear blow-out just past Eau Rouge, and Nico Rosberg suffering the same in Friday practice, Pirelli are back in the firing line. Ferrari’s team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, also weighed in, saying it was Pirelli’s own data that had suggested his team could one-stop the race.
The manufacturer duly replied that it was too much wear that caused the explosion and pointed to the rejection of their request in 2013 to set a statutory limit for the number of laps for which each set of tyres could run. Vettel’s emotion at the time was understandable – he was doing almost 200mph and, had it happened going through Eau Rouge, a terrible accident would almost certainly have been the result – as with Rosberg, had he been actually going through Blanchimont when his failure occurred.
But Ferrari knew that attempting to one-stop at Spa, with huge loads going through the tyres, was optimistic. Equally Pirelli is required to build rubber that degrades – for the purpose of the spectacle – but it, too, has limited testing time to do so, a difficult combination to make work. However, there is also the question mark over why Vettel had not experienced a performance drop-off before the failure, as might have been expected. Perhaps at this stage both sides should wait until the definitive investigation has taken place and then address changes that can prevent it happening again.
Verstappen takes the breath away
Young Max has already displayed no hint of fear this season and a confidence in his own ability that has largely paid off. At Spa he was, at times, breathtaking. He had lost places after a poor start but slotted up the inside and took three back moments later through La Source.
A fourth followed by the time he reached Les Combes, where he would later sweep by Valtteri Bottas and almost do the same to Raikkonen. But it was at Blanchimont that his youth and nervelessness were to the fore. Approaching Fernando Alonso at the super-quick corner, he slipped up the inside of the McLaren and went through, doubtless to the shock of the Spaniard who would not have been expecting anything but fresh air on his left-hand side.
Then at the same corner, at almost top speed, he went round the outside of Felipe Nasr, which was heart-in-mouth stuff, and by the Bus Stop he had made it stick. No doubt he will begin to err on the side of caution more as he gets older but for the moment he is absolutely gripping, if not a little anxiety-inducing, to watch.
This article was written by Giles Richards, for theguardian.com on Monday 24th August 2015 21.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010