Merc high on horsepower

The next Grand Prix at Monza should be an out-and-out Mercedes race. Valtteri Bottas has got to get his stuff together; he’s got to get between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton to help his team-mate in the championship.

A jubilant Lewis Hamilton goes onto the podium prancing after winning the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. With the victory, the Mercedes driver whittled down Sebastian Vettel’s lead in the championship to seven points.   -  AP

It was a really tense contest between Mercedes and Ferrari at Spa, and I think it ended up a lot closer than a lot of people expected, including me. This really should have been a Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes slam- dunk, but actually Ferrari seemed to be in much better form than anybody really expected. All of a sudden, especially when we got to Q3, it became quite apparent that it was game on.

It’s interesting, because I think on Fridays during the race weekend, they — particularly Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull — all play games in terms of showing their hand. Therefore, as the season goes on with different engine cycles and things like that, we don’t see the peak performances until FP3.

During the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, when we got to Q2, we saw Mercedes turn the wick up and they gained around 5 kmph. I think that’s just sheer power. The wind didn’t really change direction, and I don’t think they changed a huge amount of downforce. So, it shows yet again that Mercedes’ extra horsepower makes a big difference.

That really came into play in the Grand Prix. When you look at the opportunities that Sebastian Vettel had at the end of the Kemmel Straight — the two chances when he had a great slipstream and a great tow — the German ran out of electrical juice and power before he could make a move. It was the superior horsepower of the Merc that kept Lewis in front just enough, as the two drivers went up the straight between Eau Rouge and Les Combes.

Lewis had an absolutely stellar weekend; he was faultless all through. In qualifying, the lap he delivered was absolutely brilliant. I don’t think there was anything left on the table. He did a solid job all through free practice.

For whatever reason, Valtteri Bottas looked really off-colour and didn’t look like he was anywhere close to where he needed to be to challenge Lewis.

Mercedes ERS and a classic Hamilton defence

Come the start of the Grand Prix, Lewis just had more grunt than Sebastian off the line and to the top of Les Combes, but the key moment for me was after the safety car restart when they went through Eau Rouge. First I think Mercedes did a very good job of making sure that the drivers had enough ERS at the end of the Kemmel Straight in case they needed to defend.

Lewis was able to go to a higher power mode, so at the point that Seb had a bit of a de-rate, the Mercedes driver could keep going. But still, he was on the soft tyre whereas Seb was on the ultra-soft, and that’s a two-step difference. Therefore, the tyre warm-up was not as good as on Seb’s car, but when he got to the Kemmel Straight you could see Lewis picked one line and stuck to it down the middle of the road, whilst Seb was sort of going left and right. Lewis judged that braking to perfection, and that to me has been one of his biggest strengths throughout his career.

There are very few people in the history of F1 who have been better on the brakes than Hamilton, and I think we got such a good illustration of it on Sunday (August 27) when he picked his braking point. He got the car stopped and, psychologically, that’s hard to do when you’ve got a guy on potentially better tyres right behind you. He picked that point and stuck to it, got to the apex and then he was away.

For the second race this season the Force India pair collided on the track, with Ocon suggesting Perez's actions put both of their lives at risk.   -  AFP

 

I think that was a classic Lewis Hamilton defence and it’s in those moments that championships are won. You compare that to someone like Bottas who got mugged on the restart by both Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, and suddenly you realise why Seb and Lewis are the A-listers, the No. 1 drivers in their respective teams who are at the top of the World Championship race.

Seb dug it out in qualifying and got lucky because Kimi gave him a slipstream, but he didn’t look as comfortable as Kimi through free practice. When he got to Q2 and Q3, it all started to come to him, while Kimi seemed to have lots of vibration issues with his tyres. He just didn’t seem as happy, but Seb seemed behind all through until the final round of Q3, where Kimi gave him that slipstream that put Vettel in the front row.

Ferrari limits losses; a missed opportunity for Mercedes

In the race, Seb did what he does best. He’s got tremendous ability to hammer out those times, lap after lap after lap. He kept the pressure on Lewis, waited for a mistake, but that never came. Equally, he never made a mistake either. They just sat together all through the Grand Prix and, as I said, I think there was maybe the one opportunity after the restart. The combination of the Mercedes’ power modes and Lewis’ braking kept the Briton in front, but a strong weekend from Seb, though. I think he should be happy to come away from Spa losing only seven points rather than 10, and I think for Mercedes it was an opportunity lost by not getting Valtteri in between Lewis and Seb. That was quite a key point for the championship.

Force India feud continues at Spa

Finally, I think we’ve got to talk about the Force India drivers, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, because clearly the gloves are off. In fact, they have been since Baku. With the first incident on Lap One when they hit each other — it’s always tricky on Lap One when you’ve got cars all over — and personally as much as Checo is a good friend of mine, I do think he could have given his team-mate a bit more room on that second instance.

When you’re crowding someone up against the wall, I know what it’s like. The natural line is for you to come across from La Source towards the wall. You see the wall coming and you think the gap is closing, so he’s going to lift. When you’re driving for a team and you’re in a situation where you respect your team-mate, you would give him not a massive amount of room but just enough for him to at least come safely out and then you sort it out at Les Combes at the top of the hill.

After that there were comments coming from both drivers. First there was Esteban, who was coming out with all sorts of comments about Checo and that the Mexican wanted to kill him. Checo’s not a bad guy; he wouldn’t want to kill Ocon. But it all imploded, and anyway, we’ll see how it pans out when we get to Monza.

Only a few days remain until the next race, and Monza should be an out-and-out Mercedes race. Bottas has got to get his stuff together; he’s got to get between Seb and Lewis to help his team-mate in the championship. I think Spa was a weekend that showed Valtteri is heading to the territory of being a No. 2.