2020 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS
SPA. Synonymous with speed and power. It’s home to some of the best moments. As well as some of the most tragic.
It shows no mercy. Requiring bravery over 19 turns.
For the 7th round of the 2020 championships, the grid hits the longest track on the calendar at Spa-Francorchamps. A bold way to start off a triple header that goes to Italy in back to back races next.
A true driver’s track, SPA has only been won by a non-world champion on 3 occasions in the past 2 decades – two of those pending as Ricciardo and Leclerc are still active.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW: STORYLINES
Hamilton looks to extend that champion’s advantage by taking a victory at SPA – something he’s only managed to do on one occasion of the past 4 since his title stumble in 2016. It’s also his most retired circuit as the 6x champion has failed to finish on 4 occasions of a possible 13. SPA is no friend to either Arrow as Bottas himself has only touched the podium on two occasions in his entire career.
Making things ever more difficult for the reigning champions will be a number of technical storylines playing out. The first and most breaking is how the announcement that the grid has now added a 17th race unlocks the use of a 3rd ICE, TC, and MGU-H. Historically, this has been the grand prix where teams give their power a facelift as it represents the midpoint in the season. This has fueled The Scuderia Success at SPA as of late – but I wouldn’t expect a threepeat given their observed power deficit this season.
While the championships continue to cement dates with venues deep into 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised if teams deploy late upgrades which could result in grid penalties and in turn, a considerable more overtaking.
On top of all that, the FIA is also bearing down Mercedes with the recent banning of party modes on the qualifying runs. While many expect this to level the playing field to a degree on Saturday, Toto Wolff remains optimistic it’s just going to make their race pace stronger – protecting the all mighty M11 PU from quali abuse will give the engine longer legs during the grand prix. He’d go on to say:
“So five laps of quali mode not being done, gives us 25 laps of more performance in the race”
And if he’s not posturing, it should be a terrifying thing for the grid to hear. SPA is the last race this year where the “party modes” are technically able to be used, but Mercedes has clearly begun to wind them down to prepare the engines. This was most evident by their lack of deployment as early as Barcelona. So while I anticipate the Saturday quali session to be closer, this may trouble on Sunday if it yields better race pace for Hamilton & Bottas.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will likely be the best challenge to the Arrow’s as he’s shown great pace over one lap over a variety of circuits in 2020. This is confirmed by him topping the time sheets in FP2 late Friday as he and his former Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo pushed ahead of Hamilton. We’ll only know the true order come quali tomorrow. But the young Dutchman will be hungry for SPA glory as his incident with Raikkonen last year removed himself from the racing on the opening turn.
An unrelenting Racing point will also look to challenge for an outside podium. Recovering from their 15 point deduction in the championships split between the two drivers as well as €400k fine tacked on, the “pink mercedes” is back on track and in the clear. Surprising results here aren’t foreign to Racing Point either. In 2018, The then Force India pair of Ocon and Perez would lock out the second row. Given their form and car seems to be on the up, I expect strong results from them.
Alternatively, McLaren is coming off a dreadful SPA with the 2019 Belgian Grand prix bookended by the tangerine cars losing power in dramatic fashion- Sainz panicking to get a grip of his lack of power just as he approaches his grid box for the start. He’d end up sputtering off the line only to officially retire without finishing a lap. While Carlos would get one lap under his belt, Norris would run well until 1 lap was remaining. His car would kick into anti-stall just after cross the control line onto the final lap. A gutting turn of events for the rookie who was running in fifth and on for a heap of points that were crucial. But as was the case with his rookie season – one of spectacularly poor luck which is no surprise that he currently has the advantage over his teammate & why this was my most mocked 2020 prediction along with Kimi in p18.
I’ll be talking more about the 2019 McLaren season very soon – keep your eyes peeled.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT
The beast in belgium is a favorite of many due to the varying characteristics across the track running north of 7 kms as it meanders left 10 times and right 9. There are sweeping corners as well long flat out spots. The all important middle sector makes up a majority of the time on track.
“It’s an iconic track and one of the fans’ favourites, but finding the right set-up can be difficult because of the variety of characteristics; on the one hand you want as little drag as possible on the long straights, but on the other hand, you need a certain level of downforce to be quick through the corners.”
The track is also unkind to tyres – the 2020 race will be no exception. Given the problems we’ve had lately with rubber, it may be surprising to see the nomination of the C2, C3 and C4 boots which are a step softer than Barcelona as well as the selected Pirelli’s from 2019.
But remember, this is a response to last year’s event which saw zero uses of the C1 hardest grade with 70% of points finishers opting for a one stop strategy.
Can’t say Pirelli aren’t trying to make things interesting.
What complicates the Spa equation further is the stress the circuit imposes upon the tyres. Over the years Michelin, Bridgestone and Pirelli have all suffered failures here through the combination of extremely high lateral loads in that middle sector, with prolonged super-high rotational speeds on the long straights. In addition, the surface is quite abrasive. I expect a fair bit of thermal degradation.
On top of that, rain isn’t too uncommon for the demanding circuit nestled within the Ardennes Forest. FP3 & quali weather forecasts hover around 80% chance of spotty rain. This will only add to the drama of a tyre that will begin to exponentially degrade at a circuit that requires full throttle approximately 70% of the lap.
Party mode ban + potential upgrades + strong FP2 from non Merc’s + softer compounds and now potentially rain? Count me in for this one.
THE CHAMPIONSHIPS AS IT STANDS
Hamilton sits in dominant position on 132 points enjoying a 37 point margin on Verstappen who leapfrogged The second merc of Bottas thanks to his stellar podium capture rate this year.
Behind the leaders, 6 points separates 4 drivers – this includes the penalized Racing Points with last years SPA winner leading the herd at 45 points hunted closely by Stroll and Albon locked at 40 points each. Albon in particular may be on for a big Sunday as this serves as the year anniversary of his first Red Bull outing where he was brilliant. Norris trails the tied pair by a single point at 39.
Perez, Sainz, and Ricciardo round out the top 10. Which is interesting given Ricciardo’s P2 in FP2 late Friday behind just Verstappen as well as the expected pace Checo will unleash on a track with characteristics favoring his car.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX PREDICTIONS
If you have interest in playing along against me and anyone else who joins, you can submit your race predictions ahead of qualifying here.
As for my official predictions:
Hamilton is the most successful pole winners in Belgian taking top spot on 6 occasions – a title I expect him to maintain especially if there’s rain where he’s one of the most effective wet driver the grid has seen.
But it doesn’t take pole to win. Schumacher is the quintessential example ironically as he’s the most dominant driver delivering 6 wins at SPA across 2 teams but only started from pole once in 2002. And while I anticipate Lewis to be quickest, I see Max narrowly missing out starting on the front row. This will things interesting given Max’s strong starts and the Hamilton’s impending vulnerability on the turn 1 run up. Bottas will be yet again split by Max but strategy will cement those 3 in place.
Expect another big saturday out of the racing points similar to 2018 but this time they will hold it for P4 to Checo and P5 to Stroll. Ricciardo will run longer stints to edge out the midfield despite higher loads with Norris failing to complete his spectacular late overtakes for a solid P7 effort. Albon will put in good times but ultimately will be let down by his quali form finishing P8 sunday with Sainz and Leclerc finishing the closing spots. I expect latifi, both Haas, and potentially Giovinazzi to not finish this race but Russell to finish ahead of 1-2 cars on pure merit making another uptick in his form and confidence.
All in all, I would expect nothing but excitement as early as FP3. As always, I’ll be here keeping you updated every step of the way.
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