Unlike last year, fans got to witness a fabulous heap of racing action at the 2022 Belgian GP. Last year, of course, the race was a colossal mess because the race director mismanaged the race. The weather was torrential, and it was visible on the radar that it wasn’t getting any better. However, instead of calling the race off, the race direction kept trying to get the race underway, until the race hit the 4-hour mark and the race legally couldn’t take place.
This year, however, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps had sunny skies above. Although this race didn’t make up for the action we lost last year, it certainly was entertaining. Max Verstappen absolutely took the field by storm. It was like an F1 E-Sports Driver playing a race on the F1 game with 20% AI. He was simply unstoppable.
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While he couldn’t replicate the reigning World Champion’s pace, Sergio Perez could drive a consistent race to defeat his rivals. After getting a terrible start, Perez capitalised on other drivers’ misfortunes and Sainz’s poor strategy to secure the Red Bull 1-2. All he had to do was be faster than his rivals, and that’s exactly what he did.
The midfield was exceptionally complicated at Spa this year. Unexpectedly high tire degradation led to a lot of variability in strategy. And the cars in the midfield often raced in packs, so there was a lot of jostling for position. And sometimes the battle was for the position, or it was so that drivers could get cars on worn or slower tires out of the way.
The situation was further complicated by some drivers making comeback drivers. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen were slicing through the midfield. Gasly, Albon and Stroll were all gaining positions and trying to get into the points in the 2nd half of the race. Gasly and Albon finished 9th and 10th, marking a memorable race for both. It was especially valiant for Gasly, who had to start the race from the pitlane.
There was one problem that stood out in this race that has been visible in recent Belgian GPs. DRS Trains. The whole purpose of DRS was to make overtaking easier for drivers. However, sometimes, DRS trains for. DRS trains are when a group of cars are racing and they all have DRS, except for the car leading the pack. And since effectively everyone has that DRS advantage, it’s a lot harder to overtake. It essentially nullifies the advantage that DRS is supposed to provide. Since it’s hard to overtake in the corners, and there are a lot of DRS and flat-out sections of the track, DRS trains are common at Spa.
The Kemmel straight is a massive overtaking spot, especially thanks to DRS, but that DRS zone has ended up fueling DRS trains. The whole group of cars get DRS there, so no one is able to overtake. Unfortunately, this is an issue that is difficult to resolve. I don’t expect to see a solution to this anytime in the near future. The only clear solutions would be to either shorten the DRS zone or change the track layout and make changes to the Kemmel Straight. Shortening the DRS zone wouldn’t make too much of a major difference, and changing the layout is a costly procedure that is unlikely to happen.
In this race review, we’ll analyse Verstappen’s marvellous drive. We’ll also look at how Ferrari once again let a good result slip through their fingers. And lastly, we’ll look at some crucial on-track incidents that took place in the opening lap of the race.
Verstappen was “on another planet”
Max Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez summed up Verstappen’s 2022 Belgian GP performance perfectly. The Mexican driver said that “Max was flying, he was on another planet. He was untouchable.” That truly is how the Dutchman performed in Spa. Winning a race from 14th is truly no mean feat. The best part of his race was the opening lap. Verstappen demonstrated exceptional spacial awareness and opportunism, amplified by an incredible race start. Isn’t it fascinating how he went from 14th to 10th at the first corner? Those are the kind of antics I’d expect to see in the Formula 1 game!
Within the first 10 laps of the race, he was up into the podium positions. He made multiple overtakes into the Bus-stop chicane and the Les Combes chicane, using a combination of straight-line speed and grip from the soft tires. Verstappen’s engine was so strong that combined with DRS, Verstappen overtook Russell before having to brake for the Les Combes chicane. He made fighting a top team’s car look as easy as fighting a midfield one. As Red Bull did, Williams also had strong straight-line speed in Spa, which helped Albon score points.
On Lap 12, after getting closer and closer every lap, Verstappen finally managed to overtake his teammate down the Kemmel Straight. Now that he was in P2, it was a straight fight with Sainz for the win. Sainz had pitted at the end of Lap 11, so Verstappen was leading on the track. However, when he pitted, Verstappen came out a few seconds behind Sainz. This meant that Sainz had pulled off an undercut. Unfortunately for my fellow Ferrari fans and me, that undercut was short-lived. That’s because Verstappen pitted 4 laps later than Sainz. Now normally, that’s not a big difference. But at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, it truly is.
Due to the circuit being so long, the race is only 44 laps long. That makes 4 laps a whopping 10% of the race meaning that by pitting 4 laps later, Verstappen had a massive tire advantage for the rest of the race. To embarrass Sainz and Ferrari even more, Verstappen only took 3 laps to catch back up to Sainz and overtake Sainz for the lead of the race. On Lap 21, Perez overtook Sainz for P2. Red Bull well and truly left Ferrari in the dust. It was a crushing defeat for Ferrari and a valiant victory for the bulls. After the grid penalties, Verstappen didn’t think he would win the 2022 Belgian GP. But once he put the medal to the metal, there was no stopping him.
Another Ferrari Foul Up
Ferrari once again dropped the ball. The 2022 Belgian GP is a little bit unique in the sense that Ferrari’s woes did not entirely come from mistakes that they made during the race. Before getting onto the mistakes that they did make, I want to highlight the fact that they just clearly lacked raw pace. Their car was simply slower than Red Bull’s car. Both Sainz and Leclerc were consistently slower than Verstappen.
Combined with an underwhelming car were Ferrari’s mistakes and misfortunes. First of all, they pitted Carlos Sainz really early. They essentially invited Red Bull to pull off an overcut. Sainz was clearly lapping slower than Verstappen before pitting. He was struggling with higher tire deg than expected, although so was everybody else. But by pitting him early, Ferrari backed themselves into a corner and closed themselves off, leaving them with only one option, and Red Bull with many.
As for Charles Leclerc, it’s significantly worse. First of all, he had to pit early in the race because something was stuck in his wheel. Honestly, there’s nothing Ferrari or Leclerc could’ve done to avoid that; it was purely coincidental. Leclerc did pit under the Safety Car caused by Hamilton and Bottas retiring, which did technically give him a small advantage. After pitting, Leclerc was flying. He was flying slower than Verstappen was, but he was flying.
When the first round of pitstops for the rest of the field came around, Leclerc did manage to gain quite a few positions. He was even ahead of George Russell, which meant he was in P4. However, George Russell did to Leclerc what Verstappen was about to do a couple of laps later; he used fresher tires to overtake the Ferrari. That still left Leclerc in P5. Then the time came for Leclerc to make his 2nd stop (which he had to do because of tire wear). Leclerc came out of the pits in P7 but easily overtook 2 midfield cars to get back up into P5. He remained in P5, and was too fast to be overtaken by the midfield, but wasn’t able to catch up to Russell. Now, this is where it gets even more interesting.
On the 3rd last lap of the race, Ferrari decided to pit Leclerc to try and steal the fastest lap point from Verstappen. It was desperate since Ferrari knew that P5 was the best they could get. While the gap to Alonso was just under 20 seconds at the end of Lap 41/44, at the end of Lap 42, it was only 14 seconds. And guess when Leclerc pitted? At the end of Lap 42. When he came out of the pits, Alonso was right on his tail. Alonso had momentum, whereas Leclerc didn’t (since he just came out of the pits). Combined with cold tires, Leclerc was left a sitting duck through Eau Rouge, Radillion, and the Kemmel Straight. Yes, Alonso really did overtake Leclerc. What a mess.
Leclerc had to jeopardise his fastest lap in order to re-overtake Alonso for P5. Leclerc didn’t get the fastest lap from Verstappen, and to rub salt in the wound, he lost P5 to Alonso. That’s because he got a time penalty for speeding in the pitlane. The 2022 Belgian GP was another Ferrari failure. Being a Ferrari fan is definitely not something everybody is cut out for. In the words of Sebastian Vettel, “Competing with the best is one thing. Trying to do it with Ferrari is another.”
There were two notable on-track incidents at the 2022 Belgian GP. They took place in the first 2 laps of the race, which are usually the most difficult ones. In the opening laps of a race, the 20 cars haven’t spread out yet. On the first lap especially, it’s incredibly tight, since all of the cars are in a bunch, and drivers are constantly battling and trying to gain positions.
The drivers are forced to look around them to ensure they avoid contact with another car. At the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, the circuit narrows at the main overtaking spots. La Source, the Les Combes chicane, and the Bus-Stop Chicane are the main overtaking spots, and they all get narrow as you go through the corner.
And at the 2022 Belgian GP, we saw 2 incidents at the Les Combes Chicane. On Lap 1, there was a tangle between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. This crash has produced memes all over social media not just because of the crash itself, but what happened after the crash. Let’s look at how the crash happened. After a fantastic qualifying, combined with grid penalties for Verstappen and Leclerc, Alonso started the race in P3. Hamilton started behind him in P4, and when the 5 lights were out, both of them capitalized on Perez’s bad start to gain a position. Alonso found himself in P2, with a Mercedes right on his tail.
Since Sainz got a good start, Alonso didn’t have a very good slipstream. However, Hamilton got a great slipstream for Alonso. The 7-Time World Champion pulled alongside Alonso into the Les Combes Chicane. He went around the outside and was actually around a quarter of a car length ahead into the chicane. Alonso made up a little bit of ground heading towards the corner’s apex. And when the cars reached the apex, Hamilton’s rear right tire mounted Alonso’s front left, sending the Mercedes into the air. The rear end of Hamilton’s car was thrust into the air by the contact.
Alonso’s car went off track as Hamilton’s car did, and they both continued racing. Hamilton took front wing damage, and everything seemed fine. However, unfortunately, Hamilton experienced a loss of water pressure in the incident and had to stop the car and retire from the race. When Hamilton’s car went off the ground, and then subsequently landed, Hamilton had to sustain a 45G vertical impact. That is actually insane, and I really didn’t expect the contact to have been that major. After the incident, Alonso went on the team radio and delivered a message; he seemed to have been holding in the chamber for a while. It was funny for the fans but quite dark at the same time.
Hamilton admitted that the crash was his fault. He also apologised to the team and didn’t really pay attention to what Alonso said. However, a day or two after the race, Hamilton posted on Instagram, one of the photos on that post having a Mercedes cap addressed to Alonso that Hamilton signed. Hamilton actually gave Alonso the cap when Alonso jokingly interrupted one of Hamilton’s pre-race interviews for the Dutch GP. Alonso also apologised for what he said and said that it happened in the heat of the moment. That shows that the drivers have sorted it out and that there is no real tension between them anymore, as compared to the high tensions after the crash happened.
It’s great sportsmanship for both drivers to eventually apologise. Alonso shouldn’t have said that over the radio, and Hamilton shouldn’t have caused the incident. As Martin Brundle said in the commentary, this was Hamilton’s fault. Coming into the chicane, Alonso was on the kerb, and was still in control of his car. Hamilton didn’t leave a car’s width and really pinched Alonso. However, Hamilton wasn’t penalised for it, since it was a Lap 1 incident, and he was also ahead of Alonso when they made contact. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Hamilton was at fault here.
The 2nd incident took place on Lap 2 of the 2022 Belgian GP. At the exit of Turn 6, which is in the Les Combes chicane, Latifi ran off and ran over some gravel. That sent him into a spin, which in turn spun Bottas around. Bottas couldn’t recover and was left beached in the gravel. On his 33rd birthday, he couldn’t finish the race, thanks to Goatifi.
As he said on the radio, Bottas had to avoid colliding with Latifi. But unfortunately, Latifi’s car tapped Bottas’s Alfa Romeo, which spun Bottas around. The stewards didn’t penalise Latifi for it, since it was more of a racing incident. Latifi just understeered onto the gravel, and simply couldn’t avoid Bottas, which doesn’t make him punishable.
The 2022 Belgian GP was an exciting race, and after that strong performance, Verstappen is going to be looking to win the 2022 Dutch GP!