The track of Spa-Francorchamps always gives ideas to think about and some variety of choices for engineers. The first and the third sector, very fast, require efficient aerodynamics (or download) and a lot power to the Power Unit, while the central sector with long curves in support of medium-high speed, sometimes with situations of potential understeer to fight, they would like a car with lots of downforce to express the best sector time. And here are the teams looking for a compromise potentially ideal between the fast part (where then in the race yes exceeds or you have to stick up for) and the mixed part, where the load makes a big difference in terms of weather on the flying lap (in qualifying) ed tire wear (in competition). And so, the two title contending teams showed approaches initially diametrically opposite.
RedBull loads and fast – RedBull, with the usual Verstappen, goes on the track with a load level higher than Mercedes And literally dominates the central sector of the track. While the RB16B still chooses a visually low-load scoop rear wing, the amount of downforce generated by car body (together with bottom and diffuser) at high speeds it clearly shows uncommon because the central sector is indeed unrivaled for Max Verstappen. The high level of load of the car body, as we have also said on other occasions, is certainly one of the keys of Red Bull performance in 2021, and precisely on tracks like the legendary circuit of Spa this characteristic emerges even more than usual. The RedBull choice in terms of set-up could still reward even in case of rain (the crazy variable of the entire weekend), where clearly a greater aerodynamic load is necessary. For its part, Honda seemed very conservative on the power delivered, suggesting that it could go up significantly in qualifying and race.
Mercedes perhaps undecided – The debut on the track of the two Mercedes standard bearers in both the morning and afternoon sessions was, as mentioned, totally the opposite of RedBull. Car discharge, lots of power to the Power Unit, times unattainable for everyone in the first and third sector but a gap heavy to be paid in the central sector. We had already noticed a Mercedes at Silverstone more aggressive in terms of exhaust set-up and in Budapest in terms of Power Unit, and initially it seemed that at Spa the Brackley team had combined the two bringing a car impregnable for all on the straight, but not irresistible in the central sector. Under these conditions Hamilton and Bottas have turned with medium rubber in the first phase of the second free practice session and they achieved their best times of the day. Comparing Hamilton’s lap with medium tire and unloaded set-up with Verstappen’s with soft rubber, you can see the macroscopic differences we talked about a moment ago.
The graph below represents the trend of posting between the two drivers along the lap and when the line “rises” it means that Verstappen is gaining ground on Hamilton, on the contrary when “goes down” it is Hamilton who stretches over his Dutch rival. It is really clear (and remarkable) how much in these trim conditions (and power output) Mercedes earns straight compared to RedBull (and all). Between the Source curve (1) and Les Combes (5) Hamilton practically gains 7 tenths on Verstappen, with a top speed of 332 km / h against the 322 of the Dutchman and on average you reach 8-9 km / h faster. But with the medium tire and this more exhausted set-up, the seven-time world champion can even lose more than he has gained (almost 8 tenths) in the central sector. The cornering differences in Verstappen’s favor are often represented by really important numbers above 10 km / h, with even 14 km / h of difference to the famous one Pouhon curve, perhaps the most selective point of the track. The final extension from Stavelot to the Bus Stop chicane brings Hamilton close to Verstappen and even in front, but still the last chicane sees the Dutchman regain almost 2 tenths of a second to finish ahead of his rival. Although the final result is therefore close in terms of timing, the lap has seen very large gaps in the various phases then go to collimate towards a negligible difference at the end, showing however really notable differences in characteristics and approach.
But a Hamilton not too satisfied with the feeling with the car returned to the track with soft tires for the last run before the pace simulations showing detections substantially different. Although the time was not his best of the day, we also tried to analyze this second lap of Hamilton to see if the Briton tried to change something on your car or not.
And the answer is equally evident. Although the W12 continues to stretch on the straight (probably also due to the higher power delivered), the differences in this case are much less marked both in favor of Mercedes in the extension and of RedBull in the corners. In the first and third sector Hamilton loses 64 thousandths in total from Verstappen, while in the central sector the gap is more significant with 362 thousandths in favor of the Dutchman. We can also see in the gap graph below how the gap increases in steps in the braking sections of the central sector while it no longer falls in a “dive” as in the previous case. The impression is that in Mercedes they have decided to do at least one test with a heavier set-up and that the results, although generally worse on the chronometer, may be more promising in terms of race pace and tire consumption. In this configuration the gap at Pouhon for example has passed at only 4 km / h (obviously thanks also to the softer compound). Furthermore, while it is true that Bottas, starting with 5 penalty positions, will need speed on the straight to overtake, Hamilton’s race could be totally different and, weather aside, it will be likely to see the two black arrows with two different load levels.
Tomorrow we will see what Mercedes’ final decision will be and, in case of a dry track, a big difference will be determined by how much they can go up the power teams with the Power Unit (always remembering the rule of the single mapping for the weekend). There rain it will remain however as the main unknown with the forecasts continuing to change and making it seem difficult for the track to remain dry for all sessions.
Ferrari still without the square – If in the past we have said that one of the strengths of the redhead had become to arrive on the track and be already at the point on Friday in Spa, we have seen only partially. Sainz and Leclerc’s reds did a decent first free practice session, but the changes in the second didn’t work at all. The Ferrari drivers struggled with a noticeable understeer, with Sainz only 11th over 1 second from the top and Leclerc out during his attempt with soft rubber. For the Maranello team it will probably be necessary to start over from the set-up of the first free practice and try to improve, especially as regards the anticipation of changes in behavior due to temperature changes. Yes, because for Ferrari and for everyone one of the biggest complications will be finding the right mechanical and aerodynamic set-ups with a track. very sensitive to the weather, which can go from 15 to 25 degrees in minutes, depending on whether there is cloud cover or full sun.
In short, the weekend of Spa-Francorchamps, the famous Formula 1 university, is once again putting on all to the test and there will probably still be many surprises in the next sessions, both in terms of results and purely technical.