Hats off then to Spa for joining a rather exclusive club this weekend. Sunday’s race was the 50th Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix at this brilliant track, joining Monza, Monaco and of course Silverstone as the only tracks to notch up half a century of world championship Grands Prix. Long may all four tracks continue to feature on the calendar!
And to mark the occasion, 265,000 fans flocked to the circuit. A record attendance, up 11% on last year. Seemingly most of those who made the trek to south east Belgium had done so from Holland, given the amount of orange on display. The pulling power of Max Verstappen was very much in evidence, even Max the Lion got into the F1 Paddock.
Sadly though, the all too familiar sight of the young – Belgian born – Dutchman pulling over to the side of the track, was in evidence once again. Another race, another DNF, his 6th of the season and 4th due to a problem with his engine. Christian Horner, his team boss, got quite punchy with Renault, suggesting that there were questions to be asked of the engine supplier as to why these problems (this time because of a failure of the 4th cylinder) keep happening. Horner’s annoyance not just due to the points loss once again, but also due to the regularity of the issues. It’s hardly the sort of thing that will help persuade a future F1 star to remain with the team beyond the end of his contract.
Verstappen has at least two years left to run at Red Bull and his team mate Daniel Ricciardo has just one year left to go. If they want to leave, and both keep getting linked with Ferrari, then the Scuderia slammed the door shut for next year by signing up both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the last couple of weeks.
Seb has agreed a three-year deal, which means he’s not going to Mercedes just yet. The extent of any chats he had with them depends whether you believe Toto Wolff or Nikki Lauda, both of whom had a different opinion on the subject.
As for Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas should be announced with them for another year in the near future and Lewis Hamilton might also be looking to extend his deal.
Once upon a time, drivers would be falling over themselves to bag a seat at Williams. In the present though, it seems that a seat there isn’t quite the prize it once was. Fernando Alonso has been linked with them, although it’s a possible deal that raised more eyebrows of incredulity than nods of agreement. You doubt Williams could afford him and you wonder too whether he might be best to stay where he is, even if McLaren are keeping their Honda engine deal. It might look silly to carry on with Honda given the issues that both sides have had in the last 3 years, but the Japanese engine partner does give the team $100 million a year and that sort of money isn’t exactly easy to replace.
Williams need a driver over the age of 25 as a team mate to Lance Stroll due to their title sponsorship agreement with Martini, which rules out both Carlos Sainz, who it seems is off to Renault, and Pascal Wehrlein, who could end up in DTM after confirming on Sunday that he’s unlikely to be racing for Sauber next year.
Paul Di Resta, who did a superb job as a late replacement for Felipe Massa in Hungary, would be a decent fit for Williams. I’d miss him in the Sky Commentary Box, but quite frankly, he’s far too good a driver to be standing watching a Grand Prix and not taking part in it. And no, he didn’t have me in a headlock as I typed that :)))
But after turning him down once before, could Sergio Perez be on the market and available to the British team? I put that forward as a possibility not because I’ve got an inside scoop – no, on Sunday morning both team and driver were discussing a new contract for the Mexican. But because the relationship with Esteban Ocon is deteriorating to the point where unless one, or preferably both, grow up, you wonder if they can carry on driving for the same outfit?
What happened in the race was just sheer stupidity, once again, by a pair of drivers who seem unable to avoid each other on the track, and who, according to some, don’t seem to be able to share the same breathing space off the track, unless they absolutely have to do so.
Sergio appears rattled by his team mate and, to be fair, Ocon has been impressive in his first full season. But then so has Perez this year and the team look solid in 4th. But how many more points would they have got, had the two not collided with each other in Baku and again in Spa? They banged wheels in Budapest too, but got away with it. Spa and Baku they didn’t, and despite claims from Ocon that the team saw it as a 50/50 in Azerbaijan, nobody I’ve spoken to from inside Force India sees it like that at all.
You can argue that all of this started in Canada, which is an argument that has merit. Certainly the tensions have been raised between the pair since that race. But they are professional sportsmen, given responsibility by the team to race and race fairly. From the outside it appears that neither are prepared to give an inch to the other, for fear that it weakens their position. Maybe both need the ‘man words’ as Esteban might put it, delivered by the team this week. Leaving them in no doubt as to what might happen if these incidents keep on repeating themselves.
Firstly, in future the team will dictate the order during the race, no longer will they be allowed to race freely. And both drivers have been warned about their future if they don’t race as expected.
Perez brings with him various sponsors, which makes him attractive to a future team. The amount isn’t as large as many would expect, but for Williams, that amount, plus his years of experience, would make him a very valuable asset. If it’s not working out at Force India, should Williams give the Mexican a wave and try and tempt him across?