That was a highly emotionally-charged weekend, so tragic and painfully sad.
I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Anthoine Hubert who lost his life at the weekend, but he was clearly an important element of the fabric of life for many drivers and team members in the F1 paddock. Not least the Arden team he was driving for.
And not forgetting F2 driver Juan Manuel Correa too who faces a long recovery from significant lower leg injuries. Many older drivers in the F1 paddock can relate to that ongoing challenge.
Death and injury in the name of sport is very difficult to accept. The problem is that the foundation of our sport involves highly competitive and committed young people driving very fast cars on the limit, at challenging race tracks.
That’s the thrill of racing driving as well as spectating. It’s our whole purpose of existing, pushing humans and machines to the limit. Despite the best efforts and large investment in cars and circuits there remains very high level of personal risk.
We’ve become so conditioned to drivers stepping out of smoldering wrecks that it becomes even more shocking when they don’t.
The cars have very strict regulations on crash-structure design all around the driver’s body, along with high-energy crash testing and careful management of flammable liquids and flying wheels. The problem is that if they made them any stronger and therefore heavier the impact loads would be higher too.
Materials and manufacturing techniques plus data-driven experience will continue to improve the integrity of the survival cell within workable weight and cost limits.
The tracks of the world vary considerably in layout and age, and particularly the older circuits often need bespoke solutions to fit the space and topography available. At Eau Rouge and Raidillon the steep climb up the rock face is a spectacular challenge, and the run-off includes the pit-lane exit for the heavily-used second and older pit lane on the right-hand side of the downhill approach.
The zone to the right of Raidillon corner has been extended over the years, but the steep incline means you always fly over the top unsighted and looking up to the sky. The geography of this area does tend to feed crashed cars back towards the race track. In the F2 race, a car spun over the top of Raidillon due to a puncture which others then had to avoid, leaving them vulnerable to high-speed cars following.
I wonder if street-circuit style barriers, indeed as we used to have at the high-speed Blanchimont corner at Spa, wouldn’t allow the cars to slide further away from danger and without hitting the barriers at sharp angles. And possibly the lack of so much run-off area would generate more caution and less desire to charge through at unabated speeds. But challenging corners will always be risky and thrilling for all. We can’t just race in level-straight lines.
Leclerc digs deep – and is he now Ferrari’s team leader?
Through all the pain and pressure emerged Charles Leclerc for Ferrari.
His pole position lap was silky smooth, his start and restarts perfect, and tyre management improved. And in the closing stages with the ever-relentless Lewis Hamilton chasing him down he didn’t falter.
We’ve seen Leclerc drive at international level in adversity several times now after the death of his father and close friends Jules Bianchi and Anthoine Hubert. On Sunday he did so, while carrying the mighty Ferrari team on his shoulders, and all at the age of 21.
I knew he was going to be good, but not this good. He’s effectively already the team leader as Sebastian Vettel struggles to match his speed and control, and he’s still improving fast. It’s difficult times for Seb, and with the events of the weekend and taking a look at himself and his own life and achievements, he must be mulling over all options.
Vettel still has the speed in him, but it’s uncomfortable that it’s over a year since he won a race, and that both Kimi Raikkonen and now Leclerc have won a race for Ferrari in that time. However, after his early pit stop on lap 15 because he was at risk from an undercut with Mercedes, by later delaying Hamilton a few seconds before losing second place to him, it was a defining moment in Leclerc gaining the breathing space to claim victory against the charging Hamilton.
Kimi was unlucky into turn one whilst connecting with Max Verstappen. In many ways it was a typical Spa turn one incident at the race start. Kimi could have left a little more space on the inside just in case, but he would have had no chance to see the Red Bull in his mirrors charging up the inside two lanes over.
Max was recovering from another poor start and was probably a little too impatient to repair that, presenting his front wing and wheel into a very perilous position.
Also caught up was Daniel Ricciardo in his hitherto fast Renault, along with other contacts. My heart sank at this point because after four cracking F1 races I feared we might be in for a steady one. Admittedly once again the DRS rear wing was rather too effective but we saw some impressive overtakes and side-by-side action.
Lando Norris was robbed of a great fifth place by unreliability. He navigated the first corner very intelligently and his pace was solid on a weekend where McLaren weren’t shining that much. I lost a third place just eight corners from home in Hungary 1994 driving for McLaren due to unreliability, and it still annoys me a little bit today. It’s awful to be robbed on the last lap after you’ve done the job and taken the risks.
Alex Albon didn’t make much ground initially in his first Red Bull drive, but then came to the fore on fresh soft tyres to overtake many and steal Norris’s fifth place. Timely, and well driven, especially in his duel with Sergio Perez in the closing stages, who had a fine race for Racing Point.
Hamilton extended his lead to 65 points with eight races to go. He had the measure of everyone on Sunday except Leclerc, who matched the greats such as Michael Schumacher and Jim Clark in winning his debut GP at mighty Spa.