Sergio Perez said he expects to know his future before the Belgian Grand Prix. Will Red Bull announce a new deal for him at Spa?
In other talking points ahead of this weekend’s race, will Ferrari’s power unit upgrade give them a step forward, has Spa become too dangerous – and what effect will the new pit stop directive have?
Second season for Perez?Lewis Hamilton’s team mate for next year. But with team principal Toto Wolff indicating that will be revealed in September, perhaps the next move in the driver market will happen elsewhere.
Red Bull has cause to be satisfied with Sergio Perez’s first half-season with them following his victory in Azerbaijan earlier this year. Are they ready to end speculation over who Max Verstappen’s team mate will be next year?
In Hungary, Perez said he expects his future to be sorted before the coming weekend. “Obviously the sooner you know your future the better,” he remarked. “But I’m in a very comfortable position within the team, with my future, so nothing to worry about.
“I think by Belgium I will know my future so I’m comfortable how things are and no reason to look elsewhere.”
How close is the title fight?
Putting the Perez question to bed would remove one distraction from Red Bull’s increasingly close – and bitter – battle with Mercedes. Two serious setbacks for Verstappen in the races prior to the summer break allowed Hamilton to move ahead in the drivers’ championship battle while Mercedes did likewise in the constructors’.
Those two problems for Verstappen also obscured our view of the relative performance of the two teams. Mercedes introduced an aerodynamic update at Silverstone and Wolff – who normally plays a careful game of expectations management – said the car is now “in a better place”.
While we didn’t get to see how it would have fared in a flat-out fight against Verstappen’s Red Bull at Silverstone or the Hungaroring, Mercedes did drop a telling remark about their rivals’ performance last time out. The team’s head of trackside performance Andrew Shovlin admitted they were surprised to lead the Red Bulls in qualifying, and queried why they hadn’t run their maximum downforce rear wing.
“It seems odd that you would ever run anything other than your biggest rear wing here,” he said. “We don’t profess to know why they’re taking decisions on that car, but it could be that they were just struggling to get enough front end in it on the big wing and they dropped down on to the smaller one.”
But high-speed Spa-Francorchamps is not a venue where teams will be concerned about their balance on maximum downforce. Mercedes may therefore not enjoy the same apparent advantage they had in Hungary.
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Will Red Bull take their power unit penalties?
Red Bull face another problem, one not of their own making. The damage done in the crashes for Verstappen at Silverstone and Perez in Hungary means both drivers have lost power units. They will therefore almost certainly have to use extra examples this year, dooming them to grid penalties. Depending on how many parts are changed, they will drop at least 10 places on the grid.
When and where should Red Bull take the penalties? There’s a strong case to be made for doing it this weekend. If a penalty is inevitable, better to take it at a track where overtaking is fairly straightforward, as at Spa.
Of the following events, Zandvoort is likely to be much harder to overtake at, and Monza is complicated by the fact it is a Sprint weekend and engine penalties apply to the grand prix, not Saturday’s qualifying race. Sochi is not the easiest track to pass on, though Alexander Albon raced from last to fifth after an engine penalty in 2019, aided by a usefully-timed Safety Car period. Beyond that significant question marks hang over the calendar, and at any rate it may not be possible to postpone the change any further.
Red Bull may therefore choose to take one, or both, of their engine penalties this weekend.
Power boost for Ferrari?
Heading into the summer break Ferrari revealed they will bring an update for their power unit in the second half of the season. Cunningly, the team held off updating some of its 2020-specification parts earlier this season, allowing them to spent more time working on the new hardware.
Introducing the new engine this weekend, at one of the most power-sensitive tracks on the calendar, would be ideal. Charles Leclerc needs a replacement anyway, as his was irreparably damaged when Lance Stroll took him out on the first lap in Hungary. Team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr will have to take a grid penalty if he has a new engine, having moved onto his third unit last time out.
The update could tip the balance of power in the battle for third place in the championship into Ferrari’s favour. They drew level on points with McLaren at the Hungaroring.
Will diluted pit stop directive make a difference?
A hue and cry went up when it emerged the FIA intended to introduce rules forcing teams to slow down their pit stops from the Hungarian Grand Prix. The new restrictions threatened to weaken a key area of Red Bull’s superiority.
However, as RaceFans subsequently revealed, the plans were watered down and postponed to the upcoming race in Belgium. Significantly, several of the minimum reaction times have been dropped. Sunday’s race will provide the first indication of whether this hotly disputed rules change will amount to anything significant.
More slipstream antics?
In Hungary we saw the championship contenders getting in each others’ way at the end of Q3, trying to avoid losing time in the slipstream of a rival.
At Spa the situation is different – running near enough to a rival in qualifying can bring a significant lap time gain. Those who reach Q3 will therefore be eager to avoid running without a slipstream, and as we’ve seen before, this can lead to congestion at the end of the session, and drivers missing their chances to set times or having their runs ruined.
Is Raidillon safe enough?
Two years on from the Formula 2 crash at Raidillon which claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert and left Juan Manuel Correa seriously injured, another huge shunt at the same corner prompted concerns over its configuration. Formula 2 racer Jack Aitken was injured in a crash which involved three other drivers in the Spa 24 Hours earlier this month.
The shunt prompted Ferrari junior driver Callum Ilott to call for changes to the corner. “Enough is enough,” he wrote on social media. “If I’m wrong for chasing for better safety after seeing four of my friends involved in massive accidents then I may as well not be human,” Ilott added.
This weekend will also mark Correa’s racing return at the circuit for the first time since that crash, as he competes in the Formula 3 support races.
Schumacher following his father
Today marks the 30th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 debut. The seven-times world champion’s son Mick will make his first grand prix start at the circuit where his father enjoyed much success, including his breakthrough 1992 victory, his first of a record-setting 91.
The Haas driver recently had a chance to drive a Jordan 191 of the type his father used to make his grand prix debut. “The emotions and feeling and knowing that my dad raced this car as his first race car is very special,” he said.
“Unfortunately I didn’t have a seat in it, I only had a bit of foam so I was sliding around a lot. Especially every braking I was sliding so far down that I couldn’t see the track any more. So after every braking I had to push myself back up to see something.”
He also found the car’s H-pattern gearbox unfamiliar, being used to racing paddle shifts. “I was sitting in the car trying to figure out where the gears were and everything,” he admitted.
“It’s crazy to think about how far out you sit in that car. The shoulders were popping out of the side of the monocoque and then the front is very high so if you slide down you didn’t see much.
“But it was very nice. I have to say, it’s just pure racing. The engine, you can see everything. Nowadays, obviously with the battery and the hybrid era and stuff, a lot of things are covered so you don’t really see the engine, only if it’s taken apart. But in that car you actually see how the fuel runs into the engine. It was very good.”
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2021 Belgian Grand Prix
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