Ferrari garage at Spa

Belgian GP - Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

Lewis Hamilton was in first place

Valtteri Bottas was in second place

Max Verstappen was in third place.

Ferrari were all over the place.

This is a statement that applied to every lap of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, the running order of which was largely set by the events of the previous afternoon, in which Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen qualified 1-2-3 on the grid.

Such an order is becoming familiar in this season’s championship, as those three drivers shared the podium for the fifth time in the last six races, tying the amount of times it had occurred prior to 2020.

Most familiar of all was the sight of Hamilton unchallenged at the front while smashing through the next pile of F1 records. Spa hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for the Englishman, as prior to Sunday it was the only track on the calendar on which he had suffered more retirements (4) than race victories (3).

That stat was put to bed in emphatic fashion, leading from start-to-finish for the 22nd time in his career while winning for the 89th time overall. While he remains two short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time win total, one of the German’s success records did fall on Sunday.

Over the course of his career, Schumacher spent 15,003 miles (24,144km) in the lead of Grands Prix. Even for Schumacher this was an extraordinary number, nearly doubling the previous mark held by Ayrton Senna’s 8,498 miles (13,676km), with Schumacher’s final time at the head of a race coming at the 2011 Japanese GP for Mercedes.

The record was broken by Hamilton when he led lap 24 on Sunday, and it is only a matter of time before he also beats Schumacher’s 5,111 laps led, as he is now short by only 320. For context, Hamilton has led 305 laps in the opening seven races of this season alone.

Monza could (should?) see Hamilton tie Nick Heidfeld’s F1 record of 41 classified finishes – set from 2007-09 during Heidfeld’s tenure at BMW Sauber – but unlike in that run Hamilton has also finished in the points on every single occasion. To underscore what a juggernaut Mercedes have become, the Italian GP could also see them equal Williams’ F1 record of 31 consecutive races led, set between 1995 and 1997.

Paradoxically they hadn’t been overly successful at Spa, a circuit on which they had previously finished 1-2 on only two occasions (Juan-Manuel Fangio and Sir Stirling Moss in 1955, and Hamilton ahead of Nico Rosberg in 2015). Sunday made it three, as Valtteri Bottas scored his best-ever Spa result on the weekend of his 31st birthday.

As has been the case for most of the season, Mercedes’ only remote challenge came from Max Verstappen, whose third place gave him a sixth consecutive podium, tying the best run of his F1 career (achieved across the 2018/19 seasons).

Once it was clear that his efforts were unlikely to yield any further reward, Verstappen backed off to the point that he only finished three seconds clear of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who enjoyed a surprising – but most welcome – surge of form.

Having been second-fastest in Friday afternoon practice, Ricciardo put his car fourth on the grid on Saturday – his best-ever qualifying performance at Spa-Francorchamps. He then made Verstappen work extremely hard to retain third place on the opening lap, and while not a realistic threat to the top three in the rest of the afternoon he capped a great showing by stealing the fastest lap from Hamilton on the final lap – Renault’s first since Robert Kubica at the 2010 Canadian GP.

With teammate Esteban Ocon in fifth place – tying his career-best result previously set at the 2017 Spanish and Mexican GPs – it meant that Renault scored 23 points this weekend, their highest-ever total in a single Grand Prix.

Of course this is a very biased statistic, as Renault won back-to-back Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in 2005/06 at a time when 18 points was the maximum possible score, but it is such anomalies that keep statisticians in regular employment!

Renault also had the pleasure of beating a Red Bull in a straight fight, as Alexander Albon finished sixth, one place lower than he managed on his team debut 12 months previously. For the second year in a row Albon changed position on the final lap, but whereas he gained two places on the final tour in 2019, this year saw him demoted a place by Ocon.

Sunday would have been the 83rd birthday of Bruce McLaren, founder of the team that bears his name. By coincidence he claimed the team’s first win – and his only win in a car of his own construction – at the 1968 Belgian GP, when he led only the final lap of the race. Unfortunately it was not to be the kind of day that befitted such an important junction in team history.

Lando Norris finished seventh having maintained his record of starting in the top ten at every race this season, and this did ultimately move McLaren back up to to third in the Constructors’ Championship, but for teammate Carlos Sainz his race was over before it even began.

An exhaust failure on his out lap from the garage rendered the Spaniard a full-time spectator for the first time since making his F1 debut at the start of the 2015 season.

Conversely, Pierre Gasly had such a good afternoon that he was voted Driver Of The Day, with the Frenchman being the only man to start the race on the hard compound Pirelli tyre. In his three F1 starts at Spa-Francorchamps, Gasly has now finished ninth (2018), ninth (2019), and eighth (Sunday).

Given their past form on this track, Racing Point’s Spa weekend was somewhat disappointing. For the first time in a dry qualifying session this year neither of their cars were in the top six, and raceday saw Lance Stroll finish ninth and Sergio Perez tenth. This was a worse result than the team scored at Spa in either in 2018 and 2019, a puzzling turn of events given their performance to this stage in 2020.

This weekend was the 1,000th world championship event for Ferrari engines, two more than Ferrari have accumulated as a constructor. This curious anomaly has existed for more than half a century, when Scuderia Ferrari declined to enter the 1960 US and 1966 British GPs while privateers raced Ferrari-engined Coopers (Pete Lovely in the former, Chris Lawrence in the latter).

It was therefore ironic that there have been few races in Ferrari history more embarrassing than this one, with so much of it seemingly being as a result of their (down on) power unit.

For the first time since Valencia 2012, neither works Ferrari reached Q3 in dry conditions, and even in a Grand Prix that saw a mid-race Safety Car (when Antonio Giovinazzi binned his Alfa Romeo, taking George Russell with him), the lead Ferrari-powered car finished 71 seconds behind the race winner.

Worse still, the car in question wasn’t even a Ferrari. The twelfth-placed Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen led home Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, along with the similarly-powered Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and last-placed Kevin Magnussen.

The good news for Ferrari is that they will be racing at home next weekend.

Better still, the tifosi won’t be there to render a verdict...