Second time in Spa , after a year of settling into the madness called F1. As F1 returned form summer-break, this race marks the start of my second year in F1, and the 10th live GP of my career as an F1 scribe.
Returning back to the one of the most beautiful circuits, and the place i kick-started my career last year, this year is a different experience. Between the last race and this race there have been several terror attacks in Brussels, Paris, Nice and all of Europe has changed.
Last year Brussles airport was as deserted as ever when it came to security at the arrivals zone. This year there were two army gunmen posted at every point of entry or exit and in the waiting area. As far as Spa goes, yes you can see refugees settling here too and walking around the streets, which wasn’t the case in Spa last year.
When it travelling, last year I was fearless changing 2 trains and 1 bus ride to reach Francorchamps from Brussels when I had never ever visited the country before or known the language, this year I was a little skeptical.
The security outside the circuit has been tight due to the situation in Nice, all the merchandise food and beer hawkers/stalls are gone. The hotel I stayed at last year couldn’t be seen due to all those stalls,this year that whole road is dull. One can only hope the atmosphere livens up before the race.
When it comes to the media it was the first time we had to carry our passports to the track for verification of the pass and our bags were checked as an anti-terror measure. One would usually expect this kind of checking in Bahrain or Abu Dhabi, but the situation in Europe leaves no room for F1 authorities. Somewhere it makes us feel safer too because Spa has a lot of backpackers, campers and it is a full house vulnerable to trouble.
Returning to the paddock straight from Silverstone has been a long two race gap plus summer break. However there is bit of interesting stuff that Thursday had to throw up. And yes the addition to paddock mania was the 33 degs of heat in Spa, quiet unlikely for weather here. Last year too was dry and this year seems to be the same.
Like I have said time and time again before if you have to learn to make an entry into an F1 paddock, you have to give it to Lewis Hamilton. He walked in with both his dogs Coco and Roscoe. When i asked a fellow journalist who takes care of them in the paddock I was told its the Mercedes hospitality. An incident was mentioned about Lewis in his first year with Mercedes, when he was flying with the team and his dog Roscoe took a dump in the plane. When Roscoe had finished his business and the plane landed, Lewis walked off with the dog and leaving the dirt behind for the Mercedes staff to clear. Manners is always an issue with Lewis and the most gentleman like persona is least expected out of him, but for this incident he was pulled up by Ross Brawn who was then the Silver Arrows boss.
At the McLaren motorhome Jenson Button had vague statements about his future in F1. It is rumoured that Stoffel has probably signed his deal for the 2017 market and if the Williams deal doesn’t work out for JB, one can see him shifting to California where he spends most of his time with his girlfriend. Speaking about being competitive and doing triathlons whether he’s racing or not, the 2009 WC hinted at other forms of racing in case he plans to leave F1. His future will be decided in the month of September, where teams would finalise on most of their driver line-ups by then. He was being linked to Williams racing earlier to drive alongside Valtterri Bottas, as Felipe Massa’s future too hangs by a thread for the 2017 season. However Monza or Singapore GP weekends should have a clearer picture in store soon.
Who is Esteban Ocon? :
Esteban Ocon is the 2014 F3 champion and the 2015 GP3 Champion who has raced at the FP1 sessions at last three race weekends in the reserve role for Renault. Backed by Mercedes, the 19 year old Frenchman’s immediate rival has been the 18 year old Dutchman Max Verstappen. Waiting in the wings this year to make his f1 debut, a financially crippled Rio Haryanto lead to Ocon securing his seat for the second half of 2016. It is also rumoured that Kevin Magnussen’s future with Renault hangs by a thread and Ocon might be considering a move there. However, Renault would never let Mercedes keep them on an elastic which means they might push Ocon to William’s sealing Massa’s fate. It remains to be seen how he will perform against his fellow Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein in the nine races ahead.
The dullest note of Thursday drivers’ press conference was a dull and expressionless Daniil Kyvat. When asked about the upgrades and the difference they’ll make in the future races, his expression was grim and the answer was bland. His mental psyche is often a question in the paddock, as he hasn’t been int he best of moods in the press conferences post the Russian GP weekend. His motivation has spiralled down after the Verstappen swap and his team-mate Carlos Sainz only gets better by the day. Adding to the on-track drama, Kyvats not only been outqualified by Sainz but even outperformed by him for the last four to five races.
Grid penalty for Lewis on Sunday:
A 20- place grid penalty for Lewis has been confirmed by the Briton himself, which throws up a different ball game for Sunday as he would have to take pole on Saturday to be at P20 on Sunday. In Spa it is easy to overtake and make it up the grid, but idealistically a fourth is where one can expect him, as he would have to fight the Red Bulls who are going to be stronger post the summer break, and the Ferraris too cannot be ignored. Most probably it will be a win handed too Rosberg if Nico manages to pull away from the pack. However if Nico crackdown under Red Bull pressure it will be a difficult scenario.