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Friday analysis: Mercedes run with reduced engine power in Belgian GP practice

Friday analysis: Mercedes run with reduced engine power in Belgian GP practice

27-08-2021 17:45
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Despite finishing the session with a crash, Max Verstappen topped FP2. The Dutchman sat less than one-tenth ahead of the two Mercedes drivers as Friday practice once again foreshadows a tight Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in 2021. The forecast suggested rain for practice at Spa-Francorchamps, but the F1 Belgian Grand Prix weekend got underway with little issues regarding wet weather. 

Qualifying simulations

Verstappen has recorded five pole positions compared to Hamilton's three. But perhaps crucially Hamilton has topped the last two qualifying sessions. Following the updates introduced at Silverstone, it seems as if Mercedes have gained the upper hand on single-lap pace. But Friday practice in Belgium demonstrated that Verstappen and Red Bull are still really close. 

Driver Best sector 1 Best sector 2 Best sector 3 Best combined
Max Verstappen 30.976 44.416 28.726 1:44.118 (1st)
Valtteri Bottas 30.748 44.969 28.652 1:44.369 (3rd)
Lewis Hamilton 30.665 44.778 28.760 1:44.203 (2nd)

Using the combination of best sectors in FP2, Verstappen stays ahead but Hamilton is still within one-tenth. On Hamilton's fastest lap using fresh soft tyres, he set a purple sector time in the second sector. The second sector at Spa-Francorchamps is the sector which relies least on engine power. During the first and final sectors, Hamilton recorded slower times than he already had, indicating the Mercedes driver had his engine power turned down for the best run on soft tyres. 

As they have done at multiple events this season, Red Bull are also likely to be running with less power from their Honda engine than they will during qualifying and the Grand Prix on Sunday. 

Carrying on their fine form from Hungary, Alpine also had a strong day on single-lap pace. Esteban Ocon led the practice session for a little bit, whilst Fernando Alonso was the closest driver to the top three. It seems as if the Alpine team are running with their engine turned up. Ferrari, who have looked much improved over recent months, had a poor day. Charles Leclerc only managed to record the 18th fastest time and then subsequently hit the wall. McLaren had a quiet day, but that is stereotypical of their practice sessions in 2021. 

Wing analysis 

The two Mercedes drivers ran with two different rear-wings during the opening practice session. Bottas had a smaller rear-wing than Hamilton which according to the leaderboard seemed stronger. However, Hamilton was impeded on his strongest lap by Nicholas Latifi and barring any mistake he would've set the fastest lap of the session. As Toto Wolff alluded to after the session, it doesn't seem as if they will run Bottas' wing. 

On the Belgian circuit, a higher downforce wing will make the car more susceptible to an overtake in sectors one and three, but be much stronger in sector two.

As has been the case during the season, it's very difficult to predict who will win this weekend. The long-runs were disrupted with the two red flags, and the weather forecast for the remaining two days means it's probably not as useful as normal. With very little running in wet weather, it's also impossible to predict who will be strongest in the rain. 

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