Friday noticebook – Belgian Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit De Spa-Francorchampsbe

Belgium’s Circuit de Spa Francorchamps welcomes Round 13 of the 2019 FIA Formula One championship, a favourite track for drivers and fans alike. The opening day of the weekend saw the Ferrari drivers topping both practice sessions, but the Italians’ drivers are doubtful about the results.

Mercedes as the favourite – Despite to Ferrari’s convincing pace over the Friday practice sessions, Sebastian Vettel is sure that Mercedes, the dominant team of the sport will find its way back to the top for the qualifying session. The German played down the importance of Ferrari’s strong showing on the opening day as Mercedes usually turns down its power unit in practices. “As I said, it’s not the first time that Ferrari looked good for us. Probably Saturday morning will look good for us and then we will see what happens on Saturday afternoon. I’m not taking anything for granted,” said the quadruple world champion.

Contract extension – Racing Point has announced that it has extended the contract for Sergio Perez which will see the Mexican spend another three years with the Silverstone-based squad. The Guadalajara-born driver will complete his seventh season with the team next year. "I’m very excited to extend my partnership with the team for the next three years. I’ve been working together with this group of people for a long time now and they have become my second family. Together we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success and we share the same passion for racing,” said the Mexican.

Ferrari’s top speed advantage – Lewis Hamilton explained the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari after the first two practice sessions with the Italians’ straightline speed advantage. “I don’t know about the gaps, obviously the Ferraris are quite quick, they’re like nearly a second quicker than us just in a straight line down to Turn 5,” said the Briton. However, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc does not believe that his team can maintain its advantage in the high-speed sections as it was only down to different engine modes used on the opening day. “In the second sector they [Mercedes] are very, very strong and tomorrow they will turn up the engine and they won’t be that bad in the first and final sectors,” said the Monegasque.

Raft of penalites – The high-speed nature of the Spa track means that power units are of key importance, but its long straights also mean that grid-drop penalties for exceeding the engine allocation have less of an effect on the race weekend as overtaking is easier than on other tracks. This nature of the 7.004km-long Spa Francorchamps track urged several teams to introduce fresh power unit components and fill up the pool with new units. Alexander Albon, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat have taken a new engine for this weekend's race, and will all fall back from their qualifying position.

No ill feelings – After having been overlooked by Red Bull’s advisor dr Helmut Marko, Daniil Kvyat said that he had no bad feelings about the fact that his previous teammate Alxander Albon was promoted to Red Bull. “I don’t have any disappointment or anything. I think my job doesn’t change, my year has been fantastic. I look at that, rather than other things out of my control. I’ll focus on doing my own thing and do the best I can in the last nine races of the year and hopefully will be a good thing. And you never know what the future will hold.”

Still in the unknown – After experimenting with both the old and new specs aerodynamic package before the summer break, Romain Grosjean re-joined his teammate Kevin Magnussen in using Haas-Ferrari’s latest package. The former GP2 champion was unhappy with his team’s latest upgrade package and went back to the Melbourne-specification car for the Hungarian Grand Prix while his teammate Kevin Magnussen stick to the latest development. However, he had to return to the upgraded car because of the specific needs of the Spa and Monza tracks. “It’s not a decision, it was a no choice option. Because the low-downforce package is not runnable on the old car. I knew it since a long time, before Silverstone, that we had to be running the new car here and Monza, and then we can decide for the next few races. So it doesn’t mean that the old lady is not going to come back in the garage. Actually it’s because we didn’t have a choice, the wings don’t fit on the old car,” the Frenchman said when asked by Motorsport.com.

Ocon’s position – Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Renault has announced that it managed to sign Esteban Ocon for the upcoming 2020 season. The Frenchman has been under the umbrella of the Mercedes oufit for the past years. When asked whether Ocon would retain any ties with the Anglo-German squad, Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul was quick to deny it. “He’s a Renault driver, that’s very clear. Mercedes will have absolutely no right on him for the duration of his contract. So, small difference is that his management company happens to be a racing team, and that’s Mercedes – but it’s a slightly different set-up from the set-up we had with Carlos last year, where that was on loan and not under contract with Red Bull.”

So far so good – Red Bull team principal Chistian Horner praised Alexander Albon for his performance on the very first official day with the team. The Briton said that the feedback of the Thai-British drivers was consistent with Max Verstappen’s. “I haven’t seen all the analysis but he’s certainly within a few tenths which is very encouraging and at this circuit and this venue they’ve been running different programmes in the afternoon and he’s done one bit in the simulator for us and two sessions in the car,” explained Horner.