Lewis Hamilton: “It’s going to be tough out there for everyone”

Lewis Hamilton believes that World Champion believes the chances of recovering to the points in Belgium will be much tougher than Shanghai, where he started from 22nd and finished seventh.

In Spa he will start 21st after Fernando Alonso’s power unit penalties ensured that Hamilton won’t actually start last.

Hamilton says the high pressures mandated by Pirelli will make it hard to keep the tyres alive over a stint, especially as he tries to fight his way through the pack.

“It’s completely different to China,” said Hamilton. “In China we didn’t have [tyre] failures the previous year, and therefore they didn’t put the pressure up to a ridiculous number. That is the case here. They had failures last year, they’re nervous of failures this year, so they put the pressures up to 23 or 24 whatever it is, which is so high, I’ve never seen pressures like that in my whole racing career. That doesn’t help.

“Plus it’s very hot, and being at those pressures, we get blisters. In China the tyres went a lot longer, it was cooler, and the tyres behave more like normal tyres. Here there’s not really much you can do to stop the tyres from blistering and overheating. Tomorrow is going to be interesting with that, so it’s definitely a much harder race than China ever was.”

Hamilton said one of the big problems will be running in traffic.

“As I said before its going to be a very, very hard race. If I had a choice of tracks to start dead last and overtake, this is definitely not in the top three for me in terms of an overtaking circuit. Whilst you can have a good tow up to Eau Rouge, being this hot, it’s going to be hard to follow.

“Being in the traffic it’s very unlikely I’m going to get to my stop target or go longer than the guys in front of me. I envisage tomorrow it’s even going to be hard to get into the top 10 with the tyres the way they are. I hope that I prove myself wrong, and I hope that I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Hamilton insists that he will start from the grid rather than pitlane, despite the obvious risk of getting involved in a first corner accident.

“I never like to start from the pitlane. It means you have to wait for them to come past you in the pitlane exit. By the time I get round the corner they will be half way down the hill, almost going into Eau Rouge, the last car.

“That means then I have to catch up. Of course, there’s a possibilities of me crashing in Turn One and you avoid it, but there’s also possibilities that there’s not, and then I just give up seven seconds or whatever it is. I can’t afford to lose any time. So my plan is to start from the grid.”

Regarding a realistic target he said: “All I can hope for is just to aim as high as possible, and try and get up as high as I can. It feels unlikely that it will be a podium position, but it’s not impossible. Things could happen, safety cars, all these sorts of things. But with these tyres the way they are, which is a bit of a mess, it’s going to be tough out there for everyone. It’s definitely going to be tough to come through and get on the podium and win.”

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Verstappen and Ricciardo made own tyre choices, says Horner

Red Bull Racing decided to split the starting tyre strategies of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo at Spa because the team doesn’t know whether a first stint on the supersoft or soft will be the better choice.

However the drivers made the decision for themselves as Verstappen had a clear preference for the supersoft, and Ricciardo preferred the soft. They will start second and fifth, split by the two Ferraris.

In Spain the two ran different strategies, and Verstappen came out on top, much to the frustration of his team mate.

“From a team perspective because it’s unclear what is the better strategy at the moment,” Christian Horner told this writer. “So to split them made sense. When we discussed it this morning we put it open to the table. Max was keen to start on the supersoft and Daniel was keen to start on the soft, which made the situation very easy.

“The drivers and their respective engineers picked the strategies, and from my perspective and a team point of view it covers both options. We’ll know tomorrow which one is the right way and which is the wrong way.

“It will be a fascinating race, to see how the strategies unfold. It’s going to be all about tyre deg.”

Horner agreed that as the fastest supersoft runner in a battle with four cars starting on softs Verstappen will not been in a direct fight with his rivals: “He’s got his own race going on, and it will be up to him to get through the traffic and get on with it.”

Horner said the team had expected to find it hard to beat the Ferraris, although Ricciardo made his life harder as he didn’t have a good Q3.

“We always knew here this circuit was always going to be a bit more of a Ferrari circuit than a Red Bull circuit, so to have outqualified them and be right with them was better than we expected coming into the weekend. As soon as Ferrari turn the engine up they are in good shape.

“For Daniel the first run in Q3 looked to be the quicker, because the wind changed between the two runs. He had a bit of a moment in Turn One, and of course that hurts you up the hill. He did a reasonably recovery on run two, but the circuit had lost a little bit of pace.”

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Alonso joins Hamilton and Ericsson with Spa grid penalties

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Marcus Ericsson have all logged grid penalties in Spa for taking sixth power unit elements.

Hamilton took a sixth turbo and sixth MGU-H for FP1, which means he gets 15 places (10 + 5), and then repeated the exercise with his seventh elements in FP2, adding 15 more places for a total of 30.

He also has taken a fourth and fifth ICE (V6) and fourth and fifth MGU-K, without penalty.

Mercedes is in effect stockpiling power unit elements for the remainder of the season, so that Hamilton won’t get penalties at a future race.

Meanwhile Fernando Alonso has taken his sixth examples of all six elements for FP2. He had his fifth examples fitted for FP1, but suffered a water leak from the ERS and did not set a representative time. All elements used today were off the latest updated spec.

Honda noted: “During FP1, we found a water leak from the ERS. Detailed investigation will follow, however, we have swapped out the whole of PU to ensure Fernando is out and running in FP2.”

Alonso will thus take a 35 place penalty for the change (10 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5).

Finally Ericsson is on 10 places after taking his sixth turbo of the season.

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Nico Rosberg: “Of course I’m aware of Lewis’s misfortune…”

Nico Rosberg said today that Lewis Hamilton’s Spa grid penalty has not put him under any more pressure to make the most of the World Champion’s bad luck.

Hamilton is set to start close to or at the back of the grid after taking new power unit elements, potentially leaving the way clear for Rosberg to bag maximum points – but the German says that nothing can be taken for granted.

“It doesn’t change the pressure that I would put myself under this weekend,” he insisted. “Because I would love to have a great weekend, and get the best out of it and win the race. Of course I’m aware of Lewis’s misfortune of having to get the grid penalty, and that’s going to make the weekend less difficult for me for sure, because he is my direct biggest rival.

“Nevertheless it’s still going to be a challenge, because if we remember four weeks ago I finished behind two Red Bulls. So I still need to beat all the opposition, and even Lewis, you always need to reckon even with him, because with a bit of luck and safety cars at the right moment there’s no reason why he can’t come very far back through the grid, especially on a track like here where you can overtake very easily.”

Rosberg says he can’t take any solace from the prospect of the Red Bulls or others taking points off Hamilton.

“No, because I don’t look at points and I would just like to win the race, and the Red Bulls being stronger is going to be a bigger challenge this weekend to try and win the race here, and that’s how my thinking goes.”

Rosberg says he has returned to action this weekend fully refreshed after the break.

“I was training a lot, so it was a unique opportunity to actually raise the fitness level in the middle of he season, so I made the most of that. I even enjoyed that, so I was pushing hard on that. And of course no racing, so the rest of the time was just free time with my family. It was amazing, very lucky to spend so much free time with my little daughter and my wife. I really made the most of it.

“It took a few days to digest Hockenheim for sure, because that was a big disappointment. But from then on I didn’t think about racing. I was just loving the time, I had an awesome time down there. Now I’m back today not thinking about the past at all, just here knowing that I have the opportunity to be on pole this weekend, and to win the race. I’m looking forward to that challenge, focussing, and I want to get that.”

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McLaren still pushing for 2016 results, says Boullier

McLaren boss Eric Boullier says that the team is not letting up in its quest to make further progress over the rest of 2016, adding that anything learned will pay off next year, despite the rule changes.

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button showed improved form in the races before the summer break, regularly making Q3 and recording top 10 finishes.

The whole team has had a well-deserved break after the gruelling schedule of 12 races since the start of the season,” said Boullier. “We are now just over halfway through, and ready to fight again to achieve our end-of-season goals.

The midfield pack is particularly close, and each team is stronger on different circuits, so there’ll be no let-up in in how hard we push or the developments we bring to the car in our bid to continue our progress through the rest of the season and into next year.

Together, McLaren-Honda is continuing to push hard, and everything we bring to the car – be it on the chassis or power unit side – is valuable learning for next year. We’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks away from Formula 1, but our ambition is as strong as ever, and we’re definitely ready to go racing again.”

Meanwhile Honda F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa expects the Japanese manufacturer to continue to make progress.

Though the long and power-hungry nature of Spa won’t suit us, our target for the remainder of the season is clear: to aim for championship points and take further steps forward with each race. We hope that we can continue our positive momentum that we had before the summer shutdown and look to another strong weekend in Spa.”

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Wolff confident that Mercedes drivers have learned lesson

Toto Wolff says that Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton won’t come under extra pressure to avoid trouble on the first lap today just because Hockenheim is the home race for Mercedes.

Despite the presence of executives and guests the team boss insisted that it would be just enough a race.

“Because everything is televised to millions of people almost every race is the same,” said Wolff. “It doesn’t get much worse than in Barcelona, where the board was present, and we had to answer the question after 60 seconds what are we doing now for the next 90 minutes? So I wouldn’t say there is extra pressure. It’s pretty much the same everywhere.”

Wolff said he was sure his drivers would continue to behave themselves.

“I’m very confident, because we’ve talked about it a lot, what the consequence would be. And that hasn’t changed. But as a driver it’s clear that they wouldn’t want to make a statement before the race that they are aware that they shouldn’t be crashing, that would be giving too much away. They are aware.

“Those guidelines are designed to prevent incidents that cost us points. We haven’t had any incidents since then [Spain]. So whatever the behaviour is or the pattern is during the build-up to the race weekend, it doesn’t really matter. It’s important that on a Sunday those rules are being followed. Silverstone was pretty straightforward and Hungary was pretty straightforward, so I have positive indications that the message has arrived.”

Rosberg said he is expecting a busy first lap: “It goes all the way to Turn Two, Turn Six, the battle. The thing is that you have got a short run to Turn One only, so that will make it quite different, and the asphalt is old, which means that second place is at I think a bigger disadvantage. So some things in my favour for sure. Let’s see.”

Meanwhile Hamilton said that despite it being easier to pass at Hockenheim than in the last race in Hungary the first lap would still be critical.

“You have to take measured risks at every start anyway, so that doesn’t change,” said the World Champion. “And ultimately you want to get by, whether it’s Turn One or Turn Two, or at some point. It is an easier track to overtake, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier to be close to Nico and be in a position to overtake. But there is more opportunity than there was at the last race, for sure.”

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Track limits freedom requires rule change, says Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone says that track limits could not be properly freed up this weekend because the Strategy Group didn’t actually vote on the subject, and a rule change would have to go through proper procedures.

The Strategy Group discussed the subject after Ecclestone put curbs on the agenda, and it was agreed in principle to relaxing track limits. Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene was particular supportive, believing that cars going wide added to the show.

However at Hockenheim Charlie Whiting has resisted the push for a relaxation and imposed strict track limits at Turn One. He decided overnight to allow drivers a little extra leeway there from FP3 onwards, while keeping a limit in place.

Arrivabene, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner lobbied Ecclestone on the subject last night, and the last two met with him again this morning. However Bernie acknowledges what what was agreed in the Strategy Group did not go through the full process.

“What was decided was we’d give it a go and then afterwards evaluate,” Ecclestone told this writer. “Charlie sort of feels that we should stick more to the rules. There are rules that say where you can and where you can’t drive.

“It was me that put it in the agenda for the Strategy Group – the public don’t understand this and don’t care. But in the mean time we have got rules, and we need to stick to them.

“Although it was discussed in the Strategy Group and it was more or less unanimously accepted, we couldn’t do it because the Strategy Group didn’t actually vote. If they had voted it would have had to go to the F1 Commission to get approval. So it really couldn’t happen. We have to do it properly. We need to write a regulation, and vote on the regulation.”

Ecclestone denied that the saga had created some tension between the FIA on one side and and the teams and himself on the other.

“No, not really. It’s just a little bit frustrating because they think what the hell difference will it make? But when you let that go through then it’s what the hell difference will it make to something else?

“In the end it’s the stewards who make the decisions. If by chance people cross the white line, what happens? It’s the stewards who decided if they are reprimanded or not. I think the stewards look upon this as, perhaps if they don’t get an advantage, it’s not terrible. If they get an advantage, for sure they take their times away. If someone goes off because they haven’t got any choice, if they had to miss another car if you like to avoid an accident, I think the stewards will look at it and say it’s the right thing to do.”

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