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F1 2022, Belgian Grand Prix, analysis, Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Honda, penalties, power unit, engine, Mercedes

The mid-season break is behind us, and on the evidence of the first day of practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, so is the European winter.

The Formula 1 Classic could be called Spa-Francorchamps Weather. Sometimes wet, sometimes dry and sometimes both depending on where you stand around the track, the conditions made the circuit difficult to read.

Max Verstappen set a lap time 0.8s faster than Charles Leclerc in FP2, but neither will start on the front row due to engine penalties.

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So it will fall to their team-mates to take the flag for their teams, but Carlos Sainz is 0.3s slower than Charles Leclerc in fifth, while a rear wing problem leaves Sergio Perez 1.8s behind Verstappen in 10th.

The crucial second practice session was held at an ambient temperature of 17°C, with the track 3°C warmer. Pirelli’s tires – the supplier that brought the middle of the field to this race – struggled to find the temperature in the weather, which meant that most of the teams fought to set a nail before the end of the day.

More importantly, intermittent rain meant track racing was severely disrupted in both sessions. Long-term data was extremely limited, with most drivers gearing up on full tanks for two laps, generating little information on what to expect on Sunday.

Plus, with the weather set to warm up and dry out a bit over the next couple of days, what the teams learned Friday may still be misleading anyway.

Predicting the order of competition is therefore anyone’s guess before the end.

Everyone is punished, but some may handle them better than others.

The only thing we know for sure is that the battle at the front will be missing its two main protagonists, with Verstappen and Leclerc leading the pack with different power units and gearbox penalties set to start near the back of the grid. .

This is the second time Leclerc has started from the spot this season, having suffered terminal power losses in Spain and Azerbaijan. After starting from behind in Canada, he recovered to fifth.

It is very sad to see what happened to Ricciardo 02:00

However, Ferrari said it was yet to determine the cause of the numerous engine problems in Hungary before mid-season, and despite some preventive measures, those temporary fixes did not prevent Carlos Sainz’s engine from cannonballing itself. In Austria.

Verstappen, on the other hand, hopes this will be the first and only power unit penalty, his Honda engine has been very reliable this season.

The title-contending pair will be joined at the back by Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher. There is a good chance that Zhou Guanyu will get a new set of engine parts on Saturday and earn himself a penalty.

Sector de Spa-Francorchamps is one of the tracks commonly chosen to serve up grid drops, as its long stretches and DRS zones make it easier to recover the race than other circuits.

It also prepares the driver for what is expected to be a penalty-free run with nine Grands Prix remaining, including this weekend’s race.

Good news for Leclerc and Verstappen. Assuming Zhou joins the suspended list – and others may now join and qualify – the two title contenders could start as high as 14th and 15th.

Most of the cars that start behind them are also good midfield machines, which goes some way to easing recovery.

But regardless of the circumstances, even if they soften the sentence, there’s no escaping the fact that Verstappen is still more likely to sacrifice a race than Leclerc. His 80-point advantage can keep three DNAs in a row intact, giving him confidence that the weekend’s race will have no impact on the championship scene.

Monegasque, on the other hand, will be no less in the race to account for the first few advances on the grid. The pressure will be on for him to do his best in this week’s unusual arena for the title fight.

‘This will not break my spirit’ | 01:44

Sainz and Perez left to fly the flag

Verstappen’s dominant FP2 performance was not replicated by the other frontrunners, meaning he is well off the pace but still has a wide gap between Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez to compete for victory.

“It’s true that Verstappen looked very quick today, especially in FP2 with the new slick,” Sainz admitted. “In the long run we’ll be close, but it looks like he’s on this weekend and we’ve got to get the most out of him.”

But the Spanish Ferrari took the wrong direction of the set-up in FP2, if it is changed, it will return to competition before qualifying.

“I was really happy with the car today,” he said.

“I was very happy with the car in FP1. In FP2 we made changes that we knew didn’t go in the right direction, but if you give me the car back from FP1, I’m sure we’ll be on track tomorrow.”

Perez also argued that he had a lot to prove after his FP2 was hampered by rear wing problems.

“We will see what we can pick up in the data, but I think we can be good and competitive, so we have to make sure we get everything right for qualification and the competition,” he said.

Under normal circumstances this should be a straightforward battle between the two drivers fighting for status and respect, long before their title hopes are gone, but given the unusual nature of the weekend, things may not go their way just yet.

Piastre’s road to McLaren is still uncertain 00:51

Mercedes got a good shot at the first win

Having two victory contenders so far presents a golden opportunity for Mercedes to secure their long-awaited first win of the season.

Or at least it should be.

Lewis Hamilton and Russell finished sixth and eighth respectively, 1.3 seconds and 1.5 seconds adrift of the second double podium in Hungary and George Russell’s shock pole position.

There was a lack of performance at the weekend, with the team having to pull out stops to take advantage of the front-runners who battled with one arm tied behind them.

“We’re not very fast,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know why.

“We’re going out and giving it everything we’ve got. It could be tires, it could be tire temperature, it could be wing level, it could be a lot of things.

“There is no sense of danger there, we are very far away.”

Russell explained that cold tire temperatures were an all-season problem for the W13 and opening up the rubber could be a shortcut to the front.

“I think we’ve struggled a lot this season to get the temperature into the tires,” Russell said. “I struggled a lot today in the yard we used.

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You can get massive amounts of performance when you get it in the right window, so there’s a small glimmer of hope, but it’s definitely a top notch and Ferraris are overrated.

But we will all work hard to try and win tonight.

Russell cautioned that Hungary’s performance levels should not be expected as there are few similarities between Hungary and Spa-Francorchamps.

“We might have a bad Friday, so let’s see if we can turn it around, but I don’t think there’s any guarantee we’ll get the performance we had in the final,” he said.

“It is a completely different district. We are a low power here, Hungary was a super low power. It was hot there, it’s really cold here today, it’s drizzling every time I’m out on the road – not really the equivalent settings you can afford.

But the clock is running out, and letting a run like this slip away would be a huge blow to the team’s season.

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