Trackside View / Word on the Beat

Trackside View – Liège, Spa-Francorchamps

The first few minutes at one of the world’s greatest venues

Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen look so at home in these early moments of the Spa weekend, around a circuit and in cars where they can express themselves. This is a long way removed from the heatwave shimmies of Paul Ricard and the hot-aired dream-like quality of summer. As the season turns to cool grey autumn, the savage tectonic uplifts of Spa, which reveal an ancient tale of stress-lifts that ripped through the uneasy ancient tension, accentuate a hard reality. What you see and hear is in cool, harsh crystal clarity, rasping exhaust notes bouncing across the valley, red Räikkönen Ferrari lithe and compliant, with an aerodynamic balance that allows the diff to be run unusually far open.

Maybe it’s nothing more than coincidence, but the behaviour of their cars resonates with the personalities of each driver. The Ferrari is laid back and flowing, the Red Bull urgent and busy. On the exit of Rivage the Ferrari allows Räikkönen excesses and liberties as he finds the balancing point in these early ‘green’ track moments, flaring engine note of wheelspin, tyre over damp kerb, the power slide benign and easily incorporated into his crazy rhythm.    

Verstappen is incredibly high-energy, even on his ‘out’ lap, as though impatient for the weekend to proceed, aggressive with his entry speed into the hazard of Liège, totally confident in the Red Bull’s grip. By his first flying lap he’s using its flick-change balance to ignore the initial understeer the turn’s downhill contours induce, knowing the rear is going to rotate it into balance long before he’s anywhere near the apex. It’s an aggressive little bull of a car, giving its driver a busy ride – and that’s just how he likes it. 

Lando Norris, in his first official practice session, wastes no time in getting on with it, hustling a McLaren that’s a little uncooperative. Such is the extreme degree of rake it’s running that the front of the floor grounds out as he turns into Liège, generating understeer that’s pulling him raggedly onto that perilous kerb, which has a history of sucking cars into the adjacent wall. But he’s not lacking confidence and he keeps it pointing the right way.

Word On The Beat

Rumour and gossip from the F1 paddock

ESTEBAN OCON’S Toto Wolff connection is proving problematical and has been cited by both RENAULT and McLAREN as a barrier to the young French driver being signed for 2019. Wolff has angrily hit back, accusing Renault of bad business ethics in going back on a verbal agreement regarding Ocon to sign DANIEL RICCIARDO instead. McLaren, which had offered Ocon a contract that Wolff declined on the strength of the agreement with Renault, subsequently signed rookie LANDO NORRIS to race alongside CARLOS SAINZ in 2019.

The contract for the JAPANESE GRAND PRIX at SUZUKA has been extended to 2021. This is likely to be branded as the Honda Japanese Grand Prix next year.

Following the unexpected financial success of this year’s GERMAN GRAND PRIX at HOCKENHEIM – bolstered by the presence of a huge number of Dutch Max Verstappen fans – it has been confirmed that the race will be on the calendar again in 2019 and that it could be branded the Mercedes German Grand Prix.

WILLIAMS has reversed a previous decision to buy Mercedes gearboxes next year and will continue to manufacture its own.

The change of ownership of RACING POINT FORCE INDIA – and the loss of the previous team’s points – led to heated discussion about the team getting the previous entitlement to FOM payments. Amusingly, when it received a second pitlane reprimand during the season (which would normally result in an automatic fine), it was able to argue that the previous infringement was by a different team…

Speculation is strong that VIETNAM has put in place its plans to host a round of the F1 world championships in HANOI, from 2020.

NIKI LAUDA continues to recuperate from his lung operation transplant and, after a worrying period during which it was uncertain whether the body would accept the new lungs, he is reportedly now on the road to recovery.

TORO ROSSO looks set to recall DANIIL KVYAT from career exile as a 2019 replacement for the promoted PIERRE GASLY.

MICHELIN confirmed on the Friday of Monza that it would not be submitting a tender for the F1 control tyre supply from 2020 onwards. Which, with the deadline for the tender closing after the Italian Grand Prix, left Pirelli and Hankook as the only contenders.