Can Hamilton's superior Mercedes take him to the front in Belgium?
Paddock split over Hamilton penalty recovery
- Sainz worried Toro Rosso being left behind
- Vandoorne waiting for 'quick' Button decision
- Honda plays down huge engine performance step
- Engineers say Raikkonen deserves 2017 seat
- Magnussen wants Renault decision in September
- Kvyat unmoved after Marko comments
- Pirelli back in the spotlight at Spa
- Wolff: I'll make sure Vandoorne gets seat
- Grosjean critical of high tire pressures
Paddock split over Hamilton penalty recovery
(GMM) The F1 paddock is split over whether Lewis Hamilton can bounce back from his grid penalties to finish on the podium at Spa on Sunday.
The world champion's points lead is under threat as he takes multiple penalties for fitting new components during the Belgian grand prix weekend.
Hamilton can expect to start last, and many have slammed F1's penalty system under the long-life engine components rules.
Kevin Eason, writing in the Times, called the rules "absurd", and former F1 driver David Coulthard agrees that the penalties remove "the intensity between Lewis and Nico Rosberg we had going into the break".
Coulthard also doubts Hamilton can rise all the way to the podium in the race.
"I expect Lewis to come forward but I don't think it will be as easy as might be considered for this track," he told the Telegraph.
"There are a lot of quick cars in a straight line and we have seen before Mercedes are not brilliant in traffic. He should get in the points but I'll be amazed if he gets near the podium unless there's some special event."
But Hamilton's former McLaren teammate Jenson Button thinks Hamilton will do slightly better than that.
"He's going to finish fourth at worst," Button is quoted by the Daily Mail. "He may even do better than that. It's not exactly a bad weekend considering his teammate finished fourth at the last race."
And veteran pundit and former driver John Watson is willing to go even a step further than that in predicting a great recovery from Hamilton.
"I would never discount the possibility of Lewis winning the grand prix," he said. "If conditions are changeable anything is possible."
But even Rosberg's run to the checkered flag may be compromised, given the form of Red Bull and particularly local hero Max Verstappen in practice.
"I don't know what's going on with Mercedes," he told De Telegraaf newspaper, "but this was not qualifying or the race. We will have to work hard for a dream victory."
|Carlos Sainz Jr.|
Sainz Jr. worried Toro Rosso being left behind
(GMM) Carlos Sainz Jr. says he is worried Toro Rosso has suddenly become the F1 backmarker.
The junior Red Bull team expected a hard weekend at Spa, but Spaniard Sainz said Toro Rosso is really "struggling" with its 2015-spec Ferrari engine.
"It will not be like Hungary and Silverstone, getting in Q3, instead we try to avoid that Manor or Sauber are ahead, as they seem to be right now," he told the Spanish daily marca.
"And Haas is now a good step ahead," Sainz added. "The gap is too big."
Meanwhile, Sainz was one of several drivers who tested the Halo device on Friday, and he said afterwards: "It's obviously a strange feeling at first, but it does not impede visibility and by the end of the lap you forget you've got it.
"I think getting in and out of the car is the difficult part, but that's for the FIA to continue analyzing and improving," he added.
"The only concern I had was visibility and this was not a problem, even in Eau Rouge."
|Stoffel Vandoorne – can he mop up F1 like he mopped up GP2|
Vandoorne waiting for 'quick' Button decision
(GMM) Stoffel Vandoorne is waiting for the situation between McLaren and Jenson Button to unfold before he presses ahead with his 2017 plans.
The young Belgian is pushing to make his debut next year for the Honda-powered team, but McLaren and Button are yet to announce if they are sticking together for an eighth consecutive season next year.
"I don't know what is happening on his (Button's) side," Vandoorne said at Spa.
"I just try to focus mostly on myself," he told the Belgian broadcaster Sporza. "I don't have any problems with Jenson anyway."
However, Vandoorne and McLaren seem destined to unite for 2017, with the team having warned off rival suitors and the 24-year-old making plain his preference to drive for Woking.
"Everything looks pretty positive," he said. "Hopefully there is a quick decision from McLaren. Because I have different opportunities.
"McLaren is the best choice, especially for the long term. They have invested a lot in my career to prepare me for formula one. But if it fails for some reason, I am convinced that there are opportunities in other teams."
Vandoorne also thinks McLaren is a good choice for competitive reasons for 2017.
"The performance is not exactly what we want now," he said, "but for the future it looks good. There are good chances that with the new rules for 2017, the team will be competitive."
Vandoorne also said he is looking forward to the 2017 rules more generally.
"It's a major step forward," he said. "The feeling in the car will be very different, as we are already seeing in the simulations. Whether it makes the races more attractive remains to be seen."
|Alonso is still on some hallucinogen if he thinks McLaren Honda is ready to compete with the top group of cars in F1|
Honda plays down huge engine performance step
(GMM) A Honda official has played down claims Honda may now be ready to start taking on the top F1 teams.
The Japanese marque has taken an engine upgrade to Spa that benefitted from no less than 7 development tokens.
It is the latest step in what Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa has called "incredible" recent progress. "Yeah, I definitely do agree (with that)," Fernando Alonso said in Belgium.
"For sure we will notice the difference in the car and hopefully we can approach the front group," Alonso is quoted by Spanish reporters.
There is speculation of s half a second boost and dozens of extra horse power, but team boss Eric Boullier is refusing to comment.
"Yes I can (put a number of the laptime gain), but I will not share it with you," the Frenchman smiled.
But an unnamed Honda official told the Marca sports newspaper that talking about catching up with the 'big three' teams is premature.
"No, not at all. Forget Ferrari," he is quoted as saying. "As well as Red Bull or Mercedes. Not here or in Singapore.
"This is an evolution, not a revolution," he insisted.
|Kimi Raikkonen showing great form|
Engineers say Raikkonen deserves 2017 seat
(GMM) Kimi Raikkonen's former race engineers all say the Finn deserves to have kept his Ferrari seat for 2017.
With younger chargers like Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz all pushing to step up, many were surprised when the Maranello team elected to keep Raikkonen, who in two months will turn 37.
But Mark Slade, who worked with Raikkonen at McLaren and Lotus, told Turun Sanomat newspaper: "No, it (the 2017 deal) wasn't a massive surprise.
"Kimi seems to be in a good situation with Sebastian Vettel, and I believe that a happy atmosphere will help Ferrari to perform.
"Whenever you look to change driver, you need to be sure you're getting something better," he added.
Australian Chris Dyer, who won the title with Raikkonen in 2007 and now works at Renault, agrees: "From the outside, Kimi does not seem to have changed from the driver I knew from nine years ago.
"He has always been able to do great results when the car and the conditions suit him.
"This season, he has been with Vettel in pace, even when the car is not working all that well — which in the past was maybe not always Kimi's strength."
And Andrea Stella, who worked with Kimi at Ferrari in 2008 and 2009 and is now at McLaren, said: "I am not surprised that Kimi is continuing. To me, he seems to be the same.
"He is still a strong racing driver. I think he has even improved since last year," he added.
|Kevin Magnussen wants to know if his check is big enough for 2017|
Magnussen wants Renault decision in September
(GMM) Kevin Magnussen has urged Renault to make a fast decision over its driver lineup for 2017.
The French works team is obviously assessing its options for next year, having flagged a decision to be made within September.
But team boss Frederic Vasseur has now hinted it could take longer than that.
"We are not under pressure to take a decision. It will be in the next few weeks or months," he said at Spa.
Current Renault racer Magnussen confirmed that the team is not rushing by saying the issue has not progressed at all recently.
"Nothing has happened over the past few weeks," he told Ekstra Bladet newspaper. "I have not heard anything from the Renault management.
"I understand they've been talking about taking a decision in early September and I hope they live up to it," Magnussen added.
"I will not under any circumstances be in a situation like I was in 2014," he said, referring to a similar delay by McLaren that left him without a race seat.
"Otherwise, I will have to make a decision," Magnussen added.
He said he would like to stay with the team because of the expected progress in 2017, and the fact that the rest of 2016 will be somewhat fallow.
"It is clear that a lot of money is being spent at Enstone with new buildings and machinery, and a lot of new people will be hired," said Magnussen.
"There are no major updates on the car now — only minor things," he revealed. "All the focus is now on the 2017 project — the current car has been taken out of the wind tunnel completely."
Kvyat unmoved after Marko comments
(GMM) Daniil Kvyat says he is focused on the current season rather than any signs that he might have a future at Toro Rosso.
Although Kvyat hit rock bottom in 2016 after being demoted from Red Bull's senior team, Dr Helmut Marko said the 22-year-old only needs one or two races to regain his confidence.
Asked if that sounds like a small window of hope that he might stay in F1, Kvyat said at Spa: "I don't pay attention to any comments, I just do my job.
"First, it is always important to have good races and then I'll see what happens next year. At the moment I'm just doing my job and not thinking about what anyone says — not Dr Marko, not journalists, not anybody," he added.
Pirelli back in the spotlight at Spa
(GMM) Pirelli's tires are back in the spotlight at Spa.
Many drivers complained about tires that are blistering within a single practice lap of the Belgian layout, including veteran Felipe Massa who described the pressures prescribed by Pirelli this weekend as "ridiculous".
"The (high) pressures are a joke," the Williams driver told Brazil's UOL.
"I've never had a car like it here at Spa or pressures like this in my life," he said. "Maybe it helps them with failing or cuts, but this is ridiculous."
Not only that, teams were asked to test unmarked prototype tires in practice – a new construction – that Pirelli wants to debut in Malaysia in October.
But Manor's Pascal Wehrlein told Auto Motor und Sport: "We found that the prototype soft tire was a fair bit slower than the normal tires."
And Sebastian Vettel, having tried Pirelli's all-new and much bigger and wider 2017 tires recently at Fiorano, has put his hand up to keep helping with the Pirelli test program.
"As you can imagine, the first day was a bit complicated," the Ferrari driver told Brazil's Globo.
"But the next one will be in Barcelona, a more representative track, and by then the car will be in a more realistic window of what we expect for next year.
"Red Bull did a test in the same week and had the same problems but it was interesting anyway. The cornering speeds should be very different" in 2017, Vettel added.
"I haven't driven a lot at Fiorano so I'm waiting for Barcelona to see how different it really is. I like to drive, so any opportunity I have, I'll take it."
|Toto Wolff ready to steal Vandoorne from McLaren|
Wolff: I'll make sure Vandoorne gets seat
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has promised to find Stoffel Vandoorne a seat in Formula 1 for the 2017 season, if McLaren-Honda does not place him alongside Fernando Alonso.
Vandoorne, who stormed to last year's GP2 title, is waiting for McLaren bosses to decide who should partner Fernando Alonso, with discussions being delayed until September.
Wolff feels that McLaren, which also fields Jenson Button, would be "foolish" not to promote Vandoorne, and has vowed to put a deal together with a rival team if the situation arises.
"I've followed Stoffel for a long time," Wolff is quoted by Het Laatste Nieuws.
"I saw him grow in the junior categories, as a human and as a driver. If you look at him today then you can see: there is personality – he has everything [required] to become a real star.
"The kid belongs in Formula 1. If I did not have the luxury of having both [Nico] Rosberg and [Lewis] Hamilton [at Mercedes], then Stoffel would be on the short list of drivers that I want.
"If McLaren is foolish enough not to take him next season, I'll make sure he gets into another team."
Rosberg and Hamilton are tied to Mercedes through the 2018 season, but the German manufacturer also supplies Williams, Force India and Manor with its powertrains.
|Romain Grosjean in the anti-American Haas car|
Grosjean critical of high tire pressures
Haas driver Romain Grosjean has criticized Pirelli's mandatory tire pressures at the Belgian Grand Prix, which he says makes the rubber "very tricky" to work.
Pirelli has raised the minimum tire pressures by 4 PSI compared to last year's corresponding event, with the fronts at 23.5 PSI and the rears at 22 PSI.
Grosjean wound up eighth quickest in the session but was unhappy with the compulsory measures, and was also hindered by a problem with his MGU-K.
"It's not been an easy day for everyone," said Grosjean.
"The tires are very tricky to work. I'm not so happy with the tire pressures here. It makes things challenging.
"On Super Softs in the afternoon, we ran better. The car felt more together, which was definitely a positive.
"We couldn't do a long run because of an issue, but hopefully that won't cost us too much in the race.
"We still have tomorrow morning to prepare for qualifying, and try a few setup tricks that we're thinking of.
"Generally, I think all our energy will again be on tire usage."
Esteban Gutiérrez, chasing his first points of the year, classified in 10th place.
"It was very tricky conditions today," said the Mexican.
"It's not common in Spa to have heat like this. The track is really hot, so we're struggling a little setting up the car.
"We've done some tests to try to understand it a bit better, so now we'll have a clearer direction as to where we have to focus."