After a few weeks of well-deserved rest for all the teams, it’s time to get back to racing with the Belgian Grand Prix which kicks off the second part of the season. Before the restart, here are some of the topics that should be hotly discussed during this visit to Spa-Francorchamps.
1. The situation of the Alpine driver
August may have been the time for teams to take a mandatory factory shutdown, but that doesn’t apply to the driver market, and the silly season has duly escalated to get the guys talking. people.
No sooner had everyone woken up the morning after the Hungarian Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso was announced as an Aston Martin driver from 2023, signing a multi-year deal to replace retired Sebastian Vettel. This news came just when there had been rumors that Oscar Piastri was in talks with McLaren, and the fallout from Alonso’s move duly exposed that stance.
ANALYSIS: What’s going on with Alpine and Oscar Piastri – and what happens next?
Alpine announced Piastri as Alonso’s replacement for next year, but without the young Australian’s intervention, who later refuted the claim and said he would not race for Alpine next year. Where he will race has yet to be announced, with Daniel Ricciardo’s future at McLaren looking increasingly uncertain, but no solution has been confirmed so far.
This is the first time the paddock will meet in Belgium since the driver market is in overdrive, and we will finally hear from all the main protagonists.
2. The rest of the pilot market
While there are still uncertainties over Alpine and McLaren seats, the rest of the driver market is also in limbo.
Aston Martin may have booked their replacement in Vettel – and confirmed Lance Stroll’s current position in the process – but Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams all have vacancies to fill at this stage.
AlphaTauri is unlikely to look outside the Red Bull driver squad if it decides to change Yuki Tsunoda’s seat, but the other three teams could still play a bigger role in the market.
ANALYSIS: Piastri, Ricciardo, Williams and many more – what’s next for the F1 driver market in 2023?
Alfa Romeo has been impressed with Zhou Guanyu this season, while Mick Schumacher started to deliver results with strong performances for Haas ahead of the summer break. But if a driver of Ricciardo’s caliber becomes available, there will likely be widespread interest.
Piastri had previously been linked with a potential move to Williams in 2023, but with that door now appearing to have closed there could also be another opening at Grove if Nicholas Latifi is not retained – with Alex Albon having been signed for a longer-term contract at the beginning of the month. Given the twists and turns of the past few weeks, it would take a brave person to confidently predict what the grid will look like next year.
3. Another threesome fight?
The driver market may have dominated the headlines during the summer break, but the final race before the shutdown delivered what had been in the works for several months, as three teams battled for victory in Budapest.
George Russell took a stunning first pole position to give Mercedes their first Saturday victory of the season, and led the first part of the race before dropping to third place late in the race. It was not a reflection of a lack of pace from Mercedes, as Lewis Hamilton came out of seventh on the grid to finish as the closest challenger to Max Verstappen in second place.
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Verstappen himself won from 10th in a remarkable recovery after problems in qualifying, with Ferrari failing to score a podium after starting second and third respectively with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc was fully in the running until the final stint when a tire choice backfired, but seeing all three teams legitimately chasing victory was an exciting prospect that there could be even more in Belgium. That said, the competition picture might be about to change…
4. How a technical directive could impact the field
One of the areas the FIA has focused heavily on this year is the phenomenon of porpoising – or “vertical oscillations” to use the technical term – and whether it poses a risk to driver safety.
There have been circuits where the number of cars has been extremely low, but others where the problem has been much more pronounced. And the FIA felt that with car developments likely to increase performance and potentially worsen the problem as a result, action needed to be taken.
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Thus, a new metric has been defined which will be used to define an acceptable level of porpoising, with teams expected to stay within limits from this weekend’s race at Spa-Francorchamps. Previously, teams could use the metric to understand if they needed to make changes, and wouldn’t have been punished if they went over the limit – but from now on, there will be penalties.
At the same time, new floor flexibility tests will be introduced, with the FIA announcing “changes to redefine the stiffness requirements for boards and runners around thickness measurement holes” during the break. This is designed to target any ground-related tricks that the FIA suspects circumvent the intent of the regulations, and as the ground is such a critical performance generator, it will be fascinating to see if it has any impact on the competitive order.
5. The new generation car on a special track
Regardless of any upheaval in the relative pace of the grid, how the new cars handle on one of the most exciting tests on the calendar was always going to be something to look forward to. Spa-Francorchamps is a favorite with drivers, and the track offers all manner of practice corners, including at Eau Rouge and Pouhon.
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To see these 2022 cars with downforce being generated from ground close to the track surface has the potential to be amazing, as they have the ability to deliver incredible cornering speeds, but also to be difficult to ride where undulations cause compression or over bumps. Spa should always be an impressive sight.