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F1 Belgian Grand Prix: What we learned

Crash.net's team in the F1 paddock bring you some of the stories and rumours that have been bubbling behind the scenes during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend
Mercedes could open the title door

Mercedes' race day at the Belgian Grand Prix started with a press release about how the team and brake manufacturer Brembo had finally got to the bottom of what caused Lewis Hamilton's brake failure during qualifying for the German GP, but it ended with much bigger failures to investigate…

Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been experiencing an increasingly fractious relationship as the title race ebbs and flows between the two of them. While that is understandable and acceptable for Mercedes, contact between the two drivers was not. Whatever was said in the post-race meeting, clearly both drivers are starting to operate outside the team's control and it needs to pull them back in quickly.

All of which is music to Red Bull's ears. While the constructors' championship is long gone, Daniel Ricciardo is edging closer in the standings and his win at Spa came on a circuit where Red Bull should have been even weaker compared to Mercedes. Monza is another big hurdle, but as the Abu Dhabi finale draws closer the fight between Rosberg and Hamilton will only get more intense and further opportunities may well open up for Ricciardo to keep himself in the frame. History shows that if he can be in touch at the final race, anything can happen...

Choosing your grid drop strategy

With only five power units per driver per season and all manner of early season reliability issues for all of the engine manufacturers, we are now approaching the point in the season when mandatory grid drop penalties are going to come into play as drivers exceed their legal supply.

But with each component change costing a driver five rows on Sunday's grid, the brains on the pit walls are now putting their minds to strategic grid drops, choosing to replace engine components before the actual end of their shelf-life so that penalties can be incurred at races where grid position is less important. Starting five rows back at Monza is challenging. But to do the same at Singapore? Borderline impossible.

Upon arrival at Spa, both Sebastian Vettel and Jules Bianchi were already on their fourth ICEs of the season, and both men used their fifth new ICE in Belgium. With seven races remaining, at least one 10-place grid penalty will be inevitable for both men, while 13 of their rivals - including title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg - now have only one fresh ICE remaining of their allocation.

“We [will] have to pull an extra engine anyway,” Vettel said in Spa. “It is whether we can live on six or if we have to get another one. … It is inevitable anyway for us to go through the second half of the season with penalties.”

The ICE is not the only power unit component subject to such restrictions, and Bianchi has also reached his limit of new turbochargers.

Costly consortia

It wasn't what we all thought, but he refused to tell us what it really was. Max Chilton's brief disappearance from the Spa entry list may have appeared to be all about the money, but we were very firmly told it wasn't the case. Not that any other answers were given…

What Marussia's game of hokey-cokey with Chilton and Alexander Rossi revealed, however, was the different approaches to driver funding on offer at the back of the grid.

Chilton comes equipped with financial backing from a consortia of private and corporate investors who have paid for the young racer's drive in exchange for a stake in his future earnings should the Briton move further up the grid - and the tax bracket. It's an unusual approach, but it was the only way Chilton could afford to make the step up to Formula One.

Rossi's approach is rather different, as the American racer doesn't bring money to the table. Instead, his unique selling point is the new sponsorship avenues open to any team willing to be the first (since Scott Speed) to put an American in their car. But after several years with Caterham there was not a proliferation of US companies rushing to get their logos on the car, so it is up for debate whether or not Rossi's approach is likely to bear fruit.

Making Alexander's life both potentially easier and considerably more complicated is the 2016 arrival of the Haas Formula One team. Should Rossi not be given a drive with the team, he will be in competition with a billionaire's Rolodex when it comes to securing sponsorship Stateside.

Changes on the board

While Bernie Ecclestone's Munich settlement has given the F1 supremo the chance to return to the board of Delta Topco, his legal difficulties now behind him, there are further changes afoot to the power structure of Formula One.

The Lehman Brothers' stake in Formula One was not sold by 30 June as was originally supposed to have been the case, and with Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LBHI) keen to divest themselves of their stake in the very near future they are pushing to name a new board representative, said to be Sean Mahoney, formerly of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

According to reports from Sky News' Mark Kleinman, Mahoney's appointment is expected to be made official before the next Delta Topco directors' meeting, scheduled to take place next month. Should the desired quick sale happen, however, Mahoney's tenure on the Delta Topco board is not likely to be a long one.

LBHI are said to be in advanced talks with American media mogul John Malone, who was first linked with purchasing a share of the sport in February of this year. Malone's Liberty Global, which Forbes describes as a “cable and telecom giant”, was named as a possible purchaser, as was Discovery Communications, in which Malone has a sizeable stake. Both Liberty Global and Discovery Communications are named as prospective buyers of LBHI's 15 percent, making it all but certain that Malone will have a degree of influence over Formula One sooner rather than later.

Kamui may not be back at Monza

Caterham surprised many by announcing Andre Lotterer as one of its race drivers for this weekend in place of Kamui Kobayashi, with Lotterer's chance coming over ten years after he last drove an F1 car as test driver for Jaguar. The deal was initially for one race, signalling that Kobayashi could be back in the car at Monza, but that now looks unlikely.

Crash.net understands that the team has been in talks with two of the Formula Renault 3.5 title protaganists - Carlos Sainz Jr and Roberto Merhi - about future race drives, but no decision has yet been made over which - if either - could take Kobayashi's seat in Italy.

While Sainz Jr leads the championship and has been on Caterham's radar for some time, his future is uncertain after issues with Red Bull which contributed in some form to him being overlooked for the Toro Rosso seat next year in favour of 16-year-old Max Verstappen. Merhi, on the other hand, has emerged in the FR3.5 title race after two wins and a second place in the last three races, and is in Caterham's thoughts after returning to single seaters following two years in DTM.

By Kate Walker and Chris Medland


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Mark _

August 25, 2014 7:52 PM

ramjam 69: Lewis had a very valid reason for wanting to park the car. He's an engine down after qualifying in Hungary. Or have you conveniently forgotten that? What we did learn was that Nico is prepared to do anything to won the championship, however underhand......
It is not the first time that he has wanted to park it. Valid reason or not he wanted to and did quit the race. Nico's only mistake was not standing up to Lewis's aggressive driving sooner. I am glad that he finally showed that he won't back down anymore.



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