Belgian GP Thursday

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By: Matt Beer

Summary

Status: Stopped
12:20
As a goodnight present - some more classic Spa action from the Motorsport Images archive: Alain Prost leads as things go awry for Nelson Piquet in 1985

As a goodnight present - some more classic Spa action from the Motorsport Images archive: Alain Prost leads as things go awry for Nelson Piquet in 1985

12:16 That's where we'll leave you on this news-packed day, which began with the possibility of Marcus Ericsson stepping in for Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo this weekend, then featured two major pieces of the 2020 driver line-up falling into place, and plenty of speculation over the next moves and reaction to everything that had occurred.

Thanks for your company today, we'll be back with our usual Autosport Live coverage of every moment of track action from Spa over the rest of the weekend.
12:14 It seems a long time ago now on this packed day, but earlier on Mercedes officially announced that it had picked Bottas rather than Ocon to be Hamilton's 2020 team-mate.

Though Bottas came out fighting with a superb start to this season, he's long since trailed away from Hamilton in what initially looked like it might become a spicy intra-team title battle.

Team boss Toto Wolff has mentioned "weaknesses" that Bottas still needs to deal with. Here's Edd Straw's take on the problems Bottas must swiftly eliminate in what is already a battle to hold onto his seat for 2021:
The lingering weaknesses Bottas must eliminate now - F1 - Autosport Plus
12:08
Twenty years ago this weekend, this was the battle for victory in the Belgian GP supporting Formula 3000 race - Jason Watt fending off Gonzalo Rodriguez.<br><br>Both were drivers who could've made it to F1, but tragedy struck both within a month of that Spa race. Rodriguez was killed in a Champ Car crash at Laguna Seca, and Watt was left paralysed in a motorcycle crash just after also winning the F3000 finale at the Nurburgring - though he would later return to racing in an adapted car.<br><br>The 20th anniversary of the Watt/Rodriguez fight probably won't be on many people's minds in the Spa paddock this weekend, but we felt it was worth marking.

Twenty years ago this weekend, this was the battle for victory in the Belgian GP supporting Formula 3000 race - Jason Watt fending off Gonzalo Rodriguez.

Both were drivers who could've made it to F1, but tragedy struck both within a month of that Spa race. Rodriguez was killed in a Champ Car crash at Laguna Seca, and Watt was left paralysed in a motorcycle crash just after also winning the F3000 finale at the Nurburgring - though he would later return to racing in an adapted car.

The 20th anniversary of the Watt/Rodriguez fight probably won't be on many people's minds in the Spa paddock this weekend, but we felt it was worth marking.

12:00 From someone talking about an unchanged 2020 team-mate to someone talking about their new one... Reporters raised Hulkenberg's suggestion that Ocon's nationality was "one piece of the puzzle" in his Renault deal with Ricciardo this afternoon.

"Actually, maybe this is breaking news as well: Esteban is also Australian. He has an Australian passport. I have a Monegasque [one]," was Ricciardo's not entirely serious response.

But also: "I’m not convinced the team is making decisions based on marketing at the moment. The one objective and the reason I signed, is because they want to be a top team and fighting for championships.

"Maybe the French thing is a bonus, but I would definitely say performance and growth in the team is the bigger reason why they signed with him."
11:56 Hamilton's first reaction when asked for his thoughts on Bottas getting a fourth season as his team-mate: "Is it four years already?"

He was clearly very content with the news.

"We have a great relationship, Valtteri and I, it's constantly improving," he said.

"I think it was a smart decision from the team, and I really look forward to working with him - I really enjoy working with him in general, we get on well both outside and on the track."
11:54 Earlier today we mentioned Magnussen bluntly dismissing any suggestion that his 2017 Hungarian GP "suck my balls" spat with potential 2020 Haas team-mate Hulkenberg might sour their relationship should they end up sharing a garage next year.

Haas team principal Gunther Steiner was very relaxed about this, given how much his current employees Grosjean and Magnussen have clashes on track:

"We are running into each other even without history!" he joked. "We would manage..."
11:46 Later in the weekend we'll hear from Ocon about sealing his return to the F1 grid with Renault for 2020. In the meantime, here's some insight on what he's been doing in his behind the scenes Mercedes role this year:

11:45 What's the first thing you think of when you think of Spa? For most people it's surely Eau Rouge.

Autosport Performance recently looked into how F1's most famous corner had changed over the years (more than you might think) and how drivers' perceptions of it had shifted, and also got some expert tips on how to tackle it.

Here's the full feature, which also includes Ricardo Zonta's take on BAR's infamous pair of Eau Rouge shunts in 1999 Belgian GP qualifying:
The evolution of Eau Rouge - Autosport Performance
11:41 Haas has had a perplexing year in which it has at times appeared to have the fourth-fastest car on pure pace but somehow finds itself only ninth in the constructors' championship amid tyre woes, split specs on its cars and that entertaining title sponsor eventfulness.

After a run of races where Magnussen and Grosjean were driving different specification cars, they're back in the same equipment this weekend - a 'refined' version of an upgrade that first appeared in Germany last month.

But Magnussen doesn't think there's any certainty of light at the end of the tunnel yet:

"I think we got some good data to compare directly across the cars, but it’s hard to say what we learned," he said of the split-spec races.

"It’s going to be a process of ironing out the problems with this upgrade and try and work our way through the weaknesses and build up the strengths we’ve seen on this upgrade."
11:25 For a bit more insight into Gasly's mood today, here's how his media session ended:

Q. Have you talked to Kvyat about the situation?

PG: Nothing.

Q. Are you expecting help on that front?

PG: No.

Q. Have you spoken to Alex Albon about what he can expect at Red Bull?

PG: No.

Q. What can he expect?

PG: It’s a top team. They have their way of working. It’s a really strong team and really competitive so for him it will be a positive change.
11:20 There's perhaps more interest in the Honda engine upgrade, partly because it'll mean a grid penalty for Albon on his Red Bull debut, but also because this is the first year when Honda might really be a team to fear at a power track:
Honda brings new F1 engine for Belgian GP but not for Verstappen
11:16 Vettel was also asked for his thoughts on Mercedes turning up with a new engine spec this weekend, something Ferrari doesn't have just yet.

He shrugged it off - "for us the plan is clear and we won't have a new engine yet" - and Hamilton pretty much did too, with Edd Straw reporting that the world champion suggested the new Mercedes unit wouldn't be a huge difference.
11:15 Here's more from Vettel playing down the talk of Ferrari having an excellent shot at ending its win drought this weekend. He says his priority for the remaining part of this troubled season is to help the team make sure it's "drawing the right conclusions" because it's going to be a long 2020 as well otherwise.

"Next year, the rules will remain relatively the same, so this year will give you some idea of what will happen in the next year and a half," he points out.
11:13 This week we've been counting down the 50 most influential people in modern motorsport in a new annual feature - The Power List.

Plenty of the movers and shakers, and drivers, in the F1 paddock feature in it:
Autosport’s 2019 Motorsport Power List
11:07 Lando Norris has confirmed he has the all-clear to race after a tendon inflammation from running left him wearing a supportive boot during the week. The boot is gone and Norris is ready to go.
11:04 In Lewis Hamilton's media session just now, he was very adamant that Ferrari will be a real threat here at Spa and also at Monza next weekend.

That's very much in line with what Mercedes engine chief Andy Cowell recently insisted to Jonathan Noble:
The one area Mercedes is losing - F1 - Autosport Plus
11:03
Charles Leclerc was one of several F1 drivers expressing their sympathy for Pierre Gasly this afternoon. However, that wasn't what he was being asked about when this shot was taken

Charles Leclerc was one of several F1 drivers expressing their sympathy for Pierre Gasly this afternoon. However, that wasn't what he was being asked about when this shot was taken

10:57
Racing Point is the latest team to add a pair of fins to the point at which the chassis joins the nose, adding a solution not dissimilar to Mercedes' interpretation.<br><br>These help to regulate the airflow over the chassis and helps to control it around the pushrod pick-up point. The fins have been used in conjunction with an S-duct on other cars, but Racing Point doesn't run one and so these are largely to bring airflow down the flanks of the car.

Racing Point is the latest team to add a pair of fins to the point at which the chassis joins the nose, adding a solution not dissimilar to Mercedes' interpretation.

These help to regulate the airflow over the chassis and helps to control it around the pushrod pick-up point. The fins have been used in conjunction with an S-duct on other cars, but Racing Point doesn't run one and so these are largely to bring airflow down the flanks of the car.

10:51 In his social media post immediately after Renault announced he was being replaced by Ocon next year, Hulkenberg hinted at "a whole bundle of factors" that meant the decision was "not only about performance".

He's been elaborating on that to reporters, including saying that Ocon and Renault both being French was "one piece of the puzzle”.

We've got plenty more on Hulkenberg's latest career development to come later today and tomorrow on our news pages, including the chances of him ending up joining Magnussen at Haas, the other factors Hulkenberg believes were involved in Renault's choice and the moment he saw the writing was on the wall for his time at the team.
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