10 things we learned from the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix

Formula 1 is never too far away from the headlines, and it returned after its summer holidays with a Spa break. From driver market and team news to another pivotal race in the world championship fight, here's 10 of the biggest talking points from the Belgian Grand Prix weekend

10 things we learned from the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix

Formula 1 reconvened after its 2022 summer break with the annual late-August trip to Spa-Francorchamps.

As we’ll cover later on, this event may well be hosted at a different time of the season for its one-year extension on the F1 calendar in 2023. But at the head of the grid it was business as usual.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull were utterly dominant even with the Dutchman saddled by an engine-change grid penalty, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc encountered yet more misfortune misery.

There were plenty of additional talking points from the weekend at Spa, which, even if not a classic race thanks to Verstappen’s astonishing supremacy, at least banished the memories of the washout farce from 2021.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix.

Verstappen has won nine out of 14 F1 races so far in 2022, reaching the level of Vettel's dominance for Red Bull in 2013

Verstappen has won nine out of 14 F1 races so far in 2022, reaching the level of Vettel's dominance for Red Bull in 2013

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

1. Verstappen and Red Bull entering "2013" title territory

“The pace that we had with both Max and Checo was enough to easily pass Carlos and bring home probably one of the most dominant performances that we've had as a team since either 2010 or 2013.”

That was Christian Horner’s assessment of Red Bull’s performance across the weekend at Spa – evoking memories of Sebastian Vettel’s nine-race win streak to end the 2013 season that brought the German’s fourth straight title for the squad.

Red Bull had a particular advantage around the long Spa layout, but the confidence Verstappen currently has in the RB18 combined with Ferrari’s inability to resurrect its title charge is combining to ease his passage to a surely inevitable second world title now his points lead is 93 and over Perez not Leclerc. It was the latter that needed to win every race from Spa to Abu Dhabi to have a hope of winning the championship if Verstappen hit no trouble, but the Dutchman and his team are so good right now even starting at the back of the pack and having to fight back through it is of little concern.

PLUS: Belgian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

Whether it’s the tight Hungaroring or the overtaking-friendly Spa, Verstappen can seemingly win from anywhere right now.

Red Bull were unbeatable at Spa this weekend

Red Bull were unbeatable at Spa this weekend

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

2. Spa’s set-up requirements favoured Red Bull

Red Bull has long had the class car package of the first season of F1’s new rules cycle, but things have generally been very close with Ferrari no matter what track type the championship was visiting. But at Spa, as Sainz acknowledged, the team was “on a different planet”.

The grid penalty situation rather disguised qualifying, but Verstappen’s Q3-topping advantage of 0.632s was stunning. Then in the race, his medium tyre-shod 1m49.354s set on lap 32 was unbeatable against Leclerc’s empty-tank soft tyre run right at the end - albeit with the caveat that the Monegasque had to overtake Fernando Alonso thanks to Ferrari’s latest questionable strategy call.

The hotter conditions on race day favoured Red Bull as it meant the tyre degradation factor became about keeping the rear tyres alive rather than avoiding front graining, which has hurt it on occasions this year. But Verstappen is brilliant at tyre management, although, as he acknowledged post-race, this is an often overlooked part of his game, such is his fantastic speed and car control.

PLUS: How Verstappen scored the best win of his F1 career and furthered Leclerc’s downfall

Perhaps more than anything, the Eau Rouge track compression meaning the teams always have to run higher ride heights around Spa benefitted Red Bull because its design keeps the downforce packed on nevertheless. And there’s its low-drag efficiency, fresh engine power, driver confidence – the list goes on and on. But it still needed a top driver to get the most out of the package and Verstappen did as Perez couldn’t get anywhere near him.

Leclerc has won just one in the last 11 grands prix and is now 98 points behind Verstappen in the championship

Leclerc has won just one in the last 11 grands prix and is now 98 points behind Verstappen in the championship

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

3. Leclerc's misery run continues, with some ‘help’ from his rival

This wasn’t a vintage Leclerc weekend, although as was the case for so many the confusing state of the post-qualifying grid penalties obscured the picture. Another small Ferrari error – sending him out on fresh softs for the first Q3 runs rather than used to help build confidence for the final fliers – didn’t help, but he was second best to Sainz in qualifying even with a fresh engine.

In the race, things might have gone smoother had he been able to make his first lap passing attempt on Verstappen stick, but it wasn’t an easy situation. It was, however, the outcome of that fight that undid Leclerc’s race as he was unfortunate to pick up Verstappen’s discarded visor tear off in his front-right brake duct shortly afterwards.

That meant a safety car stop and running offset to the rest to the finish. Then it bit him again late on when a sensor failing from the brake overheating meant his pitlane speed limiter was a fraction off and he copped a penalty, dropping him to sixth in the final classification.

Major misfortune has been a central theme of Leclerc’s first title challenge and after the latest setback he seemed to be all but saying his defeat is inevitable.

“It is definitely looking extremely difficult now, especially after the pace they’ve shown at Spa’” he concluded.

Hamilton is send airborne after clashing with Alonso on the opening lap

Hamilton is send airborne after clashing with Alonso on the opening lap

4. A rare Hamilton racing error has big and bumpy consequences

Lewis Hamilton is one of the cleanest racers on the F1 grid. Yes, there have been moments where he has been to blame for a rival crashing (e.g. at Silverstone versus Verstappen last year), but it is his ability to generally keep things fair on track that set him apart from other F1 legends Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.

But Hamilton badly messed up on the first lap at Spa, with his decision to stay close to the racing line while trying to go around the outside of old rival Alonso into the first part of Les Combes. Hamilton said the Alpine was in his “blindspot” on the inside, but Alonso simply had nowhere left to go having taken to the kerbs in avoidance when the Mercedes came across and the subsequent contact sent Hamilton bouncing dramatically over the runoff and eventually into retirement.

The stewards took the view that it was a “first lap incident with a lot of movement relative to other cars in the first few corners” and so took no further action. Not that it soothed Alonso, who lost out after making a mega start while Perez dithered ahead and was typically scathing in his team radio assessment of Hamilton’s actions.

FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem speaking to Hamilton after qualifying

FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem speaking to Hamilton after qualifying

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

5. Hamilton’s post-DNF stewards’ warning the latest FIA authoritative stamp

Shortly after Hamilton had finally made it back to the Spa pits following his walk down the dusty Spa access road, a perplexing stewards’ document was released.

This was headed “Offence - Car 44 - Refusal to visit Medical Centre” and concerned Hamilton having apparently “refused to visit the Event Medical Service following his crash on lap one where the medical warning light threshold was exceeded” and “only did so after the race director informed the team that further action could be taken if he did not”, per the document’s contents.

The stewards’ explanation was that this was not the first time in 2022 that a driver had refused to go to the medical centre for evaluation in similar crash circumstances, although they did acknowledge it was the first time concerning Hamilton. Indeed, the warning issued essentially at the behest of Niels Wittich demonstrates how concerned the governing body is by such actions and that it wants to eradicate them.

But it also marks the latest round of the FIA clamping down on the drivers in 2022, which goes back to the early-season arguments over wearing jewellery and compliant fireproof underwear.

The F1 driver market kicked into action over the summer break, focused on Aston Martin, Alpine and McLaren

The F1 driver market kicked into action over the summer break, focused on Aston Martin, Alpine and McLaren

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

6. The summer break driver market drama has harmed reputations

Given how the summer break started, with Aston Martin sensationally announcing it had hired Alonso for 2023 to replace the retiring Vettel, the first race back was always going to be explosive given the parties involved could finally fully face the media.

Alonso was as punchy with his soundbites as one would expect of a driver so savvy in playing the spotlight game. But it was his comment that “Otmar probably didn’t know anything” that likely stung for Otmar Szafnauer. However, the Alpine team boss clarified there was no rift with the departing Spaniard and claimed he hadn’t been told of Alonso’s Aston signing ahead of time simply because there wasn’t enough left to phone him after Alonso had informed Renault CEO Luca de Meo and Alpine boss Laurent Rossi, plus his engineers and mechanics, in the 30 minutes before the news broke.

Szafnauer was also very involved in giving Alpine’s side of the Oscar Piastri saga, saying he wished the reigning Formula 2 champion “had a bit more integrity”. In response, McLaren boss Zak Brown hit back saying “I’m not sure he comes with the highest level of credibility and making accusations around ethics” in reference to Racing Point’s ‘Pink Mercedes’ 2020 design when Szafnauer helmed that squad.

All very piranha club stuff, but given Piastri is still a total unknown at F1 level, his reputation is being similarly stained by this affair. As Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff warned, “some of the kids should be wary on Twitter what they said about multinational organisations”.

The driver McLaren wants Piastri to replace, Daniel Ricciardo, was forthright and emotional with his response at Spa to his effective sacking by the orange team. This was to his credit, but in the elder Australian’s case it is his on-track performances that are harming his reputation rather than any paddock politicking.

Piastri's future is set to be clarified by the F1 Contract Recognition Board this week

Piastri's future is set to be clarified by the F1 Contract Recognition Board this week

Photo by: Alpine

7. The 2023 driver market is still set for further twists

At the time of writing, the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board is analysing the Piastri/Alpine/McLaren situation, with its outcome set to massively influence how the remaining 2023 driver market moves shake out.

More: How CRB decision will decide Piastri’s F1 fate

But a few more intriguing details emerged from this sphere at Spa. For a start, Alpine has apparently contacted Red Bull about a possible deal to take Pierre Gasly from AlphaTauri. Given the Frenchman has virtually no chance of going back to the senior Red Bull squad, a move makes sense if all sides can agree. That, however, is far from certain.

Mick Schumacher’s Haas career is now very much at risk, while Andretti Autosport's IndyCar driver Colton Herta has also come into the F1 frame. For both youngsters, rumours on their futures are understood to be related to Red Bull’s need to futureproof its driver programme to supply its senior team and perhaps please Porsche (by signing a German such as Schumacher) ahead of its expected agreement to buy 50% of Red Bull’s F1 operation.

All of this spells danger to Ricciardo’s hopes of remaining on the grid as there are seemingly more candidates than seats, but overall demonstrates how much manoeuvring still remains before the 2023 grid is finally set.

Spa-Francorchamps debuted its track updates for the first time with F1 in town

Spa-Francorchamps debuted its track updates for the first time with F1 in town

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

8. Spa gets F1 calendar reprieve but not confidence

Ahead of the race last Sunday, F1 announced that Spa would retain its place on the calendar for 2023. The event had been under severe threat of losing its spot with its previous deal expiring just as F1 is receiving major hosting interest from countries and cities across the world as its popularity booms.

The expectation of eight races in Europe next year meant Spa looked set to drop off in favour of a return to South Africa, with China also needing to be slotted in for the first time since 2019. But with uncertainty over those returns in the short-term, F1 has opted to give Spa a reprieve, rewarding its efforts to improve its logistics and fan experience for 2022. This means the circuit revamps, most notably at Eau Rouge, will be seen in motorsport’s pinnacle of another year.

But a one-year extension is not a glowing endorsement, with the Spa contract saga now set to be repeated next year – although likely earlier in the season with Belgium hosting its race earlier in the summer.

Audi announced it will enter F1 as a power unit supplier from 2026, but hasn't confirmed which team it will partner up with yet

Audi announced it will enter F1 as a power unit supplier from 2026, but hasn't confirmed which team it will partner up with yet

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

9. Audi’s arrival is official, but not all the details are done

After the driver market had taken centre stage on Thursday at Spa, on Friday morning F1 and the FIA took steps to ensure a different kind of announcement took the headlines. This was Audi declaring its F1 foray from the start of 2026, complete with an Audi-branded F1 show car.

This is welcome news for the championship given it also reflects its current interest boom, while also demonstrating that its racing and technical rules can be aligned to attract new manufacturers.

PLUS: How Formula 1’s Audi coup has been realised

The next cycle of engine regulations being finalised by the FIA earlier in August cleared the last hurdle for Audi, but there are still details to be arranged about its future entry. That is, essentially, how it goes about establishing things with an existing team it will soon run given fellow Volkswagen brand Porsche is set to embark on an engine supply deal Red Bull.

Audi has seemingly settled on taking over the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo squad, but its senior management insist no final decision has been taken. Alfa Romeo has said its name will exit F1 after 2023, the year in which Audi is expected to start buying up the Sauber shares currently owned by Finn Rausing.

Mercedes only used its full special livery on a show car at Spa

Mercedes only used its full special livery on a show car at Spa

Photo by: Erik Junius

10. F1's weight problem spoils a certain part of the fun

Red Bull has done a lot of good in F1, but in 2021 one of its most eye-catching decisions was to re-livery its RB16B in homage to Honda ahead of the engine manufacturer’s official F1 exit. The mostly-white design the team ran in Turkey (a replacement for the abandoned Suzuka event that would’ve been Honda’s last home race) stood out and showcased the brand exposure benefits, as well as fun for fans, one-off liveries can create in F1.

At Spa, Mercedes was celebrating the 55th anniversary of the launch of its AMG performance division. It went as far as dressing up another F1 show car in a tribute design based on the ‘Red Pig' livery on the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.8 AMG that finished second overall and won its class at the 1971 Spa 24 Hours. But Mercedes only fitted vintage-style larger number stickers to its W13s and a tweaked celebration 55th anniversary signet. There were several key reasons, one of which highlights a fundamental issue in modern F1.

First, the triple-header meant Mercedes did not have the time to put on and then strip off a one-off livery ahead of this weekend’s trip to Zandvoort. The team is also reluctant to fully embrace a celebratory livery change after its decision to do so at the 2019 German GP badly backfired.

“We have a weight issue,” Wolff added. “So that will not have worked either. That's why we just came back to the least possible impact on performance.”

The current cars are heavier than ever because of reinforced crash structures and certain standard parts coming in weighing more than predicted for 2022. All teams, bar Alfa, have had to shed weight to get near the minimum requirement and gain performance as a result. But if the fun of one-off liveries is being spoiled because the extra paint or sticker weight is too much of a burden, then F1 should intervene. After all, where’s the harm?

Mercedes restricted its special livery use due to a weighty issue

Mercedes restricted its special livery use due to a weighty issue

Photo by: Erik Junius

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