IIn a season that is already determined by small margins between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, the Belgian Grand Prix of this weekend can decide which driver has a champion winning lead over the title run. The glorious explosion through the forests of the Ardennes is rightly a favorite with the drivers, but it will also be a fight generous for the engineers when Mercedes and Ferrari take a hp position in Spa.
Hamilton leads Vettel with 24 points in the world championship, a gap that does not indicate how close their fight was. The management changed ownership six times this season and the British driver's advantage comes from the victory in Germany, where Vettel crashed, and Hungary. Their cars are, however, remarkably coordinated and the expected developmental war between the front runners has been fierce. In Spa, a largely power-dependent circuit, both teams have taken new engines to steal a march – the first time they introduced a major upgrade to the same race.
Mercedes, dominant in engine power for the past four years, is now finally equaled and even passed by the Scuderia. Since Silverstone Ferrari has the fastest car in a straight line and they want to keep their advantage, especially here and in the next round at Monza, both circuits where drivers lean heavily on the gas.
For Hamilton and Vettel, locked in an intense fight, each border could prove crucial and the British recognized the import of successful development. "Of course every upgrade we have and every opportunity there is important for an upgrade," he said. "These are two big power circuits that we have this next two weekends, this weekend I think they did [Ferrari] have a new power source, we will have a new power source. So it will be interesting to see how they interact with each other, but of course I have a lot of confidence. "
At last year's race there was nothing to choose between the two. Hamilton's track position of pole proved crucial for his victory, but he was continually harassed by Vettel everywhere. The German remained almost the entire race within one and a half seconds. Similar can still be expected, with Spa's high speed challenge, which looks faster this year than ever. That power will be crucial, is clear on a job where 70% of a round is taken at full speed and the run from La Source to Les Combes via Eau Rouge-Raidillon has been comfortable for a long time. But this weekend even the glorious left-handed sweep by Pouhon can be flat, with Max Verstappen who seemed to do that in his Red Bull in the first training session.
Last season, Spa was a turning point for Hamilton – he won four of the next five races – and Vettel has admitted that Ferrari could not keep up with the development of Mercedes. This season, the German has repeatedly put confidence in his machines and will remain competitive. He believes he can take the fight on the wire, a task that seems all the more feasible if his team rises as winners of the power struggle in Belgium.
Elsewhere there was already a battle between Fernando Alonso and Red Bull, which became involved in a series of increasingly violent claims and counterclaims. Alonso, who had announced that he would leave Formula One at the end of the season, said on Thursday that he had rejected an offer for a seat in Red Bull after Daniel Ricciardo had chosen to leave, but the team denied that there was a approach was applied. Alonso stayed with his weapons and claimed that he had offers in Monaco and this month. Red Bull has since chosen to promote Pierre Gasly from Toro Rosso and the team chief, Christian Horner, remained adamant on Friday, and such approaches were not made to Alonso.
"To be completely clear, there was no offer for Fernando Alonso next year," he said. "He is a fantastic driver, a great talent, we had a question [Alonso’s manager] Flavio Briatore and Liberty but the position in Red Bull has always been clear. We invest in young people and have a talent pool with the Red Bull junior program. We have offered Fernando a contract in the past, but that was already in 2007. "
Vettel closed the timesheets in the first training for Verstappen and three tenths on Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen was in the afternoon the fastest 0.168 second away from Hamilton in second place with Vettel, who finished his fast lap, in fifth place.