Mercedes denied Formula 1 fans a contest when they blatantly told Valtteri Bottas to hold fire very early on during the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, a call that there-and-then ended the race as a contest, which became a predictable and boring procession to the podium for the top three.
With hopes that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen would work his magic and disturb the Mercedes juggernaut dashed, Honda-power again proved no match for the Merc horses, the focus was then on Bottas to take the fight to his teammate and team leader.
The Finn looked up for a fight, keeping the #44 Mercedes well in his sights, but when asked if he could have a go, he was told to hold fire.
Mercedes team radio on lap 7 of the 44 lap race:
Bottas: “We have one push now?”
Engineer: “We do, but we agreed not to use against each other.”
Bottas: “I’ve never heard of that!”
That was that. End of the race. End of the contest and a hollow victory for the best driver on the grid, with the best car and his teammate shackled. How could Lewis lose this race? He didn’t. He won and Bottas, as commanded, was dutifully second.
Because of the team orders, Hamilton was able to do as he pleased at the front. After the safety car, he simply took it to another level, controlling the pace whenever he felt the need in what will go down as one of his easiest victories, no matter what he says.
The World Champion summed up his afternoon, “It wasn’t the easiest of races. I had a lock up into Turn 5 which started to give a bit of vibration and the tyre temps were slowly dropping. It was a bit of a struggle but nonetheless I think it was OK. I was a little nervous we might have something like at Silverstone with the tyre so I was nursing it.
“I know it is not necessarily what everyone wants to see – the Mercedes at the front – but no matter how much success we have to just keep our heads down. When I go back to the office now no-one is celebrating, it’s heads down and thinking about the next race. It is an incredible mentality.”
As for Bottas, he was clearly perplexed afterwards when asked about the hold-fire command, “Actually I had no clue about that. They may have said that at some point but I don’t recall. I think Lewis was faultless today and yesterday he was quick. It was a clean weekend for me. I’m just happy there’s an opportunity again next weekend.”
In third place, Verstappen simply does not have the ammo to take on the dominant black cars but was the best of the rest by a margin on the day.
A podium his reward for a lonely day at the office for the Dutchman so keen for a fair fight but denied again, “It was pretty boring. Not much to do. I couldn’t keep up with them when they started pushing. The last eight laps I was just backing it out and saving the tyres.
“It was not really enjoyable out there today. It was a bit lonely. Maybe it is not the most satisfying P3 but it is still better than nothing. We had no tyres left at the end and I was not taking any risks. We just maximised what we could.”
Renault enjoyed one of their best days in a long while with Daniel Ricciardo fourth and Esteban Ocon fifth, the Frenchman nipping past Alex Albon in the final stages; the Red Bull driver settled for sixth, again outclassed by his teammate.
Carlos Sainz never made it onto the grid, after his out lap to the grid the car Renault PU on the McLaren started smoking. He pitted and parked it for a disappointing DNS for the driver who would’ve started seventh.
His teammate Lando Norris slugged it out all afternoon, doing well to finish seventh ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in eighth. The Frenchman enjoying a strong showing early in the race as the only driver on hard tyres but the safety car conspired against him.
Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez were ninth and tenth respectively, the Racing Point duo never finding the sweet-spot in their chassis this weekend; and the Mexican will be asking his team why he was not pitted when the safety car was deployed.
Ferrari! 13th and 14th! Sebastian Vettel edging Charles Leclerc to end a calamitous weekend for the Reds who have lost their way under Mattia Binotto in a manner never witnessed in the team’s illustrious history.
Kimi Raikkonen powering past Vettel in the Alfa Romeo was yet another cruel blow and a bitter pill, hard to swallow for fans of the best-supported team in motorsport.
Early in the race, the safety car was deployed when Antonio Giovinazzi crashed his Alfa Romeo exiting Campus on lap 9, another unforced error by the Italian who again did himself no favours and gave ammo to those who believe he is not an F1 driver.
George Russell was first on the chaotic scene, a loose wheel and debris smacking his Williams as he slithered into the barrier trying to avoid the partially disintegrated Alfa.