Dan Stars At Spa

Dan Stars At Spa

Dan Ricciardo is the only bright spark at the finish of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Bouncing around like an Energizer Bunny, celebrating fourth place and fastest lap and threatening that Renault team boss Cyril Abetiboul will soon be wearing a celebratory tattoo, he is the antidote to another boring Mercedes-Benz procession.

The Honey Badger has every reason to celebrate as Renault scores its best finish – fourth and fifth with Esteban Ocon – since returning to Formula One with a full manufacturer team.

“What a race and definitely an excellent result for the team. We had a lot of pace today and fourth is a strong result. It’s been a while since I’ve had the fastest lap of the race, so that was also nice,” says Ricciardo.

But despite winning again, Lewis Hamilton is almost apologetic as he marches more and more confidently to the all-time grand prix records set by Michael Schumacher.

‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game,’ is the message from Hamilton to Formula One fans who might be getting jaded from seeing the same car and driver at the top of the podium, even if that person is him.

After taking his fifth win from seven races this year and his 89th career victory at Spa, just two shy of Michael Schumacher’s record, Hamilton says there will be no time for partying as the team prepares for the next race at Monza in Italy in seven days.

“I know it’s not necessarily what everyone always wants, to see Mercedes at the front, but no matter how much success we have, we just keep our heads down,” he says after leading every lap of the Belgian Grand Prix and, with the help of wing man Valtteri Bottas, giving Mercedes its 50th one-two finish since returning to the sport in 2010.

“When I go back to the office now there’s not guys celebrating. They’re like, ‘How can we win the next race?’,” Hamilton says.

“It’s an incredible mentality. The guys continue to learn about ourselves, about the car, how we develop and improve, week-in and week out.”

Hamilton is now close to commanding a two-race points buffer over his nearest championship challenger, being 47 clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who is third at Spa, while Bottas has an air of defeat about him, almost resigning himself to runner-up status yet again.

“At the start, it would have been a good opportunity for me but Lewis played it well and I couldn’t get momentum,” Bottas says.

“I think Lewis was faultless today and in qualifying yesterday. I’m just happy there’s an opportunity again next weekend,” he adds.

From lights out, Hamilton was never troubled, starting from his 93rd pole position to open more than a second’s lead over Bottas in less than two laps.

He repeats the fast get-away on lap 15 after the Safety Car is called to clear debris after the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovanazzi speared off at Fagnes corner, tearing a wheel off which cannoned into the side of George Russell’s Williams to end both their races.

As Renault upsets the finishing order, Ferrari is miserable as Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc train home in 13th and 14th after banging wheels at once stage in their battle for best of the worst.

“The underlying factor is that we were just not quick enough and it’s a bit difficult, you cannot pull out miracles. There are a lot of lessons from this weekend and we have two important races coming that we need to focus on,” Vettel says.

With Ferrari effectively out of contention in 2020 the man most likely to challenge for the title, as slim as that chance may now be, is Max Verstappen who remains second in the title fight.

The Dutchman makes an earlier-than-planned switch to hard-compound tyres following the early safety car for the Giovanni crash, which forces him to manage his pace for the remainder of the race in order to keep to a one-stop strategy.

“It’s a shame, it’s such an amazing track and then we can’t really push,” he says.

For Ricciardo, the excitement is all at the end as he celebrates a great result with the fastest lap.

“It was a proper big lap,” he says.

“My engineer told me what the current fastest was and I thought ‘I got this’! I used all the track and went for it. Maybe it was better than my qualifying lap.”

And he is now looking more confidently towards Monza, when Mercedes-Benz could be potentially hobbled by the banning of the ‘Party Mode’ which gives them such a big boost from their turbo hybrid power-plant.

“This was a good track for us last year and Monza was even better. We’ll see what happens, but we can go there with a lot of confidence,” he adds.