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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

This Spa is not for everyone – particularly Daniel Ricciardo

Last Sunday the world of motorsport had its eyes glued to a little town in Belgium named “Spa.” The 14th grand prix of the Formula 1 season returned to Belgium for the 78th time. Lots can be said based on what happened this weekend but the best news to come out of the race was that the Belgian Grand Prix would be included in the 2023 F1 season. But before the drama, race statistics and leaderboard can be discussed it is important to first give an overview of the Belgian Grand Prix track and history.

 

Spa is known as one of the most beautiful towns in Belgium due to its hilly landscape and large array of manors and mansions. This landscape, believe it or not, can also greatly impact the grand prix course and how drivers and their pit crews strategize racing on it. Spa has been known to rain constantly and this season turned out to be one of the few where drivers did not have to compensate for a slippery track. In fact, this grand prix track is the longest on the F1 circuit and in a few instances has had rain on one end of the track and dry pavement on the other. 

 

Spa challenges drivers to be fast (it is a race after all) with some of the longest straits in any F1 race while not allowing others to pass them using DRS. So for those wanting to see high speed action, this is the race to tune into during the F1 season. 

 

So, on Sunday the cars pulled into their spots after the formation lap with Spain’s Carlos Sainz in pole position (the first spot on the grid) in his red Ferrari. Behind him was Sergio “Checo” Perez of Mexico in his Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton of the United Kingdom (seven time world champion of F1) in his Mercedes and all the way in 14th position was the current leader in the F1 season: Max Verstappen (last year’s F1 world champion) of the Netherlands in his Red Bull. All eyes were on these four cars to see who would pull away in the end and win the Belgian Grand Prix.

 

Sainz was able to hold a good lead for the most of the race as he took an early pit to get new tires only a few laps into the race. Perez played the long game and kept on his tail until the very last moment. The true drama of the race when it comes to crashes came early on in the race at turn three and four where Hamilton collided into Fernando Alonso, a driver for Alpine. Hamilton was attempting an outside overtake on turn three to give him an advantage over Alonso into turn four but cut it too short. Hamilton’s rear right tire went into Alonso’s front left which sent Hamilton well into the air. On the landing the undercarriage of Hamilton’s car was damaged and he had to retire the car in only the first few moments of the race.

 

This crash has been one in a series of unfortunate events for Mercedes this year as they struggle to maintain the dominance they had in F1 over the past decade. With Hamilton out everyone was watching to see what the young lion (Max Verstappen) would do to pick up the pace. In no time (only a matter of fifteen to seventeen laps) Max was able to climb from where he started in 14th place all the way to third. An 11-car overtake in one race is no small feat but any fan of Verstappen knows that he does not settle for third or second. As the leader in the F1 season he needed a first place win to enhance his lead in the points and distance himself further from his competition at Ferrari—Charles Leclerc (Sainz’s teammate).

 

Before anyone could even utter the sentence, “Max is in third place,” Red Bull had given team orders to Perez to let Max overtake him. All Max had to do then was wait patiently until Sainz was in striking distance. After four laps the opportunity presented itself but what made it so interesting was that it was not just one Red Bull car passing the Ferrari—it was two. Verstappen made his move early which is not to discredit Perez who followed behind. Sergio proved why he is in the second Red Bull seat, because when the checkered flag was flying the first two cars to cross the line were the Red Bulls. Verstappen in first, Perez in second and Sainz in third.

 

But the driver who did not receive major attention was Daniel Ricciardo in his McLaren. The Australian started the race on the grid in seventh position. He was in points contention and well ahead of his teammate, Lando Norris, who was 10 positions back in 17th place. Ricciardo in the past four years has changed teams about as frequently as Kim Kardashian finds new boyfriends since her divorce. In 2018 Ricciardo was a Red Bull driver with teammate Max Verstappen. But after a poor season due to teammate infighting he decided to leave and join Renault for the 2019 season hoping to make a bigger name for himself. However, due to consistent engine failures and poor performance from the team Ricciardo decided to change teams one more time in the 2020 season and join McLaren.

 

Thinking he had found a new team Ricciardo and the McLaren team signed a three-year contract due to expire at the end of the 2023 season. Unfortunately, McLaren and Ricciardo never seemed to work together. Whether it was Daniel being unable to get the most out of the car or McLaren’s love for its other racer Lando Norris, there was never as much attention put onto Daniel as there should have been.

 

During his time at McLaren, Ricciardo was not performing to what the team had expected of the former Grand Prix winner and one of the best racers on the grid. Their disappointment was never something that they hid, but things took a new turn in the past couple of weeks. It was announced that McLaren was using the buy-out clause of their contract with Ricciardo to remove him from his seat for the 2023 season. At the moment Ricciardo is without offers from other teams as it is still fairly early in the season for contract negotiations to begin. But the question left on the table is who really let Ricciardo down?

 

In Spa this weekend, Ricciardo was consistently in the fight for points and well ahead of his much preferred teammate Lando Norris. It was not until his pit crew called him in for a third pit during the final laps of the race where he could not regain the time lost in the pit lane. McLaren shot Ricciardo’s chance for points in the foot by pitting one more time than other teams which killed their overall lap time. The only question that is left to ask as this once promising driver, whose former teammates are all fighting for championships, is whether he has let all of his teams down or if F1 has let his potential go to waste? Only time will tell if another team picks him up as a driver and if he can perform at the level he once did four years ago.

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