The Belgian Grand Prix was no classic for Max Verstappen’s relentless speed, but equally notable was that Charles Leclerc endured another painful race.
Engine penalties and strategy miscalculations are now all too familiar for the Monegasque, but his race recovery was very quickly undone by an overheating brake duct with a rather unfortunate cause.
Safe to say Verstappen’s domination over Leclerc is absolutely complete.
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But while the championship picture on track is looking rather grim, off the track Formula 1 is enjoying rude health, particularly in light of Audi’s announcement that it would join the sport as an engine manufacturer in 2026.
It’s especially good news for Audi’s communication and social team, which racked up a series of victories online after the announcement.
As for sister brand Porsche, news of its once impending announcement it would be likewise joining F1 has been delayed, and there’s suddenly a cloud over whether its ambitious strategy to buy into Red Bull’s operation will come to fruition.
Meanwhile, the saga around Oscar Piastri’s F1 future continues with Alpine taking the issues to FIA’s contractiln recognition board.
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VERSTAPPEN VISOR TEAR-OFF RUINS LECLERC’S RACE
Ferrari already feared before the start of the Belgian Grand Prix that it was in for a tough afternoon, but Charles Leclerc’s race was dealt with an early blow when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 3 to rectify an overheating front-right corner.
Having recovered to ninth on the first lap directly behind Max Verstappen, the service dropped Leclerc all the way back to 17th, from where he had to recover ground all over again.
But the overheating brake disc had a costly second effect on Leclerc’s race. It had become so hot that it had failed the speed sensor on that corner of the car.
The speed sensors are used by the pit lane speed limiter, and Leclerc was penalized five seconds for speeding in the pit lane during his final stop for soft tires in a vain attempt to capture the bonus point for fastest lap.
It compounded an already devastating weekend for his limping championship challenge, putting him 99 points down on the rampant Verstappen and likely just four races away from being put out of his misery.
But the salt in the wound was where the viewer came from.
“We were not using our normal sensors measuring the speed because they have been failed during the overheating… due to the (tear-off) of Max,” Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto revealed.
Verstappen, before Binotto had confirmed the unfortunate incident, had joked in the post-race press conference that he’d hoped it didn’t belong to him.
“It was super-hectic, and so much dirt as well,” Verstappen recounted. “I pulled off my tear-off because I could barely see anything just because of the previous sector, like everyone just going on the grass and the gravel. But we survived without damage.
“It’s just super unlucky, to be honest, that happens. You’re always scared that it happens, especially when you are in the pack, especially on a track like this.
“That is your worst nightmare that these things happen, but unfortunately they do happen.”
It seems there really are no areas in which Verstappen isn’t scoring heavily against Leclerc this season.
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INSIDER CLAIMS ALPINE ‘PLAYED’ WITH PIASTRI
An F3 driver who shares the same physio as Oscar Piastri has provided an insight into the Australian’s contract dispute and laid the blame at the feet of Alpine.
Alpine put out a statement claiming Piastri would drive for them in 2023 following Fernando Alonso’s shock exit only for the 21-year-old to refute the statement.
McLaren have lined Piastri up as Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement but Alpine are digging their heels in and this week took the matter to FIA’s contract recognition board.
Juan Manuel Correa, who appeared on Sky Sports’s ‘Any Driven Monday’ opened up on the saga and inside knowledge.
“I don’t know how much I should say, the thing is my physio this year is actually Oscar’s full-time physio,” Correa revealed.
“So, I know quite a bit about it. From my perspective and what is public knowledge, I think it is actually more of Alpine’s fault.
“They were playing a little bit with Oscar and Fernando. They did n’t give Oscar I think what they had promised, and any driver in his position would have done what he did. That’s what I think, from what I know.”
Correa went on to declare he expected Piastri to be at McLaren next season.
“I think the hearing was this morning, but I think he will be racing at McLaren next year,” he said.
“And I hope so for him because he deserves an F1 seat. It was already a shame that he didn’t get a seat immediately last year. So, at least now he will get his chance.”
AUDI AND MERCEDES TWITTER BANNER
Despite Audi’s entry into Formula 1 not due for more than three years, the German giant hasn’t been able to resist generating some early niggle among its future rivals.
In just the fourth line in its press release confirming the news that it would be joining the sport as an engine builder, the famous German brand lobbed a well-targeted grenade.
“This is the first time in more than a decade that a Formula 1 powertrain will be built in Germany,” it read, announcing that its power units would be built in Neuburg an der Donau, just outside Ingolstadt, where the company is based.
And as if the intended target of the job wasn’t clear, on social media Audi declared that “rings are the new stars”.
Mercedes, the three-pointed star, has its F1 operation, both chassis and engine, based in the UK. It’s also one-third owned by Austrian team boss Toto Wolff and one-third owned by British chemical company Ineos.
The last F1 engine to be built in Germany was the BMW P86/9, which was built in Munich and powered by the 2009 Sauber entry to km in the constructors standings.
Toyota’s RVX-09, which was in the back of the Japanese company’s works car as well as the Williams FW31, was built in Cologne and also last competed on the grid in 2009.
Toto Wolff dead-batted the gibes, saying that Audi and presumably Porsche — more on that below — joining Formula 1 was a sign the sport is in good health.
“I think it’s good that another German OEM is being cheeky on social media, because it’s good for the sport that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said. “And I see it as a compliment that they said the rings are the new stars.
“It’s good that they join. It’s good that Porsche comes, once that is confirmed. It shows the strength of Formula 1 and the attraction that it has for the best brands in the world.”
RED BULL PREPARED TO GO IT ALONE ON ENGINES
Christian Horner says Red Bull is prepared to go it along on engine development if plans to partner with Porsche fall through.
Porsche sister brand Audi confirmed its 2026 entry into Formula 1 as an engine supplier at the weekend and is expected to buy Sauber to turn it into a full works constructors.
However, despite a Red Bull-Porsche tie-up having seemed to have been on the horizon with the publication of the new engine rules, no announcement has been forthcoming,
speaking to autosportChristian Horner has since said that there’s still no deal in place to bring the sports car giant into Formula 1, with Red Bull’s engine project not dependent on Porsche completing its buy-in.
The program is already well under way without outside investment, including with more than 300 personnel, many of which have been poached from Mercedes, and earlier in August it fired up its first combustion engine.
“[Porsche] fundamentally won’t change anything, because the way that the company is constructed, we have Red Bull Powertrains that will be producing an engine for 2026,” he said.
“The whole purpose for that was to have an integrated solution between engine and chassis to bring it all under one roof, being the only team other than Ferrari. So that is the absolute clear plan.”
Auto Motor und Sport has reported Red Bull Racing has concerns about the amount of influence Porsche could wield over the F1 operation in a 50-50 joint venture. Voting rights appear to be the chief sticking point.
Horner’s clarification emphasizes that Porsche’s potential involvement is somewhat less than that of Audi, which intends to buy and expand the Sauber team as well as start an engine program from scratch.
Porsche, on the other hand, intends to buy into the already established Red Bull F1 team and engine project.