Red Bull Racing and Ferrari have had the run of things so far this season, with Mercedes slipping backwards to third after winning an unprecedented eighth consecutive world title last season, but the German marque is slowly regaining some of its old competitiveness.
The previous race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, was the team’s most competitive showing to date, with George Russell taking pole and finishing third behind Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton, who’s never gone a season in his professional career without at least one win, said he could feel a streak-continuing victory coming closer with the team’s improving fortunes.
“I do [feel it’s close], definitely,” Hamilton said. “Of course we’ve been improving, we’ve had this consistency that’s come up in recent races and great progress that the team is making — everyone pulling together, continuing to push."
“The car is becoming more of a racing car, which is not particularly what it was at the beginning of the year — it’s more like a normal racing car in the sense of it’s characteristics, so that’s positive."
“The last race was obviously the best showing that we’ve had so far, and that for us was a huge boost, that we can close that gap."
“It’s naturally going to continue to be tough. We will keep our heads down. The other guys are doing an amazing job. But I do believe we can close the gap.”
And Mercedes has a second reason to hope the Belgian Grand Prix might be a 2022 watershed race. This weekend the FIA will enforce a technical directive aimed at ensuring floor stiffness to reduce cars bouncing at high speed. It will also mandate a maximum limit for ‘vertical oscillations’ — read: porpoising — above which a car could be deemed illegal.
There are suspicions that Ferrari and Red Bull Racing were exploiting a loophole in the rules to allow their floors to flex beyond the spirit of the regulations and thereby increase performance. With this newest rule clarification, there’s hope the two leading teams might be brought a little closer to the chasing pack.
It’s unlikely to be decisive in bringing Mercedes into the frontrunning mix, but if it’s enough to drag Mercedes into sniping distance of regular podiums and possible victory, it will enliven what’s been a two-horse race this season to date.
This circuit will be one of the best on the calendar for unleashing the performance of these 2022-spec cars. Given Ferrari’s formidable qualifying speed this year, Charles Leclerc is favourite for pole, but Red Bull Racing has often had the better top speed, which will make Max Verstappen potent in the race.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.