Iconic 1996 Formula One Drivers’ World Champion Damon Hill has spoken out on the latest edition of the F1 Nation podcast. F1 recommences at Spa Francorchamps with the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend following the conclusion of the Summer Shutdown. During an insightful interview where the former World Champion turned pundit shared his valuable thoughts, Hill had a warning for F1’s 2021 title rivals. The former champion is worried that 2021 title contenders Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen may get a little too close for comfort on track and as such ‘Spa's a whole other level of risk.’
No racing fan needs to be reminded of the danger motorsport brings and in particular the risk that comes from racing at Spa. Just two years ago the world of motorsport had to say goodbye to the much-loved, bespectacled F2 racer Anthoine Hubert after he passed away following the injury he endured in a crash at the Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. Consequently, Damon Hill believes that Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen must show Spa the greatest level of respect so as to ensure a repeat of the Dutchman’s 51G crash from Silverstone does not come to be…nor anything worse.
Speaking on F1 Nation, the official podcast of Formula One, Damon Hill said:
"It's another fast circuit like Silverstone, They’ve already shown they're not afraid to tangle at high speed, but Spa's a whole other level of risk. It is a concern.”
Such speculation will likely not sit well with Max Verstappen who has already responded angrily in the past to punditry speculation of a further coming together with Sir Lewis Hamilton on track. During F1’s press conference ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Verstappen said that such speculation was "ridiculous". Therefore, one can only imagine how the Dutchman would respond to this recent line of commentary. Nevertheless, Damon Hill is certainly a man who knows what he is talking about and as such his opinion should not be dismissed off hand.
"I think if I was [FIA race director] Michael Masi, and I'd be in the drivers' briefing for the weekend, I would be saying, 'Listen guys, respect this place. It's one of the fastest tracks we go to. We do not want to have any nasty episodes…Of course, we have had some nasty episodes not so long ago, in the F2 races.”
Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps is already a challenging circuit on a dry day, but as social media posts from Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team have shown – there is a strong expectation of rain and the teams are relishing the prospect due to the strengths their lead driver has in such conditions. Obviously, such a change in weather brings even more concern as Damon Hill also remarked:
"There is extra risk, especially if it's wet. They've had plenty of issues recently with the rain, but wet races at Spa are not for the faint-hearted."
Wet races nearly always bring about more DNFs and that is something that Max Verstappen surely cannot suffer this weekend. Having lost track position after another crash at the first corner in the last race in Hungary, Verstappen's 32-point lead over Hamilton has dramatically transformed into an eight-point deficit. So then, did Damon Hill feel Max Verstappen biding his time and leaving an unpredictable and at times perilous Spa in a comfortable second place behind Sir Lewis Hamilton would be a great result?
"It's not is it because it means the title is slipping away,” added Hill. "He will not be looking at this weekend and thinking 'I need to score points'. He will be looking at this weekend thinking 'I need to win again. I need to make sure Lewis doesn't win. That's the only way he's going to become world champion this year, so it's high pressure."
How about the other way around, should Hamilton finishing runner-up to Verstappen, be damaging to the seven-time champion’s title hopes? Damon Hill did not seem to think so.
"He's got a little bit of a margin, hasn't he? It's ebbed and flowed throughout the year. You have to look at your situation as it arises and do that calculation. I can imagine Lewis thinking 'Putting myself in a position where, if I am second, passing Max might be a little too risky'. I can imagine he might go for a second place if he had absolutely had to. But we are right to expect it is going to be an absolutely blinding race between these two between now and the end of the season."
Meanwhile, Damon Hill’s fellow Sky F1 pundit, Karun Chandhok has also been looking ahead to F1 recommencing having tweeted:
“Off to Spa to kick off the second half of the F1 year. Good time to take stock of what we’ve seen so far… RBR & Merc super close. Whole field down to 9th much closer to leaders than last year apart from Aston. Floor reg changes have hurt Merc & Aston relative too opposition.”
Chandhok’s final line is a keen reminder to all that in theory Mercedes is meant to be the team on the backfoot – despite leading both championships at present. Therefore, the first test is to see how they perform on track during the free practice sessions. Should it be the case that the Silver Arrows trail Red Bull Racing, maybe this may act as the catalyst to bring about a repeat of the scenes witnessed on the opening lap of the Grand Prix in Silverstone.
Damon Hill is right when he says that it has ‘ebbed and flowed’ throughout the 2021 season and no doubt Sunday will be an ‘absolutely blinding race’. However, as everyone knows, to finish first – first you have to finish.