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Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, and Nikita Mazepin, Haas, VF-21
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Formula 1 Belgian GP
Analysis

How F1 engine change processes are clouding the Red Bull-Mercedes battle

The times set in the opening practice sessions for the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix suggest there is once again very little to separate Red Bull and Mercedes at the front of the Formula 1 pack. But one unseen element at power-sensitive Spa means neither can be sure it has an edge just yet

There was no doubting Mercedes’ position as the dominant force at Spa in 2020.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were able to chuck their W11s into the Belgian Grand Prix track’s famous and fearsome corners with breath-taking ease and simply ran clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the race – the Dutchman going from regular challenger to barely keeping Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo at bay from third in the closing stages.

Not so in 2021.

Across the two one-hour practice sessions at Spa on Friday, the general trends of 2021 re-emerged, but with a couple of key differences. Both of F1’s leading teams again appear to be very close on pace and small things led to differing results in FP1, which was topped by Bottas, and FP2, where Verstappen went quickest before crashing late on.

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