The Belgian track was incredibly busy all week, with crowds the likes of which we had not seen since the heyday of Michael Schumacher when the “Schumi Army” would make the short trip from Germany to support their hero. This time, it seemed that half of Holland had descended on the Ardennes, to support our former driver Max Verstappen, for whom this is the nearest thing to a home race. The weather in Spa was glorious all weekend apart from some rain on Friday and although that added to the party atmosphere, it didn’t help us. Before coming here, we knew this was not a track that would suit us so well and some dampness on track would have helped our cause.
After a successful event at the start of the season in Melbourne, our sponsor Casio again invited Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz to be the main attraction at a press conference on Thursday to launch a new Edifice Limited Edition Scuderia Toro Rosso chronograph. The presentation took place in an hotel on the inside of the famous Eau Rouge corner and our two boys had to set a target time for a lap of Spa, for journalists to attempt to beat it.
A few hours later Carlos and Daniil swapped the virtual track for the real one as Free Practice got underway. Carlos’s Friday pace was encouraging enough to let us dream of a Q3 position on Saturday. But Daniil had a variety of technical issues that prevented him posting competitive times and his side of the garage then had plenty of work to do on Saturday, when it was unfortunately necessary to change the Power Unit on his STR12. Well done to the mechanics who did a brilliant job of slotting a new engine in the back of the Russian’s car in time for quali. However, the accompanying penalty meant he would start from the back row of the grid. Carlos was 14th.
What could we do from there? The answer was – slightly better than expected. Carlos, after getting caught up in traffic going down to the first corner, the bottleneck La Source hairpin, fought hard, going wheel to wheel with those around him and his aggression combined with a smart strategy switch saw him come home tenth, rewarded with a valuable point. Daniil proved that being at the back of the grid wasn’t a reason to give up hope and he battled hard to go from 19th on the grid to 12th at the flag.
So it was a weekend of ups and downs: coming to Spa not overly confident of doing well, but emerging with a point which prove to be important in the championship fight over the remaining eight rounds.
The “Verstappen effect” and all that orange smoke over the grandstands, had much to do with the huge crowd in Spa, but so too did all the exciting initiatives that the sport’s new management has put in place, in terms of how F1 is promoted and what is on offer for fans on and off the track. That new look will continue this week in Italy. We have returned home and are getting ready for the short trip to our home race in Monza, which kicks off with some open-to-the-public events in the centre of Milan: stay tuned and keep an eye on our Twitter account!