Analysis: The real heroes of the Belgian Grand Prix

The on-track challenges at Spa separate the men from the boys, but the real heroes of last week's Belgian Grand Prix were not driving F1 cars, says Jonathan Noble.

No Belgian Grand Prix weekend is complete without its fair share of marvelling at Formula 1 drivers as they keep their right foot flat to the floor through corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont.

To see the masters at work is a privilege, and when even some of them admit that things have got a bit too hairy at times as rear tyre traction breaks on the run up the hill to Raidillon, you come to appreciate the bravery out there.

But, for me, the most impressive performance had nothing to do with keeping that pedal to the metal at 180mph. Instead, it was all about team spirit – plus a passion for racing to overcome the odds and deliver a result that left a lot of the paddock chuffed to bits.

Step up Team Enstone which, in its latest guise as Lotus, showed that you cannot keep a good bunch of individuals down. For to deliver a podium finish at Spa against the backdrop of all its off-track troubles was nothing short of sensational.

For months now, Lotus has been battling its money worries: as a bid by its bosses to get the balance sheet in order has resulted in the purse strings being tightened up massively.

And as negotiations with Renault about a takeover have moved on, so too has the money slowed down even more.

As Spa-star Romain Grosjean readily confessed in Hungary: "When you are thinking about selling the team you won't put any more money in, because it's all loss. It's just a bit of a waiting situation."

That waiting situation was left the wolf at the door: with creditors chasing payment for unpaid bills and Lotus chiefs fighting fires from many directions.

There have been legal threats. There was the delay in getting the tyres at the Hungarian Grand Prix. And then at Spa, there was the arrival of bailiffs who impounded the cars and left the team unable to depart on Sunday night.

For some teams, facing such financial headaches – and knowing that there is no guarantee a pay cheque is ever going to come – would result in a mass exodus of staff, or at best a fair share of moaning and moping.

But Team Enstone has never been just 'some' team. Through the various guises as Toleman, Benetton, Renault and Lotus, there has been a hardcore group of people that share a rage for racing and success in F1.

Keeping your chin up is always easier when things are going well – and its wins record and title success are testament to its quality. But to have knuckled down against the current backdrop of troubles and do what it did in Belgium last weekend was hugely impressive.

No development

Do not forget that there has been almost zero car development this season, so the team has been powerless to bring in new updates with better performance – even though such items would be ready to roll as soon as someone was willing to pull out a cheque.

A new front wing, tried out briefly in practice but not raced, is the only major update that has come on tap so far.

But things go beyond lack of development too, for the team's faced compromises by its lack of parts too.

It only has three gearboxes for the season, which means that at each race one of its drivers has to use his race gearbox. That leads to extra mileage and the risk of potential gearbox problems – which is exactly what happened to Grosjean in Spa as he was moved five places down the grid when he needed a new unit slotted in.

As trackside operations director Alan Permane told Sky after the Belgian GP: "We have had a very, very difficult season.

"This is the worst season we have had financially and we have scrimped and scraped for parts. To get the cars on the track is a massive effort each week. So to be able to stick it on the podium is just unbelievable."

Perhaps the only frustration for the Team Enstone core is just what could have been achieved this season if it had been allowed a more normal development rate? Could it have been more regularly on the podium? No doubt.

Speaking later on Sunday night in the paddock about the potential, Permane said: "It is a very, very good car. It seems to work well on these downforce levels, so places like here at Spa, and Austria – where there are lower drag level settings.

"This is why hopefully Monza will be kind for us. If we could have developed it like any other car, we would have a good chance of finishing higher up where we are."

Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel though, and Renault chiefs understand that if Team Enstone can deliver results like Spa now, then it would be logical to suggest the input of manufacturer money would bring even better things.

"This result was fantastic," said Permane. "For us at Enstone, it really will make a big difference to us. It shows we are united. We are a good racing team. And it shows we can still do it."

Perfect words for why Team Enstone deserves an even better future.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Belgian GP
Track Spa-Francorchamps
Article type Analysis