Rosberg sails to victory at Spa but Hamilton charges from rear to nab 3rd; Ricciardo P2 for resurgent Red Bull
The first race back from the summer break was marked by clashes, shunts and remarkable performances in Belgium. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg had a flawless drive from pole, making a speedy getaway, getting the most out of his tires for long stints and leaving the drama in the rest of the field far behind. In the end it led to a dominant victory at the historic Spa-Francorchamps track on Sunday. But while Rosberg was untouchable in the win he still must have been slightly unnerved seeing his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton charge through the field and astonishingly come home P3. Hamilton started from the back of the grid after the team made multiple strategic engine changes and somehow willed his way to the podium, limiting Rosberg’s gains on the day. If there was a thought bubble above Rosberg’s head as he looked at Hamilton during the podium ceremonies it probably read: “What the hell are you doing up here?” For surely in his heart of hearts the German contender was expecting — and hoping — that Hamilton would finish out of the points completely and that he, Rosberg, would re-take the championship lead. Instead, despite his perfect day in the Ardennes, Hamilton’s scrappy effort insured that Rosberg remained behind him by 9 points as the two head into next weekend’s tussle at Monza, where they will once again be fighting on even terms. As has been said more than once before, if you want some serious passing done in Formula 1 better call Lewis Hamilton. And if you want to beat Hamilton in the championship you better keep him out of the points on those rare days when all the cards seem to be stacked against him.
All due credit to the English defending champion but Hamilton was also helped by a lengthy Red Flag period that bunched up the field and neutralized a lot of potential tire strategy with free changes available in the pits (as an aside, it is truly a ridiculous rule that tires can be changed in the pits during Red Flag periods in F1 — absolutely incomprehensible for race that has been “frozen”). The stoppage came when Ranault’s Kevin Magnussen suffered a prototypical Spa crash on Lap 7 when he lost control at high speed coming to the top of the big uphill sweeping left-hander Eau Rouge and smashed into the tire barriers. Though it looked nasty, Magnusson suffered only a minor ankle injury and was able to limp away with help from the medical crew. But the tire wall he speared into was badly damaged by the fierce impact and required 17 minutes worth of significant repairs. It capped a hectic opening stanza to the race featuring multiple collisions and retirements but after the Red Flag period the contest would settle down somewhat.
The Grand Prix got off to that contentious start when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen all came together trying to squeeze through Turn 1, damaging all of their cars to some degree in the process. But the Red Flag period also wound up helping that combative trio when they were able to recover valuable track position after time-consuming repairs to front wings and under trays that should have destroyed all their races. While the two Ferraris got quickly back up to speed, Verstappen could never seem to recover his poise after that early incident where he felt hard done by. And while he diced and made life difficult for both Prancing Horses to the point of dangerous blocking maneuvers, they were able to overtake him eventually and score at least some points to salvage what had looked to be a dismal day in Belgium for the Scuderia. In the end, Vettel finished P6 and Raikkonen came home P9, which is something but maybe not enough to forestall major shakeups at Maranello. Verstappen, meanwhile, finished out of the points in P11 and with his erratic performance in front of huge crowd boosted by many of his enthusiastic Dutch countrymen (he also claims Belgian heritage) it seemed like the sheer moment of the occasion got to him. On days like yesterday it’s worth remembering that while Verstappen shows all the signs of being a super talented prodigy he is still just 18-years-old. At the intense Spa circuit and under the weight of so much expectation that lack of maturity seemed to cost him.
But all was not lost for resurgent Red Bull, as their senior driver Daniel Ricciardo drove a beautiful race, keeping his nose clean and maximizing his car’s greatly improved pace to come home P2 after starting from 5th on the grid. The Aussie was all smiles after the race and his ebullient spirit seems to have reemerged in full after a bit of a down period post-Monaco, where his team fumbled away what appeared to be a certain victory. The fact that Red Bull are now 22 points up on Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ standings and that it was also his third podium in a row couldn’t be hurting Ricciardo’s mood either. Also all smiles were the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, who came home P4 and P5 respectively. While Hulkenberg may have been slightly disappointed that he couldn’t score his first career podium in F1, The Little Team That Could saw their drivers’ excellent efforts vault them ahead of mighty Williams for 4th in the incredibly lucrative Constructors’ standings.
And speaking of bettering Team Williams, Fernando Alonso did just that in his at long last improving McLaren, besting a game Valtteri Bottas P7 to P8. It was fine finish for the Spaniard, who also started at the back of the pack due to penalties, and the McLaren team as a whole. One has to wonder what might have been had Jenson Button, starting from P9 on the grid, not been punted out of the race early on by Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein. Bottas’ teammate Felipe Massa took the last points paying position with P10 but all in all it was forgettable weekend for Williams, where their chassis’ continued lack of downforce proved too big a challenge to overcome at this long, fast but also twisty all-time great circuit.
Top 10 finishers for the Belgian Grand Prix:
|2||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||44||+14.113s||18|
|4||27||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||44||+35.907s||12|
|5||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||44||+40.660s||10|
The next race is but a week away and it’s at yet another historical European track — the very fast, very storied Monza Autodromo in Italy. It’s Ferrari’s home circuit but the fight for victory should end up being between the evenly matched Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Rosberg. With only eight more contests to go each race becomes more and more important in determining 2016’s champion and every little twist and turn takes on added significance — hope to see you then!