Belgian Grand Prix: Unpredictably Predictable

The race that has a reputation of being unpredictable was true to it’s word Sunday, but probably not in the way that we were all hoping. The championship resumed on with what could be described as a bit of an anti-climax. We’re still awaiting to hear confirmation as to who’s filling the Red Bull seat next year, and still waiting to hear where Kimi will be taking his seat. Without these announcements, we were still expecting a thrilling race, with a high chance of rain changing track conditions, and a scramble to choose the right tyre strategy. Alas, as unpredictable as ever, the entire race was dry, and took place with a noticeable lack of thrill.

The run down to the first corner was intense to watch as memories of last years pile-up came to mind. The close together pack were more cautious this time, though about three quarters of the pack locked their brakes. Hamilton and Vettel were the first to make it to La Source, followed closely by Rosberg, who had already gained a place on Webber. Hamilton had a superb start, and managed to defend his position through Eau Rouge. Although Vettel, following closely in the Mercedes slipstream, made his move down the Kemmel Straight and lead the race by the time he reached Les Combes. Vettel wasn’t challenged for the lead for the entirety of the race, and therefore won with ease. Despite a quiet qualifying from McLaren, Jensen Button was pressurising Rosberg for third. Alonso (who had qualified in ninth), had made his way up to fifth by the end of the first lap, while Kimi was cruising back in tenth.

On lap 4, Alonso made his move into fourth by taking Button using DRS on the Kemmel Straight, and pulled the same move again two laps later on Rosberg to put himself into third. While Alonso was carving his way through the front runners, his team mate was having no such luck. Massa, who was stuck in traffic towards the back of the grid, didn’t feel right with his car, fearing wing damage and a loss of KERs.

Hulkenburg initially had a good race, holding up both the Lotus’ of Kimi and Grosjean. It was initially odd that Kimi hadn’t made a move on the Sauber, though it soon became apparent that the Lotus was suffering from brake issues. With every application of the brakes, black brake dust would shoot off. Troubling signs of what was to come for Kimi. Slightly further back in the pack, Perez was trying to make a move on Grosjean, resulting in the Lotus being forced off the track. A move which saw Perez receive a drive through penalty, possibly a bit harsh of the stewards in this instance. On lap 9, Kimi did make his move on Hulkenburg, moving up into eighth.

Caterham’s Charles Pic became the first retirement of the race on lap 9 due to a reported oil leak. After the first round of pit stops, Button briefly led the race (having been yet to pit), unfortunately for the McLaren his worn tyres were easy prey for the Red Bull’s fresh ones, as he made his way through at the Blanchimont Chichane on Lap 15 to retake the lead. Raikkonen’s race was looking better (with his brake seemingly having calmed down) as he made a very tight move on di Resta at the same chichane on the same lap. Webber was on his usual fight back up the grid after a less than ideal start, showing just what will be missed about him next season has he followed Grosjean waiting for the perfect opportunity to overtake the Lotus, a moment he found coming out of Eau Rouge on lap 17 to move himself up into sixth, and then fifth when Button came into pit.

One of the most famous corners in the championship, Eau Rouge, requires a tremendous amount of skill for the drivers at the best of times let alone when you’re heading down three-a-breast. This is exactly what di Resta, Perez, and Sutil did on lap 18, looking like some kind of bizarre entrant in a three-legged race. Incredibly, all three cars emerged unscathed with Sutil leading the three. Vettel continued to extend his lead on Alonso and Hamilton as the Mercedes was visibly struggling to get the performance out of his tyres.

On lap 24 and 25 Kimi was chasing Massa, though he was losing speed throughout the lap. It looked like he was about to make his move coming into the Blanchimont Chicane, but he went straight off. Despite the team’s best efforts, Kimi’s brakes had given up forcing him to skulk back into the pits. The retirement ended his record of most consecutive points finishes. However, in true Kimi style, he soon disappeared to what can only be assumed was the bar. On the next lap, Maldonado missed the first apex coming into the Blanchimont Chichane and made contact with Sutil, pushing the Williams car straight into the path of di Resta. Once again for the unluckiest man in F1, he was immediately a retirement from the race as his left rear tyre was now sitting atop the right rear. The contact didn’t seem to harm the remaining Force India, as Sutil initially droppping back four places to twelfth, managed to work his way back into the points finishing ninth. Maldonado was not so lucky, immediately pushing him back to sixteenth after receiving a 10 second stop-go penalty.

Button, who was racing in third for a possible podium finish, came in for his final pit on lap 34 coming back out in sixth but failed to make up any grid places to finish the race in that position.  Daniel Ricciardo’s pace quickened towards the end of the race as he pushed his final pit-stop back to lap 33 while running in eighth. Coming back into the field, he made light work overtaking Hulkenburg, team mate Vergne, and Perez to finish in the points in tenth.  After initially a very difficult race, Massa steadied himself and finished seventh.

Hamilton fought hard throughout the race, coming home to finish third after, though the real drive of the day would have to go to Alonso. The Spaniard drove to absolute perfection after a poor qualifying. By the end of the first lap, he’d made up four places to fifth (most of which he managed at the tricky La Source Hairpin), and by lap 11 he was running in second where (after a brief work back from fourth following his pit stop) he finished the race in. It was a real shame that Vettel had such a lead on the rest of the field as Alonso was on such form on Sunday, I would have loved to have seen him have a go at taking Vettel. The weekend’s results pushes Red Bull 77 points clear of Mercedes, and 94 points clear of Ferrari. At this stage it looks set that Red Bull and Vettel will take out both the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championships, but here’s hoping that the gap in the points closes up over the next few races.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:50.756 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
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