Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Daniel Ricciardo took out his third win of the season at Spa-Francorchamps after a faultless drive allowed him to pick up the pieces of Mercedes disastrous race. Nico Rosberg somewhat controversially took the second step of the podium, while the quiet achiever at Williams; Valtteri Bottas came home to finish third. From lights out, Hamilton got the jump on Rosberg on the run down into La Source, but so too did Vettel. Starting from P3, the Red Bull was quick off the line to challenge the two Mercedes down into turn 1. Rosberg reluctantly conceded two positions, until a too-eager Vettel ran wide, letting Rosberg back through to challenge Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through La Source relatively unscathed, with the exception of Bianchi, who ran wide down to Eau Rouge and was clipped by Romain Grosjean as he re-entered the track. The tone for the rest of the race however, was set on the second lap after a very clumsy tussle between the two Mercedes. As Lewis Hamilton led his team-mate* into Les Combes, Rosberg went off the racing line to have a look around the outside of Hamilton. Hamilton continued on the racing line to make the apex of the corner, only to find Rosberg still there… Rosberg’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s left rear, causing a puncture (and soon a full blow-out) and a considerable loss of downforce to Rosberg’s car. All of this, and only on lap two.

Daniel Ricciardo was there to pick up the pieces of the scrapping Mercedes. Ricciardo was calm and calculated, not to say he wasn’t pushing. Making it somewhat of a habit, Ricciardo took Alonso into Les Combes on lap 4 to hunt down Vettel. He didn’t have long to stalk behind his team-mate before another mistake on Vettel’s behalf forced him wide, allowing Ricciardo to pounce past, and scamper away. The young Australian led for most of the 44 lap race, defending his top step finish right down to the last lap. Ricciardo finished the race on 17 lap old medium compound tyres, just 3.3s ahead of a fully recovered Rosberg on 10 lap old soft compound. A brilliant drive, and a well deserved win for Ricciardo and his “big homies” (his words, not mine). Vettel, though somewhat outshined by the young-gun, put in an impressive drive (though clumsy in areas) to finish P5. Vettel’s race came to a climatic finish following his final pit stop for soft compound tyres with just 10 laps remaining. The strategy put Vettel right amongst the battle in the midfield between Magnussen, Button, and Alonso. The wheel-to-wheel action saw Vettel capiltalise on mistakes made by Button and Alonso, moving himself up to P5 on the final lap. Despite a solid finish, Vettel’s race was a little shabby, exceeding track limits at the Curve Paul Frere, and running wide through Les Combes on the opening lap.

Valtteri Bottas completed the podium line-up, making up three positions to finish third. The Williams, clearly much more competitive in the dry conditions made progress early on in the race, making an easy pass on Rosberg before remaining steadily on the gearbox of Vettel. Following the Finn’s pit on lap 38 for the harder compound, Bottas breezed past Vettel on the run into La Source, and never looked back. Having no such luck, Felipe Massa picked up damage from Hamilton’s tyre debris, spoiling his race from early on. Massa spent most of the afternoon well outside the points, though finished his race in the 1:54s in P13.

Kimi Raikkonen looked in strong podium contention at Spa, though in the end, the F14 T didn’t have the pace to challenge the Williams. Still running the smaller wing, Kimi was lapping within the 1:54s compared to Alonso’s 1:56s, showing that hopefully the Finn is becoming more comfortable in the Ferrari. Alonso’s race got off on the wrong foot, with team personnel still on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Alonso was awarded a 5 second stop-go penalty, which he served on lap 13. Though the penalty could have been worse for Alonso, it did bring him out behind Magnussen, who proved not as easy to pass as Alonso would have expected. The F14 T looked very scrappy, lacking considerable grip and even speed against the MP4-29 (which is slightly embarrassing). In the final laps, the Ferrari was in the midst of the battle for P5, 6, and 7. Though spoiled his chances by running wide, allowing Vettel through. Eventually Alonso finished P8.

McLaren had one of their best results of the season of a double points finish, with Magnussen P6 ahead of Button in P7. Magnussen had already shown he could hold his own against Alonso, though managing a two stop strategy finishing on 20 lap old medium compound tyres is rather something in your rookie year. Jensen Button waited until the final stages of the race to do something exciting, keeping himself ahead of the Ferrari, and for a time the Red Bull as well. Alonso had eventually made it past Button, though running wide on the final lap allowed the McLaren through for P7.

Force India had a better race than qualifying, though only managed to get one car into the points. Perez made up four positions in the race to finish P9 on a two-stop strategy. Hulkenberg, on the same strategy, made up a full nine positions to finish just outside the points in P11.

Danill Kvyat took out the final point of the race, finishing P10. Kvyat had a quiet, but positive race. Vergne was unlucky to score a point at Spa, lapping in the 1:53s, albeit in clean air and with no one behind him. Perhaps the pressure of losing his Toro Rosso seat will push Vergne the same way it pushed Massa last season?

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with neither driver picking up a point. Sutil finished ahead of his team-mate in P14. Gutierrez at least had a better race than he did qualifying, though he did only manage P15.

Max Chilton was involved in a rare occurrence of racing in challenging Ericsson for P16. Hats off to Max though, who after having stalked down the Caterham once, lost considerable ground in the final few laps due to blue flags as the scrap between Magnussen, Button, Vettel, and Alonso moved through. The Marrusia managed to let everyone past, and close the gap back to Ericsson in less than a lap, to eventually overtake the Caterham. Jules Bianchi was forced to retire on lap 41, though his race was ruined from the opening lap. Following his contact with the Lotus, Bianchi never managed to make up his lost grid positions.

It was not the best day at the office for Lotus, with neither driver reaching the chequered flag. Maldonado retired on lap 2, due to exhaust issues on his E22 calling it quits. Grosjean made it to the final ten laps before damage from debris forced him to retire.

With the number of cars that picked up damage from debris during the race, it is a wonder why at no point the Stewards thought it might be a good idea to deploy the safety car and clear the track. That being said, if the track had of been cleared, Nico Rosberg wouldn’t have picked up with very snazzy decal around his antenna (a piece of Lewis’ tyre). The safety car would have however, brought the grid back together, saving a few races. All in all, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the top step result, as Ricciardo remains the only driver able to win a race against the Mercedes this season. It’s the Tifosi’s turn to host Formula 1, as the championship moves to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time, so until then, bonsoir.

– Alex

* That term is used very loosely now

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