As I type, we are only ten laps into round 13 of the Formula 1 World Championship, with the race red-flagged following a huge smash for Renault’s Kevin Magnussen as he came out of Eau Rouge. He is alright, despite going sideways into the tyre wall at 180 mph.
The opening laps have been utter chaos. Spa usually produces interesting races but this is astonishing. Going into turn 1 Ferrari’s day was ruined when Raikkonen bumped Vettel – but Vettel squeezed Raikkonen hard, who had the Red Bull of Verstappen trying a cheeky lunge up the inside. Vettel was put into a spin and facing the wrong way, whilst Raikkonen suffered damaged that required an early pit stop.
Meanwhile, Pascal Wehrlein went into the back of Jensen Button’s McLaren to put them both out (Wehrlein felt Button chopped him rather hastily), Carlos Sainz suffered a tyre blowout (I still don’t know if that was the result of contact or not) and ended up nearly collecting his Toro Rosso teammate Kvyat, before ending up with his rear wing sitting nearly vertical.
Flash forward several hours, and having watched the whole race, I can say that most of the action took place in that early phase, after which things settled down.
Rosberg got away cleanly on a day where he had to win to take full advantage of Hamilton’s grid penalty (which Mercedes opted to take here, rather than at Monza in a week’s time), but behind him, there was contact when Vettel tried to sweep around the outside of his Ferrari teammate Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Verstappen. Raikkonen was boxed in between Vettel and Verstappen, and with nowhere to go ended up clipping Vettel and spinning the German around. The contact also damaged half of Verstappen’s front wing and left Raikkonen with a puncture. All in all, Ferrari’s hopes of a strong race were dashed at the very first corner.
The drama wasn’t over. As already mentioned, Sainz would suffer a tyre failure (I’m still not sure if this was the result of contact) and in his efforts to get back to the pits, his rear wing ended up mounted vertically upon his car.
(methinks Toro Rosso need to rethink their wing design)
With all the action and excitement, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg briefly ran in second, but it would the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo that would slip into second before long – he was however, unable to keep pace with Rosberg, though he would get a second bite of the cherry when Kevin Magnussen lost the rear coming out of Eau Rouge at 180 mph and smacked into a tyre barrier. Magnussen was thankfully unhurt, but the damage to the barrier was extensive enough for the race to be halted whilst repairs were carried out. At the restart Rosberg peeled away once more, easing into the distance.
(Magussen’s accident serves as a reminder that Eau Rouge is not to be trifled with)
Both Hamilton and Alonso (who had started at the back as well) had by this point taken full advantage of the chaos and Alonso was at one stage running in fourth – highly credible given the weakness of the Honda engine in his McLaren. As strategies unraveled and changed, there would be yet another clash between the youngest and oldest drivers on the grid, and Hamilton would get himself into third, twice passing Hulkenberg to take the place.
The incident (or should I say incidents) between Verstappen and Raikkonen took place at the end of the Kemmel straight, where DRS is available and therefore cars can carry significant speed. On the first occasion Raikkonen got a nose in front of Verstappen, but Verstappen was late on the braking and held the inside line going into the corner, leading to contact between the Ferrari and the Red Bull – Raikkonen was forced wide and though he ended up ahead, had to give the place back.
Shortly afterward, at the same place, Raikkonen was surging toward Verstappen with the aid of DRS and Verstappen was late in making a defensive move – technically Verstappen was within the letter of the rules, but Raikkonen had to brake hard to avoid a very high-speed impact. Needless to say, the Ice Man was losing his cool, swearing over the radio in disgust.
Behind the leaders the Ferraris quietly got themselves back into points-scoring positions, whilst Verstappen would fade away (a consequence of damage to his car). Vettel would end up ahead of the two Williams’ cars, who were in turn ahead of Raikkonen, whilst Alonso would yield sixth place to Vettel fairly easily late on (probably deciding there was no point in jeopordising points over a battle that would have been hard to win).
It was another weak race for Williams, who are now behind Force India in the race for fourth in the constructor’s championship. Hulkenberg took fourth and Perez took fifth, continuing the solid showing of the team.
Victory for Rosberg was exactly what he needed to do, on a weekend where many expected such a result to be a slam dunk. Nevertheless, he had to keep his composure, which he did, and keep his focus, which he did. His 20th career win comes at the venue where Michael Schumacher made his F1 debut 25 years ago – quite symbolic!
Hamilton’s third place was an important piece of damage limitation. He was aided by safety cars, accidents and the red flag spell, but he still kept himself out of trouble and drove competently. The drive of the day though, for me, belongs to Fernando Alonso. The McLaren is still underpowered compared to other cars, so to finish seventh, having started 22nd, was an incredible piece of race craft, and one that will hopefully get more recognition that it appears to have received so far.
So Rosberg now trails Hamilton by just nine points as we await Monza, Italy, in a weeks’ time.