If there’s something that’s always going to be true, it’s that Spa always delivers an exciting race, even if the result is sometimes not what you’d like. Last year saw first-lap retirements for Hamilton and Button, and ended with a rather shocking Raikkonen win with Force India’s Fisichella a surprising second, all the more surprising as Raikkonen confessed to being saved by KERS — were it not for that, Fisichella would have had the pace to take first place.
Well this year the race definitely kept us fans on the edge of our seats. It started with Webber hitting the anti-stall at the start and dropping to 6th place. Next came disappointment for Barrichello on the first lap of his 300th race with a big shunt on Alonso at the Bus Stop (especially given that his first time at Spa had also resulted in a first-lap retirement). Then on lap 15 Vettel loses control while trying to pass Button and rammed the Brit, ending his race while he himself manages to reach the pits, albeit he had to go past the scowls of McLaren mechanics. He then got a drive-through penalty for causing the accident (again, he had to go past a glowering helmeted McLaren mechanic on his way), and on his 25th lap he hit Liuzzi while passing the Italian. That time Liuzzi was able to pit (both incidents happened at the “bus stop” chicane) and Vettel had to limp around the long lap with a rear puncture. He finished 15th (and lapped).
Meanwhile at the head of the pack Hamilton was followed closely by Kubica, then Webber — until the Pole messed up his pit entrance while Webber’s pit stop was very tight and quick. Robert must be beating himself up for this; he came out in third behind the Australian, and when Alonso lost control on a wet patch and ended up in the middle of the road (lap 38) the safety car effectively kept the order to the end of the race. Kubica’s post-race disappointment was palpable.
Rain played its part, as it usually does on this circuit; an early short shower was largely ignored by drivers who opted to stay on slicks. It struck again later (around lap 31-32) in a more substantial way. Pit radio was rife with weather questions throughout the race.
Hamilton had a masterful drive, his performance really shows how much he’s matured as a driver since the beginning of the season. The only blemish in his drive was a very lucky trip in the gravel trap where he came within a hair’s breadth of planting his car in the wall, but this was under increasing rain while he was still in his worn slicks; his lengthy time cushion and the fact that Webber and Kubica were also on worn slicks (and thus had to drive gingerly) insured that he kept first place.
Throughout he remained calm and composed, and really did a good job of managing the tires — we’ve come a long way from the impetuous Lewis of Australia.
Kubica’s Renault had some serious pace too; Webber couldn’t really get much of a lead in front of the Pole in the last two laps. This is Kubica’s second third place of the season, having achieved the other at Monaco; he’s put himself on the podium in both the fastest and the slowest race of the calendar. Force India looked really good, and Sutil managed a respectable fifth after Massa. All in all it was a pretty bad weekend for the Scuderia, even in qualifying they couldn’t really find the feel of the circuit.
Mercedes looked good, or at least better than they did in Hungary, with Rosberg and Schumacher managing 6th and 7th in front of Kobayashi, Petrov and Liuzzi to round off the top 10. Actually Alguersuari finished 10th but dropped to 11th after a 20s penalty for cutting a chicane. Which one? You guessed it, the bus stop chicane. It was probably due to the cold temperature, but that bus stop chicane sure saw a lot of action. Good thing it has a good runoff area instead of a gravel trap. It might not be a bad idea for the track managers to consider making a couple of alterations to it. It does seem ridiculously slow, tight and risky, especially considering how fast most of the circuit is. It really is the one bad spot in an otherwise magnificient track.
Hamilton’s win puts him back at the head of the driver’s championship while Red Bull retains a one-point advantage over McLaren.
Vettel seriously needs to calm down a bit. It’s not the first time this year that his having a bit of a hot head is getting him into big trouble; the accident was very reminescent of his accident with Webber, and one could argue that the conditions leading up to the accident were pretty similar — in both cases the German was growing impatient at being stuck behind another car. Going for a mad, poorly-planned pass just isn’t the answer to the problem. In this case it seemed that he was heading to give Button a look on the inside, then the outside of a very tight right-left combination, there was no way that this was not going to end in tears.
No one’s questioning that Vettel has the pace to be in F1, but three seasons in there are serious questions as to whether he’s quite mature enough for the top flight, and that maybe he graduated from GP2 a little too soon. Seeing what we saw in Spa, I can certainly understand where that criticism is coming from. Once he managed to recover from that accident the rest of the race just became a series of bad decisions with his shutting the door early on Liuzzi, then wasting two pit stops by picking full wets when he should have gone for the intermediates. I get that problem too when making a bad move in chess, it just kills the rest of the game; but I’m a very middling amateur in that, not a guy who’s in the world top 3. Vettel needs to work on his temper.
A couple of observations — with the exception of the Nordschleife which isn’t used in F1 anymore, I don’t think we’re going to see a track more exciting than Spa, not in my lifetime. It has what Tilke tracks don’t — big hills, forests, weird weather, and it has Eau Rouge, which has to be the most thrilling corner besides the Corkscrew at Laguna-Seca. Every year there are grumblings of people wanting the track shut down, and let’s all hope that this never happens, because it would really be a tragedy for the racing world.
I’m also very impressed by the video feed provided by FOM. Every race it seems to get a little bit better. In this instance the beauty of the track certainly contributed to my enjoyment as a viewer, but I see a certain evolution in the techniques and camera placements that really keeps F1 at the pinnacle of motorsports, from the viewer’s point of view. Well done.
Monza is up in two weeks! Will it be a homecoming triumph for the Scuderia, or will the Italian crowds have to suffer the horrors of red cars being passed by cars of other colors? We’ll see.