Photo: Red Bull Racing
The hills, the forest, it calls to them. A sacred ribbon of tarmac that weaves it’s way through the forest of the Ardennes. Many drivers have conquered the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, come rain or shine. The weekend certainly saw the bright sunshine and the unusually hot conditions that made this a Belgian Grand Prix we won’t forget.
During the free practice sessions on Friday, the unfamiliar high temperatures were causing the drivers a great deal of problems in managing their Pirelli rubber through the high speed nature of the demanding Spa circuit, it was clear the race was never going to be straightforward from then on.
For qualifying while Lewis Hamilton was out of the running for pole position after his three power unit changes left him at the back of the grid with penalties, it was up to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to challenge the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for the front row. It turned out that no one could, Rosberg had just enough in hand to keep pole position but not by much.
Heading into Sunday with the hot tempretures not abating, it was clear that tyre strategies were going to play a great role in how the drivers and teams negotiated the 44 laps of the day. Rosberg, Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were smart in Q2 to utilise a strategy of starting of the yellow marked soft tyres to start the race with in the hope it would benefit them at the start of the race.
As the lights went out Max Verstappen got a poor getaway and tried to repass Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of La Source, unfortunately both were pinched by Sebastian Vettel making his way around the outside of both drivers, this led to a three way collision that damaged all three cars.
With Vettel left stranded at La Source waiting for the rest of the field to pass, Verstappen fought side by side with Raikkonen down the hill to Eau Rouge. On the other hand Rosberg made a great getaway and missed out on all the shenanigans going on behind.
Unfortunately it didn’t end there, into Les Combes Manor’s Pascal Werhlein ended up in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren ending both of their races, this is a shame considering both of their great efforts from qualifying, luckily Werhlein’s new team mate Esteban Ocon managed to avoid the debris.
Kimi Raikkonen pitted to change his broken front wing but in the process of his mechanics trying to fit a new one, the underside of the car kept trying to catch fire, thankfully they managed to put it out and get the wing on.
On Lap 6 the race took a turn, after making a great start both Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were running in the top ten and doing well, unfortunately on the exit of Radillion Magnussen lost the rear of his car and spun at high speed into the barrier, luckily he managed to hobble out of the car despite a noticeable limp. Thankfully after checks in the medical centre and more later at the local hospital, he only suffered a cut to his left ankle and should be fine to race in Monza next week.
Unfortunately his R.S16 Renault was a total write off, the most concerning part of his accident as that the head rest that bolts to the inside of the cockpit came loose from it’s fixings and left the car with quite a bit of ease. The FIA are going to look into the incident to find out why it happened and to perhaps see if there is something that can be learned from it.
With the barriers needing repair a red flag was called, prior to this Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had made their way through the pack to end up fourth and fifth respectively, not a bad effort from the back of the grid.
As the race got underway once more, Nico Rosberg had swapped to medium tyre and quickly made a break for it to escape the clutches Hulkenberg who was under immediate pressure from Ricciardo. It didn’t take him long to pass the Force India in front and try to hunt down Rosberg, however the Mercedes had the pace to eventually sprint away.
Jolyon Palmer suffered after the red flag due to high temperatures to his car much to his dismay, the British rookie really hasn’t enjoyed much luck in F1 since his arrival.
As the race wore on Verstappen and Raikkonen found themselves on the same piece of tarmac once again, this time with the Finn on the offensive, Verstappen makes a late defence move to protect his position much to the dismay of the 2007 world champion. Verstappen faced further criticisms when he ran Raikkonen and Sergio Perez off the road at Les Combes with defensive manoeuvres that led to him not even staying on the race track himself.
At the final set of pit stops Hamilton was chasing Hulkenberg for third and passed him quite quickly leaving the German still without a podium finish from his 107 starts so far in Formula One.
Fernando Alonso managed to hold off the advances of both Williams and Raikkonen in latter stages of the race after a very impressive drive, with Honda having brought updates to the car, it certainly showed at Spa, however Monza will be the ultimate proving ground as to whether they’ve made true ground on their rivals.
Ultimately Hamilton only lost ten points in the title battle with his team mate and he’ll certainly be grateful for the race he had, while Rosberg will wondering what else he’ll have to
Just nine points seperate them with eight races left to go, 1 dnf apiece, 6 pole positions and 6 victories between them, it could hardly be a closer run in, there is still plenty of action, speed and no doubt controversy yet to come.
Monza up next!