Jenson Button returned to winning ways at the Belgian Grand Prix at historic Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, notching up his first victory since the season’s opening round in Australia with an utterly dominant lights-to-flag display. Managing to run a one-stop strategy following the opening lap carnage, Button’s incredible consistency helped him preserve both his tyres and his healthy lead for the duration of the 44-lap race.
I had intended to post a ‘Five Questions’ article ahead of this weekend, but I plain ran out of time between work and writing other pieces, so I’m flipping the script. Here, instead, are my five observations in the aftermath of a highly entertaining afternoon’s racing.
1) Is there a better circuit in Formula 1 than Spa?
You can see it in the eyes of the drivers around the paddock, in their behaviour in interviews, and in their driving on the track. Compared with their cold, dead eyes when discussing the relative merits of some of F1′s new, more ‘exotic’ circuits, this place seems like a Mecca for the drivers.
Everyone goes that little bit faster and given the thrill of attacking Eau Rouge or Blanchimont flat-out, it’s little wonder. Throw in Pouhon, La Source, the Bus Stop, Les Combes and Rivage, and you’ve got a large collection of amazing corners. None of Bernie’s new street circuits can hold a candle to them. Then take into account the scenery – seven kilometres of picturesque Belgian countryside, through scenic rolling hills and past woods and old houses.
Oh, and there’s the weather – Spa is famous for having it’s own weather system due to the scenery of the surrounding area, with sunshine one minute being no guarantee of sunshine in half an hour’s time. Put that against the arid, empty desert of Bahrain or Abu Dhabi, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
2) Is there any way of limiting the carnage we keep seeing at La Source?
In recent times the once grass run-off area on the exit has been tarmacced, the wall at the end of the pit lane has been further rounded off and the run-off around the outside of the hairpin itself has been extended, but these changes don’t alter the fundamental fact that there are 24 cars approaching a 40mph, 135-degree corner at over 100mph on lap one, arriving within five seconds of each other. It’s a recipe for disaster.
This year’s version saw Romain Grosjean cause a collision before the pack even arrived at La Source, hitting Lewis Hamilton as they jostled for position coming off the grid, but the dynamics of the first corner massively increased the damage done to the rest of the field. Hamilton was hit from behind, then piled through Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi ahead of him as they breaked, before Sergio Perez and the jump-starting Pastor Maldonado were tangled up in the collision due to the dynamics of the corner.
But the only solution would be moving the grid, a re-organisation which would involve Spa building a new pitlane and a new grid. The other end of La Source, on the run to Eau Rouge, is used occasionally as a support grid, but frankly the idea of Eau Rouge acting as turn one doesn’t seem to solve the problem. No, perhaps we’ll have to stick with the carnage and unpredictability of La Source. Mind you, I don’t mind that at all.
3) Did any of Sebastian Vettel’s overtaking moves cross ‘the line’?
After careful reflection, I don’t think so. His passes round the outside at the Bus Stop were incredible, but – with the possible exception of him squeezing teammate Mark Webber – most of them were fair. Of course, they were quite… firm. Which Vettel was reminded of when he attempted to pull the move on Michael Schumacher.
The pass Vettel tried to put on Michael Schumacher at the Bus Stop, this time on the inside line out of Blanchimont, was one of his most ambitious of the afternoon. Schumacher, with characteristic ruthlessness, slammed the door on Vettel - then almost cut his nose off as the seven-time champ dived right across the Red Bull into the pitlane.
That entertaining incident aside, we have to acknowledge Vettel’s performance today. He started 11th, narrowly avoided becoming a part of the first-turn crash and as such found himself 12th despite four cars retiring ahead of him, and battled back on an ambitious one-stop strategy to finish second. However you view it, that’s an impressive afternoon.
4) What was Lewis Hamilton thinking?
If you haven’t already heard, Hamilton tweeted this picture of a McLaren technical readout this morning, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t incredibly sensitive information.
No-one else has a reason for why Hamilton broke every unwritten rule in McLaren’s book by making such sensitive data so public, given everyone in F1 follows each other on Twitter in the hopes of picking up just this advantage. Neither do I. The “intense contract negotiations” BBC informs us of between Hamilton and McLaren provide even more bizarre background for the Stevenage-born racer’s actions.
Lewis hasn’t been happy all weekend. His set-up went in a different – and less successful – direction to Button’s and with a different rear wing as well, Hamilton was seriously disadvantaged. One can only assume this is the reason – there isn’t anything else that comes to my mind, for a start.
5) Driver of the day
I really, really wanted to say Button for this. But he had the car so hooked up that he made banging in one near-perfect lap after another look easy. For that reason, and for his dramatic, entertaining and most of all extremely gutsy drive back through the field, I’ll have to go for Vettel.
As an aside…
Two of the midfield teams suffered incredibly varied fortunes in today’s race. Sauber, celebrating their best qualifying in memory with Kobayashi second and Sergio Perez fourth, saw their weekend destroyed on the very first turn, while Toro Rosso were able to make the very most of the mess at La Source and saw both their drivers finish in the points: Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo rose from 15th and 16th on the grid to finish eighth and ninth, respectively.
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