Lewis Hamilton eked out a masterly performance at the Belgian Grand Prix last Sunday. With Nico Rosberg taking the second place, it was another 1-2 for the Mercedes team. The Mercedes dominance in F1 is slowly becoming monotonous but the Belgian track had more juice on Sunday than Hamilton-Rosberg 1-2. Former world champion Sebastian Vettel had a dangerous escape, when he had his right-rear tyre burst with a lap-and-a-half remaining. At that point, Vettel was doing 200 mph and placed third behind Rosberg. He could have taken the podium but that didn’t happen and all hopes of Ferrari’s third-place finish blew up in the same way as the million threads of exploding rubber. Luckily, Vettel was able to keep the car on track and after extricating himself from the car he wanted to immediately have a one-on-one with Paul Hembery, director of motorsport at tyre manufacturers Pirelli, Vettel was furious but Hembery blamed Ferrari for their one-stop strategy.
In the qualifying on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton had taken the sixth consecutive pole position at Belgium and for the 10th time this season. Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg was next half second behind. Williams’s Valtteri Bottas was a distant third while Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was fourth. Force India’s Sergio Perez had the season-best fifth ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. In the other Williams’ , Felipe Massa was seventh, Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado eighth, Sebastian Vettel ninth and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was tenth.
On Sunday, Hamilton got away quickly from his top pole position but Rosberg dropped to fifth place in early laps. However, initial challenge to Hamilton came from Force India’s Sergio Perez and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. The new starting procedures jumbled up things and Rosberg and Bottas both started poorly. For a brief period, Perez went into the lead but the Briton had the inside line and reclaimed the lead soon. Then Hamilton pulled away and he looked comfortable since Rosberg was still far behind. After the first pit-stops, Rosberg caught up with Hamilton. In the 21st lap, Ricciardo’s Red Bull suffered a sudden power failure halfway around a corner and the virtual safety car came into picture. Pretty soon, Rosberg narrowed the gap to Hamilton by 2 seconds and the two Mercedes stars broke away from the pack. But Hamilton had things under control and didn’t allow Rosberg any leeway.
The real battle was fought behind Hamilton and Rosberg for the third place. Romain Grosjean was fighting hard with Vettel in closing stages and kept reducing the gap quite rapidly. With just over a lap to go, the fight for the third spot ended dramatically. To Vettel’s huge surprise, his right rear tyre blew up; when he was speeding at 200mph. Vettel was out of the race, when he was on the verge of the podium finish. It became too easy for Grosjean as he and Lotus scored the first podium finish since the late 2013. For Hamilton, it was the 39th Grand Prix triumph, and 80th podium. That brought the British driver on level terms with Ayrton Senna and at no.4 in the all-time lists. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, who had changed to soft tyres, outdrove Raikkonen, Massa and Perez to finish fourth. Sergio Perez had the season’s best finish to be fifth, Williams’ Felipe Massa was sixth, Ferrari’s Raikkonen seventh; Verstappen eighth; Bottas ninth and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was tenth.
Before Sebastian Vettel’s tyre burst, there were two other early retirements. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg had power issues on the grid itself that called for a second formation. Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus came to a halt after two laps. Long after the race ended, there was a raging debate on Ferrari’s one-stop strategy after Vettel’s tyre blew up. Pirelli claimed that it was a long track and drivers should make more than one-stop for safety reasons. In days to come the tyre debate is likely to continue. In any case, after the Belgium GP, the championship leaderboard shows that Lewis Hamilton has 227 points to Rosberg’s 199 and Vettel’s 160.