Spa-Francorchamps – Not since the last day of June had Fernando Alonso been able to wave to the crowd from the podium. That was at Silverstone when he was third in the British Grand Prix and today, he went one better with a fine second place. The ever confident Ferrari man had said he could win this race, even after qualifying only ninth yesterday and given that the winning Vettel-Red Bull combination looked unbeatable today, this was a fantastic result.
It was perfectly dry for the start and it stayed that way to the chequered flag. By the first part of the opening lap, Vettel had passed pole man Hamilton, with Rosberg, Button and Alonso all getting past Webber so the Spanish Ferrari man had already made up four places to lie fifth, while Felipe in the other F138 had dropped two spots to twelfth. The majority of the field, including the two Prancing Horse cars, had started on the Medium, softer Pirellis.
On lap 4, Fernando passed Button on the uphill section after Raidillon to take fourth place, behind Rosberg. At the front, Vettel’s Red Bull was 3.5s ahead of Hamilton in the Mercedes, while the Englishman had 1.9 in hand over his team-mate. Fernando was flying and pulled another move, this time on Rosberg on lap 5 to get to the bottom step of the podium positions and at this point, he was 7.4 behind the leader.
Lap 8 saw Felipe make up one place to eleventh, when Grosjean ran wide off the track in the Lotus. The Brazilian was one of the first to change tyres, coming in for another set of Mediums on lap 9, dropping to seventeenth. Di Resta in the Force India and Vergne in the Toro Rosso pitted on the next lap.
Hamilton pitted from second on lap 11, promoting Fernando to second, exactly 7 seconds behind Vettel. Rosberg came in on lap 12 from fifth and like everyone, took on another set of Mediums. Felipe was now twelfth having set the fastest race lap at this point. Fernando and Webber changed tyres on lap 13.
The race leader came in on lap 14, which dropped him to second place, behind Button’s McLaren which had yet to stop, while Hamilton was third and Fernando fourth, but on the next lap, the Spaniard squeezed inside the Englishman coming out of the La Source hairpin to be back in third, with Button now second behind Vettel who had got his Red Bull back in front, having passed the McLaren at the Bus Stop. Felipe had moved up to eighth.
Coming out of the Bus Stop on lap 17, Button dived for pit lane, fitting Hards, possibly looking at a one-stop, which put Alonso second again, still 7 seconds behind Vettel. On lap 22, half-distance, the gap between Vettel and the Spaniard had grown to 8.7, with Fernando leading Hamilton by 4.1.
Grosjean was the last driver to change tyres on this lap, clearly on a one stop. Felipe was up to seventh, but he had the slightly faster Raikkonen on his tail in the Lotus. However, the pressure was soon off Felipe, as Raikkonen went off the track at the final corner on lap 25, pitted and retired.
Hamilton came in from third for his second stop, taking on Hards to run to the flag, with Felipe and Sutil in the Force India also changing tyres at this point, the Ferrari man going to the end from here and now lying ninth. As the yellow flags came out because of a collision between Maldonado and Di Resta, Fernando came in for his final stop on lap 28. He rejoined in third place behind the Red Bull of Webber, who had yet to make a second stop.
But the Australian came in next time round, so Fernando was again second, a massive 26.4 seconds behind Vettel who had only pitted once so far. In eighth, Felipe set another race fastest lap. On lap 30 the leader made his final visit to pit lane, just as Fernando emulated his team-mate with a fastest lap. Lap 31 saw the gap between Vettel and Fernando sit at 6.8, as the German’s engineer came on the radio to tell him to extend the gap, as there was a threat of rain. Button clearly couldn’t manage a one stop and pitted again on lap 34.
From then on, the order settled down at the front until Fernando took the chequered flag in second place, almost 17 seconds off the leader. However, the action wasn’t over for Felipe and with just four laps to go, he managed to get past Grosjean to secure seventh place.
Only two weeks to go until the excitement and emotion of Scuderia Ferrari’s home race at the temple of speed that is Monza. Apart from a hiccough in yesterday’s qualifying, it’s clear the F138 appears to have found some more pace over the summer break and that will be a key factor down the long straights in the Royal Park.
Stefano Domenicali: “After qualifying hadn’t really given a true picture of the hierarchy down pit lane, today’s result showed just how competitive is our car. This second place wasn’t easy to come by and follows on from a difficult month and comes after plenty of speculation, which we prefer to reply to with results on track.
Certainly this result alone is not enough, because we cannot claim to be satisfied until we manage to reduce the gap to Red Bull and be able to fight for first place. In the coming races, we will try to improve the car to give Fernando a chance of fighting for the Championship title and for Felipe to deliver performances which can help the team: those are our goals, the rest doesn’t matter”.
Fernando Alonso: “Today’s result shows that the outcome of qualifying bears little relation to the result on Sunday, although I think that even if I’d started from pole I would still have finished second, because Vettel was quicker. At the start we immediately made up some places and all in a rush, first passing Button, then Rosberg and Hamilton, so I found myself six seconds behind Vettel, but if one looks at the final gap of 16 seconds, we can but congratulate him and his team.
The car worked well in all conditions, with a full fuel load at first and then with a lighter one at the end and, on top of that, the extra speed we had on the straight meant I could overtake without taking too many laps to do so. We know we have made a step forward and that we have recovered some of the competitiveness we had lost in recent races. In Monza and Singapore we will see the next steps in this process.
The updates used in this race worked well and, even if they were aimed at this particular circuit, they are the results of work that goes on twenty four hours a day, at home and at the track. That makes us optimistic for the coming races, because our goal still remains the same, namely to fight for the title right to the end”.
Felipe Massa: “That was a difficult race for me right from the early stages, because after managing a good passing move at the start, I then had to slow and drop back four or five places, to avoid a collision with Grosjean at the exit of the first corner. From then on, things got complicated because for a few laps I had a problem on the steering wheel linked to the KERS operation and I wasn’t able to communicate well with the team.
When everything was back to normal again, it wasn’t easy to catch up, because even if the decision to bring forward the first pit stop allowed me to get past several cars, the pace wasn’t good. In the final stint on the Hard tyres, the car was very competitive and I managed to gain some important places, with a nice passing move on Grosjean.
I definitely can’t be pleased with seventh place, because today, our car deserved better, but the fact we’re more competitive than at the last few races makes me think we are working in the right direction and so we can hope to make progress throughout the second half of the season”.
Pat Fry: “The performance level we saw in today’s race is what we were unable to demonstrate yesterday in qualifying and it was certainly worthy of a front row. We knew that with a competitive car on this track, we would be in the game, even if moving up from ninth and tenth places and coming out of La Source in one piece is no easy task.
Fernando got a great start, being both aggressive and steady at the same time, even if unfortunately, it was not enough to get past Vettel. In the middle stint of the race, their pace was very similar and it was only in the closing stages that the gap grew. Felipe had a harder time, especially at the start when he got caught up in traffic.
We tried bringing forward his first pit stop to make up some places, but in the end, the time lost at the start prevented him from getting into the top five. Now we will tackle two very important races and only by improving the car will we be able to fight for the lead in the Championship”.