Belgian Grand Prix - Rain at Spa-Francorchamps reshuffles the cards The cards for the Drivers' Championship were reshuffled by the rain on the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, Lewis Hamilton is now leading the championship while...
Belgian Grand Prix - Rain at Spa-Francorchamps reshuffles the cards
The cards for the Drivers' Championship were reshuffled by the rain on the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, Lewis Hamilton is now leading the championship while previous leader Mark Webber moved to second position after a dismal start in which he lost five places within ten seconds. It was an almost perfect day for Hamilton, he collected 25 points, while title rivals Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso didn't score one single point. Almost a perfect day, because when the rain again hit Spa during the final stages of the race, his team decided he should stay out for one more lap, but during that lap Hamilton was surprised by the tricky conditions and almost ended his race in the gravel trap before he could pit to change to the full wet tyres.
Hamilton about his mistake at Turn Eight, "Fortunately, I got out of it, took a step back, regained my focus, and took control again. I was so relieved to cross the line at the end of the race -- it was an overwhelming feeling. It almost feels like this is my first win, it's just phenomenal."
Despite his poor start Webber was pleased to take second place scoring 18 championship points. "In the end I'm happy with second. A good day for the team. Lewis deserved the win and did a good job," the Australian said during the post-race press conference. And when asked if now would be the right moment for Red Bull to treat him as first driver he said, "It's still too early at the moment, but not far away, I would say."
No luck for Vettel, Button, Alonso and Rubens Barrichello
Vettel is now third in the championship, 31 points behind the leader. After the first safety car period Vettel overtook Robert Kubica and was then third behind Button, but disaster struck on lap 15 when he tried to overtake the Briton just before the bus stop chicane. When he pulled out of the slipstream of the McLaren he lost control, went sideways and went straight into the side pod of Button's car. The impact destroyed the radiator and Button had to retire on the spot, Vettel visited the pits for a new front wing and continued his race in 12th position. The FIA Stewards rewarded Vettel's action with a drive through penalty which again cost him a number of places.
But Vettel's ordeal wasn't over yet, during a fight with Vitantonio Liuzzi for 11th place he damaged his left rear tyre after he had overtaken the Italian and drove off the front wing of the Force India. He had to slowly drive a full 7 km lap before he could change his tyres again. He rejoined the race in 20th position and after this second incident his race was effectively over. But afterwards Vettel remained upbeat for the remaining races, "Monza will be hard for us and today we should at least have been on the podium, but everything is still in it. Head up, we move on."
Button was less happy with Vettel's overtaking attempt and also criticized Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who later said Button had braked very early, and thus suggested he was to blame for the accident. "I certainly didn't brake any earlier than usual. All I know is I suddenly felt a big bang in the side pod, which ripped the radiator out, and then I lost drive," the current World Champion said. He later watched the incident on TV and commented, "I'd say it was a very strange incident. Clearly, he didn't do it on purpose, and I gather he's now apologized, but I have to say I've got no idea what he was doing." And also admitted this was not good for the championship, "It's a massive blow to my world championship hopes."
Another man who wasn't happy at all was Alonso. At the end of the first lap Barrichello braked too late on the wet track and his Williams slid very hard into the back of the Ferrari. Barrichello had to retire and his 300th Grand Prix ended after one lap. Barrichello later apologized for the incident, "When I touched the brakes, even though it was quite early, it wasn't sufficient to stop the car. The car went straight on into Alonso, for which I'm sorry."
Incredibly enough Alonso's Ferrari was not damaged, but he went into the pit lane to have his car checked, and at the same time decided to change to the intermediate tyres, but as it turned out, it was the wrong decision. Alonso, "We fitted intermediate tyres, expecting more persistent and harder rain, but that was not the case. Yesterday we were hoping for rain, but when it came it was already too late to be of much use to me." He had to go back to the pits to change to the soft tyres again and then had to carve his way through the field. He did a great job and by lap 16 he was already back into ninth position.
The Spaniard then had a long fight with BMW-Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi for eighth position, but on lap 34 the rain again hit the Spa-Francorchamps circuit Alonso once again visited the pits, this time for the full wet weather tyres. He rejoined the race in eighth position, but on lap 38 he went just a bit too far over the curbs and lost control of his Ferrari, hit the tyre barrier and his front suspension broke. "A shame even if the points I could have brought home would not have been a lot. It is very disappointing, because this is a bad result, but it does not mean I have given up on my chances of winning the title," a disillusioned Alonso said after the race.
Kubica again surprises
Although Kubica made quite a few mistakes, he again showcased his talents and the potential of the Renault R30 and took his third podium of the season. Kubica made a flying start and took second position, but after the safety car pulled into the pit lane, he lost second position to Button who surprised him. He then lost another position to Vettel, but after the Vettel-Button incident he was back in second place: "I think I could have gone quicker than Jenson during that part of the race. When the track was clear, I was able to push to the limit and the car felt really good."
At the end of the race he made a mistake and overshot his pit area, narrowly missing his mechanics. Kubica said, "I told myself to take it easy because it was so slippery, but there were a number of controls I had to change on the steering wheel. I was distracted doing this and that was my mistake: when I looked up, it was past the braking point, I locked up the front wheels."
Team principal Eric Boullier was also happy with the performance of Kubica's colleague Vitaly Petrov: "It was a strong performance from Vitaly to recover from the back of the grid to score points. Overall I think we can be very satisfied with this weekend, especially because we brought our latest updates, including the F-Duct, and managed to get it working properly straight away."
FIA Stewards Report
Speeding in the pit lane costs 200 Euro per kilometer and on Saturday Jarno Trulli was fined 4,400 Euro, Timo Glock received 5-place grid penalty for impeding Sakon Yamamoto, and Sebastien Buemi received a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg. The Stewards also investigated an incident involving Trulli and Lucas di Grassi, but after examining the video evidence they decided no further action was needed.
On Sunday the Stewards investigated a number of drivers who left the track at Turn 18 and 19 on the first lap, but decided no further action was necessary. The incident between Barrichello who smashed into the back of Alonso's Ferrari was also investigated, and after having taken the sudden change of weather conditions into account, they decided not to take any action. Vettel received a drive through penalty for his incident with Button and after the race Jaime Alguersuari got a 20 second penalty, which was added to his total time and demoted him from tenth to 13th place, for cutting off a corner and gaining an advantage on Liuzzi.
Against all odds: a good weekend for Mercedes
Michael Schumacher had to start from 21st position on the grid as a result of the 10-place penalty he received in Hungary for dangerous driving, while Nico Rosberg received a 5-place penalty after his team decided to change the gearbox after qualifying, which gave him a 15th starting position. Hardly a good position to score points, but against all odds they did better than they had hoped for. Both Rosberg and Schumacher took advantage of the chaos at the end of the first lap when half the field missed the last chicane before start-finish, both emerged from the melee unscathed in 9th and 14th position respectively. Both Mercedes drivers didn't panic when it started to rain during the first laps of the race, and stayed out on their slicks.
Rosberg was overtaken by Petrov after he made a slight mistake, and Schumacher used the opportunity to overtake the surprised Rosberg as well, but when Schumacher got in front of his team mate, he hit his front wing, fortunately for Rosberg the wing stayed intact, and he could continue his race. Schumacher about the incident, "I 'met' Nico twice out on the track today. The first time, I had the better go in a nice racing duel and the second time was right after the re-start where I had to lift a little up into Eau Rouge due to the car in front which Nico used to fly past me." Rosberg was equally satisfied with his race and told he had no problems with Schumacher's actions, "Michael and I had a couple of battles out there which was fun. We respect each other and you just have to be careful and it all worked out ok for us." Rosberg finished sixth and Schumacher seventh, and together they scored 14 points for the championship.
Force India and BMW-Sauber
Adrian Sutil again impressed when he drove his Force India across the finish line in fifth position, and although it looked like a pretty uneventful race for him, he still had to work hard for his ten points. He stayed clear of the chaos during the early stages of the race and cruised around the circuit in seventh position, and when Vettel had eliminated Button he was in fifth position. After his pit stop he rejoined the race in eighth position, and during the next few laps he overtook Kobayashi, Rosberg and Schumacher and by lap 25 he had regained his fifth place. "I think that [fifth place] was the best we could do. When the rain came it was sometimes light in places and heavy in others and I had to really concentrate to drive it home safely," the young German said after the race.
Liuzzi had more problems during his race, he had to make a total of four pit stops, he was forced to pit after Vettel damaged his front wing. "We decided to pit earlier and do a long stint with the hard tyres and it was a pretty good decision as we had a good pace," the Italian explained. "But then Vettel tried to overtake me at the last corner and took my front wing off, we lost more than 30 seconds changing the wing and without this I am pretty sure we could have finished in eighth or higher." He finished in 11th position but he was promoted to tenth after Alguersuari's 20 second penalty, and scored one championship point. Force India is now sixth in the Constructors' Championship, 18 points ahead of Williams.
BMW-Sauber drivers Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa started the race from 17th and 24th on the grid, but Kobayashi drove another impressive race and again finished well ahead of his Spanish team mate. "The team made very good decisions in choosing the right tyres at the right time, and the pit stops went well. For parts of the race the track conditions were changing every lap, and that was not easy," the Japanese driver commented after he crossed the finish line in eighth position.
De la Rosa had a good race as well, but after a mistake he lost two places when he tried to overtake Petrov. De la Rosa, who finished in eleventh place commented, "I was on full wet tyres, the rain was not heavy enough and there was not enough water on the track to stop destroying those tyres. They went off quite quickly and when I tried to catch Petrov I made a mistake. I went into the gravel and lost two places."
The final countdown
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is merciless and when it rains it's even more difficult to stay out of trouble as many experienced drivers found out last weekend, just a tiny mistake and the race is over, points are lost, and the fight for the championship will be even tougher for those who failed to score points. The fight for the Constructors' Championship will probably be decided by Red Bull Racing, who are now leading with 330 points, and McLaren, who are now in second position with 329 points.
But Ferrari, who are in third position with 250 points, will need a few miracles to stay in contention for the title, but miracles do happen in Formula One, and team principal Stefano Domenicali commented on the team's chances, "It is still not impossible for us to reach our targets: for those with short memories, I remember that three years ago, we found ourselves in a much worse situation and we all know how it went in the end."
Red Bull are in an awkward position now that Webber is again leading Vettel in the championship with 27 points and with only six races to go, and possibly only five if the circuit in Korea isn't finished in time, the final countdown to the end of the season has started. Which poses the question: should Red Bull continue to favor Vettel and hope he doesn't make any more mistakes, or should they dedicate their resources to Webber? Whatever the team decides to do, it will also further strain the already problematic relationship between Webber and Vettel, neither of them would accept the other one only getting the VIP treatment from the team. Horner already has given his view and when asked whether Webber now has the number one status he answered, "That would be team orders. And those are not allowed!"
Ferrari has already issued team orders in Germany, which has cost them $100,000, and they still have to face the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) on September 8, just a few days before the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Although Ferrari remains confident and has faith in the decision the FIA will make, one can never tell what the gentlemen behind the green table will decide, it is very well possible Ferrari will be disqualified from the race in Hungary, or perhaps even stripped of their Constructors' Championship points and will go home empty-handed at the end of the season. Read all about the hearing of the WMSC next week at Motorsport.com.