Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was the man of the moment as the Formula One 2011 race action resumed for the Belgian Grand Prix today following the holiday period. The reigning World Champion made the most of his opportunity to pit under the safety car situation, despite losing the lead at the start to Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Vettel was able to overcome such obstacles to take the victory in the end, and his first at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. In doing so the German has reignited the feeling of success, as he had not won another race until today since Valencia in June this year.
Vettel expressed his feelings on how the race unfolded and picking up another win. “I’m very happy; today was a very good race for us, although it was not easy with the tyres. The beginning of the race was more research and science than racing and we sacrificed a lot by stopping very early. We had a good feeling though, and I came in again when the safety car came out, just to see how they were. I can judge a bit from looking at the inside, but when you’re doing 300 km/h or more and the tyres are always spinning rather than stopped, you can’t really take the time to see, so it was crucial to come in and have a closer look. I’m very happy with the result. It’s a big relief after all the discussions we had going into the race.” explained Vettel.
Vettel’s Australian team mate Mark Webber came through the field to pick up second place, after deciding to pit on lap 32. This gamble proved to pay off as he prevented third place man Jenson Button from stealing the position later on. The one-two finish for Red Bull today is the first one since round four in Turkey this year.
Meanwhile, the McLaren driver had to pit in the closing stages of the race, after Webber had already made his stop prior to that. Despite not being able to catch Webber the Englishman drove a fantastic race, and demonstrated some brave manoeuvres along the way. The 2009 World Champion lined up on the grid in 13th place, and made up 10 positions to secure the final step on the podium.
As the lights went out to signal the race start Vettel had maintained his pole position, however, it was not long until Rosberg came on the scene. The German found a window of opportunity to snatch first place from his fellow countryman at Les Combes. As a result of dropping down to second place, Vettel’s situation had not improved since concerns were raised over blistering of the Pirelli tyres on the cars before the race. He had barely progressed in the first lap when the condition of his tyres was already noticeable and they had blistered. Due to the fact that there were little dramas at the front and overall top 10, the first lap positions read as follows: Rosberg was leading over Vettel, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was in third place holding off McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso was just behind the Englishman in fifth place. The Spaniard was keeping Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi at bay, who had performed well in qualifying yesterday, like his Spanish team mate Jaime Alguersuari. Sauber rookie this season Sergio Perez was trailing Buemi in seventh place, but the Mexican driver found that Webber, his own team mate Kamui Kobayashi, and Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov were all close by.
Meanwhile, the action was unfolding in the midfield and towards the back of the grid. It was reported that the two Team Lotus cars had contact. In addition to this speculation about Jarno Trulli and his Finnish team mate Heikki Kovalainen, Alguersuari experienced his fair share of problems. At the start of the race it was discovered that Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna had contact with Alguersuari. It was thought that Senna had braked too late and hit Alguersuari, which led to him having a broken track rod. Alonso narrowly missed being collected in this collision as well.
It was later announced on lap six that Senna had been issued a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Alguersuari. After being at the centre of a couple of incidents, it appeared that Senna was still getting used to racing again. The Brazilian driver had previously raced for the Hispania team, and is current test and reserve driver for Lotus Renault. Consequently, Senna, Glock and Kovalainen all had to pit for repairs. It was only on lap four when Button was forced to do the same. He explained after the race that someone’s front wing end plate, flew into his car and damaged the front wing and nose cone.
Towards the front of the field some early scraps for position and pace setting occurred. Hamilton and Alonso were the first pair to have a battle. Hamilton ended up the victim though, when Alonso snatched fourth place from him. Alonso then went on to tackle his own team mate Massa on two occasions early on. The first attempt Alonso made failed to come of anything, but he had better success with the DRS on lap five, when he moved up to second place. This change in track position coincided with Vettel being in the pits, which then led Massa to drop to fourth place, with Hamilton taking third position.
Kobayashi, who is famous for his daredevil manoeuvres in races, was once again at the heart of the action in the race. Kobayashi was found to have a broken end plate and he had to visit the pits for repairs. It was confirmed on lap nine that there had been contact between the Japanese driver and Buemi, who ended up out of the race and had a broken rear wing as well.
Following a successful overtaking manoeuvre from Alonso earlier on, Hamilton was able to gain a place unlike earlier on with the double World Champion. In a scrap with Rosberg, Hamilton was successful and took second place from him at the time. Alonso had the upper hand though as he was leading the race, and Vettel was making his way up to the top. After passing Kobayashi, Vettel was running in fifth place, and was just 10 seconds off first place on lap eight.
Alonso then handed the lead to Hamilton while he went into the pits for a tyre change. He emerged from the pit lane and soon had a close encounter with Webber. Alonso temporarily took eighth place, but when the pair narrowly missed hitting each other, Webber’s patience prevailed as he pushed Alonso into ninth place, to go one place better than him. It was not long before Force India’s Adrian Sutil joined the battle too. The German was holding onto eighth place, when Alonso and Webber had managed to better themselves into sixth and seventh place respectively.
It was only on lap 10 of the race when Vettel reported of more tyre blistering over the team radio. This seemed to work to Hamilton’s advantage, who decided to pit for a tyre change in response to Vettel’s problems. Hamilton was advised to look after his tyres by his team in order to not put him in the same situation as Vettel. Despite having issues with his tyres, Vettel was still scrapping for position. He was battling for position with Rosberg, who after making his pit stop lost out, as he slid down the grid to 14th place.
At the very front of the grid though, Alonso was leading the way as he set some impressive lap times. His first fastest lap was a 1:53.747secs, which he went on to better and recorded a 1:53.399secs.
Sadly, Hamilton did not get the chance to be on a par with Alonso’s solid form. Hamilton and Kobayashi came together on lap 13. It appeared that Hamilton thought his overtake on Kobayashi was out of the way, when Kobayashi suddenly came back at him again. Hamilton seemed to take the normal racing line, but it looked like there was some confusion between them. Consequently, the pair made contact and Hamilton slid along the barrier he had hit and went out of the race. The safety car was then deployed to remove the debris from the track and repair the area where the barrier had disintegrated due to the impact of the hit. Kobayashi was fortunate enough to continue in the race, but had to pit first for new tyres and a replacement front wing. It was later reported on lap 21 that no further action would be taken by the race stewards on the incident.
As well as Hamilton retiring from the race at this point, it seemed that Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo would be joining him. The Australian was seen parked off the track and he would take no further part in the action.
While the safety car was leading the pack of remaining cars round the track, Vettel’s pinnacle moment came, which contributed to his victory in the end. He made the most of the opportunity to make the stop, and he did not lose out too badly in track position. On the other hand, Button re-joined the race in 13th place where he started from.
After the safe recovery of Hamilton’s car and temporary repairs to the barrier, the safety car then went back to the pits on lap 16. The need for the safety car in the race today meant that 10 Grands Prix of 44 at the circuit have warranted its appearance.
For several laps after the racing properly got underway again, there were many scraps for position between drivers. Rosberg and Massa were involved in a battle, but Rosberg was ahead at the time in fourth place. As well as this duo going head to head, Button was making good progress from 13th position. He was able to make up a few places to get to eighth place on lap 18. However, his gain resulted in a loss for Perez, who had already lost one place, and Button worsened his situation. At this point in the race Perez was then in 10th place instead of 8th position.
Alonso and Vettel were also fighting against each other for the lead. Eventually Vettel’s persistence paid off as he got into first place, and left Alonso to slip into second position on lap 18. As a result of his progression into the top spot, Vettel demonstrated why he has won 17 races so far in his career. He went on to set some impressive lap times, one of which was a 1:52.281secs.
Further down the field the scraps seemed to be in full swing. Sutil was the first to benefit among the midfield runners. He managed to get himself up into sixth place on lap 19. While Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was holding 12th place, which he had jumped into following his five place grid penalty yesterday. The Venezuelan’s team mate Rubens Barrichello though, was one place ahead in 11th position, and Perez was one better than that in 10th place. Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was also going on strong in ninth place, while the others were fighting for position with each other.
Although Perez may have still been in the race, an earlier incident which involved him came to the attention of the race stewards. Unfortunately Buemi lost out to Perez and the Swiss driver ended up making a swift exit from the race. However, Perez got his comeuppance on lap 21 when he was under investigation for causing a collision. As a result of this, he was forced to serve a drive through penalty within three laps of it being issued.
When the racing festivities reached nearly half distance, Button very much became at the forefront of the action. At the time of Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher making his way through the field -- having started in 24th place -- Button and the former Ferrari driver fought for position. The battle was progressing for a few laps, and the former World Champions did not yield their positions. At the time Schumacher had the upper hand and was in seventh place just ahead of Button. Button’s sleek driving style finally succeeded when he overtook the German on lap 22. Button’s next opponent was Sutil who was holding onto sixth place. It was not long before Button pounced and managed to sneak past to take sixth place from Sutil. Button’s mission then allowed him to move up again when he tackled Massa for position. The Brazilian driver eventually had to give up his fight, which meant Button secured fifth place.
Button seemed to be on a roll and Rosberg became his next victim on lap 26. As the pair were going into La Source, Button found the use of his DRS which successfully saw him cruise past with ease. Button was then up into fourth place with Webber next in his sights. Via the McLaren team radio it was reported that Button was 8.2secs away from Webber. They explained that the others ahead of him were suffering with blistering tyres. The gap between Webber and Button was gradually reducing as Button was getting closer. At one stage he had taken a second away from Webber. Despite his determination to catch Webber, Button took the opportunity to gain a place when Alonso had made his pit stop. Button then landed third place, as the order changed with Webber in second position, while Vettel was maintaining the top spot.
Before the likes of Vettel, Rosberg, Massa, Petrov and Force India’s Paul di Resta had to pit for tyres, Perez had beaten them to it on lap 29 but for a different reason. Yellow flags were waved as Perez was off the track at sector 12. He had a suspected broken suspension and gingerly made his way back to the pits, and retreated to the garage. He remained there and took no further part in the race.
On lap 31 the trend of scrapping for position returned. This time it was the turn of Barrichello and Rosberg, who were joined by Massa as well. At the time Rosberg had the advantage of the three, as he was in seventh place, while Barrichello maintained eighth position from Massa who was behind him. Another three way battle emerged which involved Sutil, Schumacher and Massa. It was on lap 34 that Sutil finally had to surrender sixth place to Schumacher.
Around the time of the scrap between Sutil, Schumacher and Massa, Button and Vettel were having one of their own at the front. Webber was out of the way in the pits on lap 32 when this occurred. Button had temporarily been leading the race, but Vettel unleashed his DRS which allowed him to get back in front. Button then had to pit for a tyre change, and re-joined the race in fourth place. Meanwhile, Massa, who stopped at the same point, ended up down the field in 11th place. It was reported that he had a puncture, which led to the unscheduled visit to the pits.
In the meantime, Webber was making his way back to where he was before pitting. His first overtake to do so, was over Alonso to get into second place. Webber made the move stick with ease, using the DRS at the appropriate moment.
Although Massa was a little further down the field, he successfully tacked Maldonado for ninth place on lap 38. An exciting in team battle then formed between Rosberg and Schumacher. The more youthful of the two had the better position at this point. Rosberg was holding fifth place from Schumacher on lap 38. It is only a year ago at this circuit, when the pair came together as they were so keen to overtake each other. Luckily, the drivers avoided such an occurrence in the race today. Unfortunately for Rosberg, veteran racer Schumacher put his extensive experience to use in the end. He managed to get the opportunity to overtake Rosberg and secure a fifth place finish. He crossed the line just behind Alonso, and ahead of his team mate Rosberg.
In the latter stage of the race, there were goings on at the back of the pack. Like Schumacher and Rosberg, Kovalainen and Trulli decided to muscle in on the in team overtaking trend. On lap 41 Trulli was ahead in 15th place, and Kovalainen was trying to take it from him. However, Kovalainen failed to catch his Italian team mate in the three remaining laps of the race. In the end they did finish one place better off, but Trulli pipped Kovalainen to 14th position.
To follow suit on his earlier involvement in having contact with other drivers, Kobayashi did the same again with just a few laps to go until the chequered flag. He had a coming together with Barrichello on lap 41, which caused Barrichello to go into the pits for a new front wing. The duo were fighting over 12th place when they got a bit too close for comfort. As a result of this, Kobayashi did not lose out and still finished ahead of Barrichello to secure 12th place. With the unscheduled pit stop and delay it caused, Barrichello dropped a few places to finish in 16th place overall.
In the final few laps where the front runners were concerned, Alonso appeared to struggle for grip, which saw him drop track position. Button was able to benefit from Alonso’s vulnerable situation on lap 42. Button made an easy pass when the time came, and he could take over third place and Alonso slipped down to fourth position.
Sutil was among those to end up in a top 10 point scoring position, as he finished the race in seventh place. He just got ahead of Massa, who in the dying seconds took eighth place from Petrov.
As well as losing a place to Massa so close to the finish, Petrov’s race finale had double disappointment. After he crossed the line, the Russian parked up just outside the pit lane. It was not clear whether it was his brakes which he had problems with in the race, or if he had run out of petrol.
Maldonado was the last man to pick up a point scoring position as he ended the race in 10th place. Sadly, di Resta missed out on the opportunity to pick up some points, as he came just outside those desirable places in 11th position.
Following his eventful first race back in Formula One, Senna landed 13th place for himself. As the only Belgian driver in the paddock, Jerome d’Ambrosio was flying the flag for his country today. He had a fairly good result in the end, as he not only finished in 17th place, but beat his more experienced Marussia Virgin Racing team mate Glock in the process. Vitantonio Liuzzi was the sole Hispania car left in the race following the retirement of team mate Ricciardo. As five drivers failed to finish, the Italian was the last in the final race classification.
With Vettel back on winning form, he has extended his lead in the Driver’s Championship. He now heads his rivals with 259 points, and Webber is holding second place with 167 points. The gap between Webber and Alonso is a tiny margin compared to Webber and Vettel. Webber is just 10 points in front of current third place man Alonso, while team mates Button and Hamilton have a definite in team Championship battle. Button is in front with 149 points and Hamilton is just three points adrift.
Where the Constructor’s battle is concerned, Red Bull certainly seem to be within touching distance of the title compared to their rivals. The Austrian team have a massive lead with 426 points and McLaren are in second place with 295 points, the gap between McLaren and third place Ferrari is just 64 points.
To mark the return of Formula One after the summer break, today’s Belgian Grand Prix could not have been more exciting for all to see. It contained every element to make the overall results wide open until late on in the proceedings. The defining moment where the race winner emerged, seemed to be Vettel’s pit stop timing under the safety car. He in particular has come back with a bang, as it has been a while since he last won a race this season. Even so, it has to be said that the rest of the field also deserve credit for the performance they delivered, albeit at times some moments were controversial, with the penalties that followed. The drivers and teams now have two weeks to prepare for their next challenge, as they head to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.