Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Under warm sunshine in the Ardennes, Sebastian Vettel took a dominant victory by 17 seconds from the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. After his 5th pole position of the season, Lewis Hamilton was left helpless to fight both the Red Bull and Ferrari on race day and thus had to settle for a frustrating 3rd place and the final place on the podium.
In one of the shortest runs down to the first corner on the calendar, it was always going to be claustrophobic off the start. Both Hamilton and Vettel held position going into La Source, whilst further down Alonso made yet another lightning getaway to jump up to 5th place while Button came from 6th to 3rd.
Vettel however made his move on Hamilton going into Les Combes. Getting a fantastic run up Eau Rouge and utilising all his KERS up the hill he breezed past Hamilton for 1st place.
Typically, Webber made a sluggish getaway and lost out to both Alonso and Button going down into Eau Rouge, whilst the two Lotus cars in 8th and 9th were squabbling between each other with Raikkonen being forced out by Grosjean and dropped down to 10th.
By lap 2 however, Kimi, not wanting to lose any time behind his teammate, made no mistake and took Grosjean into Les Combes – but this was to be the start of a very frustrating Grand Prix for the Finn. Up front Vettel had already stretched his advantage out to 2.8 seconds over Hamilton and it was a true signal of intent by the German as to his race pace come Sunday.
A man on the move too was Alonso. Up to 5th after his brilliant start, he made small work of others and by lap 6 he had passed not only Button for 4th but also Rosberg for 3rd place, both moves utilising the DRS advantage at the top of the hill going into Les Combes.
During the early laps, the struggling Raikkonen was tucked up behind 8th place Hulkenberg, and it was here that we got to see excessive black brake dust coming out of the Lotus drivers front left hand side for the first time. The team quickly radioed in to ask him to manage the situation – much to the annoyance of Kimi – and it was the first signs of worse things to come later on in the race.
His teammate Grosjean was not faring any better, and on lap 8 he was subject to a very aggressive move by the McLaren of Perez into Les Combes. Being forced wide and off the track he also lost out to the Ferrari of Massa behind.
The stewards though did not see the move as fair and by lap 11 had handed Perez a drive-through penalty for not leaving a car’s width when overtaking, a decision that seemed extremely harsh and something Martin Whitmarsh post-race was very unhappy about.
By lap 12, the front runners were starting to come into the pits for their first stops. Hamilton was first to blink, followed by Rosberg, Webber, Alonso and Vettel on lap 13,14 and 15. It was here Webber looked to try something different and opted to run the hard compound tyres, and looked quick too.
After the first stops had been completed, the top 5 held position, but Hamilton was severely compromised by the longer running Grosjean, and was held up for 2 laps as the lotus driver defended hard. By lap 15 Alonso had capitalised on this and had cruised right up on the back of the Mercedes thanks to a fine overtake into Rivage on Grosjean.
It was here that the Spaniard leapt on a mistake by Hamilton into La Source. With the Mercedes man running wide, Alonso took a tight line, gained better traction on the exit and then jumped into 2nd place – fighting Hamilton off at the top of the hill into Les Combes as the Briton looked to respond immediately.
The race at this point settled down into a steady rhythm. After pitting on lap 18 for hard tyres, Button was making his way back through the longer runners and by lap 22 he was back in 6th place as he took Grosjean into the bus stop chicane.
The Lotus team’s day was to get a lot worse however, and on lap 26 disaster struck. Lining up a pass on the Ferrari of Massa for 7th, Raikkonen jumped up the inside into the Bus Stop, only to press the brake pedal and get nothing back. Running off track, he recovered and headed straight into the pits retiring with a suspected front brake failure – meaning his record of 27 consecutive points finishes was over.
Elsewhere, there was further drama down the field, the Bus Stop chicane yet again the scene of the incident. On lap 28 Gutierrez ran a wide line on the outside of Maldonado through Blanchimont taking the Williams driver into the chicane. As Maldonado then tried to recover to the pitlane, he clipped the rear of the Force India of Adrian Sutil, the contact then forcing the Williams across the track where he collected Paul Di Resta, forcing the Force India man to retire.
This incident was deemed dangerous by the stewards and Maldonado was given a 10 second stop go penalty for his troubles, whilst the Sauber of Gutierrez was also given a drive-through for leaving the track limits around Blanchimont when initially passing the Williams car before the chaos ensued.
By lap 30 the top 5 had all made their second and last stops, with Vettel leading Alonso, and then the longer running Button in 3rd place ahead of Hamilton and Rosberg. Button and McLaren agreed over the radio to attempt “Plan A” which was perceived as a 1 stop strategy, but by lap 35 the tyres simply gave up and McLaren pitted Button for a fresh set of hard tyres – in a bit of strategy no mans land.
From there, the final 10 laps were intriguing but ultimately lacked action as track positions remained the same. Webber was unable to make an impression on 4th place man Rosberg and the medium tyre looked to be giving up on him in the final laps.
Up front though, it was all about Vettel. Since the very first lap he looked in total control, beautifully pacing himself at the head of the field and managed tyre wear to the deltas he needed. In a race where he passed 2000 laps led in his career (one of only five men to achieve such a feat) the Red Bull man went on to claim the 31st win of his career, equalling Nigel Mansell’s tally while laying down the gauntlet ahead of the remaining 9 races of the season – can anyone really catch him now? His advantage is now 46 points.
2nd was a magnificent Alonso who effortlessly made his way through the field. After starting 9th it was yet another race in which he proved his class. 3rd was a frustrated Hamilton who simply did not have the early race pace – holding station in front of his team-mate Rosberg in 4th.
5th was Webber who on another day could have possibly claimed a podium, but the Red Bull man just ran out of steam in the final laps.
6th was a solid Button who will surely be happy with the progress McLaren is making in terms of race pace, whilst Felipe Massa could only manage 7th on a hectic and rather anonymous afternoon. Grosjean managed to recover to 8th place, however that extra-long first stint on the medium tyres really compromised him in terms of track position. 9th was Sutil for a struggling Force India team who simply do not like this new construction Pirelli compound, whilst Ricciardo recovered from 19th to claim a single point for Torro Rosso.
On to Monza then……