Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 36° Humidity 48% Wind 1.0 m/s
Another day of brutal heat, with the crushing weight of an unrelenting sun pouring across the circuit and scorching the legions of orange clad fans waiting to claim their spot to witness the potential of a nation sprung forth, in the form of a young Max Verstappen P2 on the SuperSoft tyres. Yes that’s right, people actually showed up for a GP, much to the astonishment of the media establishment, with the bleachers stuffed like sausages. Turns out having a local driver to root for might have an effect after all. Estimates close to 100,000 in attendance given the the maestro himself, Jacky Ickx in a brief interview by M. Brundle. (Learned to spell Ickx correctly thanks to the tutelage of bruznic. Go back and read his stuff if you’ve not).
The media establishment spent much time bemoaning Lewis for taking 3 engines and “only” being kicked to the back of the grid, whilst conveniently ignoring their moaning of last year when grid penalties carried over, which they thought equally unfair, and ultimately resulted in the regs being changed. Glad to see they have maintained their record of consistency.
A wee orange sausage kerb had been installed on exit of T9 to keep drivers from going 2 wheels off and dragging dust onto the circuit.
Williams blamed yesterday’s woes on a software issue, an excuse that has served me well in real life it must be said. And happy birthday to Bottas whilst we’re about it. Honda was much more straitforward about accepting responsibility for Alonso’s misfortune whilst Fernando himself won social media by tweeting a picture of an upside down grid, saying he’d finally beaten Hamilton.
A bit of last minute kerfuffle for Mercedes as they cut a gearbox seal for Hamilton, being told he could start on the grid, then was issued penalty to start on pitlane, then said penalty rescinded when permission was shown to stewards. Kinda sums up FIA regulatory approach rather nicely IMO.
3 stop vs 2 the big strategy call today (I’m going 3 with Verstappen and Hamilton methinks). Oh and 10% chance of rain. Boo! Ericsson starts from the pit with Hamilton and Alonso going long on Mediums, good call from there, as it should give them lots of free air to run into once the pit stop window opens.
And they’re off!!! Screaming into La Source it was Raikkonen with the great start past Verstappen and then contact with Vettel??!! and a puncture for Kimi caused by his teammate. Ricciardo bounced up to P3 but then was jumped by Hulkenberg. Grosjean also with a brilliant start hammered his way up to P6 whilst at the back it was P19 for Lewis and P17 for Alonso.
But back at the front Verstappen ran wide as he’d also lost a chunk of Front Wing with his first corner contact, and it was P2 for the Hulk and then into pits for Max. Sainz lost a tyre on the Kemmel straight and it was then end for him in a lurid spin as he attempted to get it home. Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the pits caught fire having been dragging bodywork all the way round, but it was a small blaze and easily extinguished. All this excitement brought out the Virtual Safety Car and at the end of lap 3 it was Rosberg, Hulkenberg and Ricciardo leading the way.
On replay it was Vettel coming from the outside and Verstappen on the inside basically making a Kimi sandwich, with Verstappen losing a chunk of front wing.
VSC off lap 4 and it was Button out of the car for undisclosed reasons. Wehrlein too was out of the race in the opening cloud of action. With racing resumed it was Raikkonen a full lap down but still on track, with Vettel running P15 in a cloud of shame for his poor decision making in T1. Button got tagged from behind, destroying the rear end of his car, with the Manor of Wehrlein being the cause of that, conveniently explaining both retirements.
Lap 6 Ricciardo complained of understeer and then Magnussen into the tyre barrier at 180 mph at the top of Eau Rouge and it was no questions Safety Car out. He was out of the car quickly but limped along with the aid of a marshal. The tyre barrier was utterly destroyed as onboards show he spun rearwards first into the barrier rather than headlong. Meanwhile, everyone and his sister headed for the pits, save Alonso, Hamilton and the top 3, Rosberg, Ricciardo and Bottas. Whew!!
Lap 7 still under SC and as the dust settled and under slow mo it just looks like KMag caught a bit too much kerb and unsettled car and lost the rears. Williams brought Bottas in and the renewed order was Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Alonso and Hamilton. Alonso called in with no data on dashboard, making hitting the SC delta a potentially difficult issue.
With the amount of damage it was going to be some time before the barrier was repaired, and as those repairs commenced, Raikkonen the only lapped driver, was released to overtake, putting him at the back of the field and setting up a new chance for the Finn to come good at one of his favourite tracks. Tyre strategy might also have favoured Hamilton now as his switch was going to be to a new set of Softs, whereas Rosberg faced a set of Mediums to comply with the sporting regs.
And just like that, out came the red flag as a JCB was wheeled onto track to effect barrier repairs and the cars wheeled it into the pit lane. As the drivers meandered around the pit, the first corner incident was replayed for young Max, with the typically acerbic Horner commenting it was all Seb’s fault, an opinion shared by Max after viewing as well as about 100,000 Belgians in attendance.
With a 10 minute stop to fix barriers it was worth considering tyre strategy, with Hamilton looking to be biggest beneficiary as he was rocking 3 sets of unused Softs to play with. Hulkenberg as well had run 2 compounds and with tyres 9 laps younger than Ricciardo and Rosberg ahead of him his race was looking very tidy as well. In addition, the cheeky German enquired as to whether fuel could be removed to give the car optimal loads, but was kiboshed as being hopelessly illegal. But with 34 laps to go and a rolling start thankfully plenty of racing awaited. In the last minute, news of KMag filtered out that he had injured his left ankle, putting his Monza appearance in doubt.
With the race restarted it was Rosberg on a new set of Mediums, with Ricciardo and the runners behind (including Hamilton) on brand new Softs. And bang! just like that it was Hamilton under pressure on restart through the chicane from Massa but no love for that move as Alonso ahead had a dig at Hulkenberg. By T10 Rosberg was more than a second up the road but it was clear that Hulkenberg was the cork in the bottle P3 with the cars behind him all separated by less than a second.
Into lap 12 it was Hamilton all over the gearbox of Alonso, with Lewis knowing that his race was disappearing up the road without him. Down the Kemmel and Lewis seamlessly carved past the McLaren and into P4, closing down on the Hulk without pause. During that drama, once again there was contact with Verstappen and Raikkonen, with Max driving him wide at Les Combes and Kimi asking if he needed to give up the spot.
Being told he must and having let him by, the duel for P14 continued and a late move from Verstappen again resulted in near contact and a furious call from Kimi as Max used his trademark last minute defense. Further up the sharp end, Lewis had closed to within a second of Hulkenberg and awaited the right spot to begin his overtake, whilst Ricciardo ahead kept Rosberg on a 1.5s tether.
Lap 17 ended the fight with Kimi as Max was in for tyres and a front wing adjust. Vettel continued to try and atone for his first lap sins as he took P8 away from Kvyat. Lewis was on the boil and closing up fast on the Hulk, looking to get it done that lap and with a lock up into the chicane after slipstreaming all the way from Radillon managed a rather high speed pass on the Force India. It was off to chase Ricciardo 6s up the road as it looked to be.
Kimi continued his rampage at the back and in an attempt to get round Grosjean there was a bit of a touch between the tyres, with Grosjean maintaining his position for the moment as Raikkonen radioed for a tyre pressure check. Being assured there was no issue, Kimi took the bit and carved his way past the Frenchman, with Gutierrez being next up the road and firmly in the Finn’s sights.
While Hamilton continued to close Ricciardo down, slightly further back Perez was onto Massa. And surprise, into the pits for Lewis who had complained of sliding the rears and back out after a stuck jack slowed his stop while Mercedes Medium call for Rosberg suddenly looked rather genius.
Lewis trundled out on new Softs but in P9 while Raikkonen disposed of Gutierrez. Nasr collected a 5 second penalty for leaving the track. Massa was in lap 22 as well, which cleared some air for Hamilton for a moment but left him stuck behind Bottas. Massa was back out and both he and Verstappen blew by Grosjean making it look as if the HAAS car had some kind of issue.
Lap 24 both Alonso and Hulkenberg pit and on exit it was drama city as Alonso had a proper go at overtaking him in the pits. The latest pit stop dance left Lewis back up to P4 but 32s back of the race lead as the Hulk confirmed there was a tiny bit of contact in the pit lane.
Raikkonen was in lap 25 as the hot track continued to melt tyres at a rate far faster than predicted. The same lap Vettel encountered the back end of Max Verstappen, which immediately resulted in barely avoided contact. Stop me if you notice a pattern.
Ricciardo was in and out, just in front of Hamilton. Vettel got the good run on Verstappen, but Max did not give it up and slipstreamed himself back ahead of Vettel with a nice move.
Lap 27 saw the race leader in for a new set of Mediums, and Rosberg was back out 10s up the road with no need whatsoever to hit the pits. At Les Combes, meanwhile, Vettel finally stuck the knife firmly in leaving Verstappen behind.
Max’s weavey-ass defense of Raikkonen which featured a rather massive lock up, left him vulnerable to Bottas who rocked past him as Max dove into the pits to ditch the compromised tyres, before re-entering the fray P15.
AS Lewis continued to slowly to reel in Ricciardo, Perez bulled his way past Massa at Les Combes to take P6 away, leaving a wheel mark imprinted on the side of the Williams. Also worth remembering that Hulkenberg ran a 21 lap stint on the Softs in practice, but everyone else in the top 10 was on the Mediums. Ricciardo got a warning for his left rear tyre warming lap 31 as the race settled, the only battle shaping up being Vettel catching Massa for P7, Perez having easily dispatched Alonso for P5.
The race for Lewis rapidly changed from getting ahead of Ricciardo to escaping the pit window of the Force India’s lurking behind, with Hulkenberg hovering at the edge, 30s back. Lap 33 saw the margin out to 31s and into the pits he came, back out on Mediums and right behind Hulkenberg. Vettel continued his run of inconsistent driving by having a massive lock up and running himself wide, allowing the Williams of Massa to dance past effortlessly, undoing Seb’s hard work.
Lap 34 saw Lewis rock past Hulkenberg into Les Combes seamlessly, while Vettel redid all over again his pass of Massa. The math was coming clear for Lewis as Vettel cleared a hapless Alonso, whose engine might’ve been better but was still not yet a serious challenge to the Scuderia. With 8 laps and 20+ seconds and roughly 0.5s a lap, it was looking P3 for Hamilton while the battle shaping up at the end of the points was Raikkonen on the gearbox of Bottas.
The following lap saw Hamilton revisit the 1.51’s and the gap was down a bit, but it was going to be a stroll to the finish. Alonso in P7 was now causing a major train, with the rest of the top 10 training behind him, all well within DRS of each other. The equally entertaining possibility of Verstappen catching Raikkonen for the last points paid position also began to raise its head.
Trying his best to have some fun Hamilton did put in fastest lap on the 40th trip round the bases, as at the back of the top 10 the Alonso train continued to roll, though Massa had started to drift back as Williams continue to have tyre issues.
Apparently going fast was a habit for Lewis as he went even faster lap 41, as Bottas switched places with Massa, a birthday present perhaps? Not really as Massa’s tyres had melted and as he fell back to the clutches of Raikkonen as Bottas charged forward to have a go at Alonso. Sure enough, Raikkonen easily claimed P9 as Bottas began to close the gap down.
With the gap to 10s, Ricciardo picked it up a bit as Hamilton backed off as the cruised into the final lap. The battle between Alonso and Bottas however, was rapidly turning into the battle between Raikkonen and Bottas as the Finn had closed up to 1s as Alonso gave it the beans to stay out of reach of the Williams. But there was nothing in it and that’s how they finished, Rosberg, Ricciardo and Hamilton followed by Hulkenberg and Perez, an amazing result for the Force India team. A well earned, but also quite lucky 3rd for Hamilton as well (record comeback to podium at spa, no less), which is probably more than they expected to do by rather a lot. Fantastic result for Ricciardo as well, who will be enjoying a well earned podium after a long day at the office. And of course, a masterful drive by Rosberg, who got the job done when it needed doing, particularly after the red flag on the Medium tyre, which looked to be a handicap but turned out to be a race winner.
Less than satisfactory (though highly entertaining) were the races of Verstappen and Vettel, perhaps its something to do with the letter V. The crowd seemed not to care, as they flooded podium ceremony. Perhaps it’s all their crazy beer. Raikkonen will be happy to put this behind him, as his race was destroyed before it began through no fault of his, though would no doubt be highly entertaining to sit in on the team debrief. Ocon finished, which was far better than his teammate, so good on him and it’s a big sigh of relief for Magnussen as his shunt ended with an injured ankle and no more, as it could’ve been so so much worse.
And I stand by my 3 stop, as all the front runners started on fresh tyres after the red flag!! Welcome back everyone.
Bonus arguing material stolen from Twitter
— Gianlu D'Alessandro (@Gianludale27) August 28, 2016
And remember to play nice in the comments!!