As F1 returns from its summer holidays, Sebastian Vettel has got some breathing space at the top of the championship after he steered his Ferrari to success in Hungary albeit after some handy team orders.
Last time out in Hungary, a damaged car for Vettel disallowed the German to take full advantage of the dominant Ferrari’s chassis over the rest of the field at the tight and twisty Hungaroring. It was since revealed that his team mate Kimi Raikkonen would’ve passed the lead Ferrari driver had they allowed him to stay out once Vettel had pitted. Clearly he was the quicker car, but the team know their best chance for a World Drivers Title lay in Vettel so the Finn was ordered to pit soon after Vettel in order for the German to claim top points. It will be interesting to see if they do the same this weekend as Kimi’s record at Spa is the best when compared to the other protagonists.
Lewis Hamilton is lurking, and with fast tracks up next, so he will be looking to wrestle back the lead of the championship. A good result in Belgium could set Lewis up nicely to reclaim top spot at Monza of all places! We take a look back at how the top prospects have fared at this true drivers track over the years.
Lewis Hamilton – Starts 10, Pole Positions 3, Wins 2
By his high standards the numbers are surprisingly poor for Lewis at Spa – but then, he has had his share of bad luck here. He heads his team-mates 6-4 in qualifying, but loses out in the races 4-6. He has won twice here, but over the same period his team-mates have also won twice. So, why has F1’s fastest driver not had more success at this driver’s circuit? His two wins here, in 2010 and 2015, were controlled drives where Lewis looked the dominant driver on the day. But Spa has a way of throwing up trouble. In his debut season he was holding a slender lead in the championship over team-mate Alonso, with Lewis losing out in the race as Alonso pushed him wide at the start in a determined move, with Lewis never looking like matching him from there on out. The following year Lewis looked to have delivered a classic victory in wet conditions – only to have his win taken away after the race as he was penalised for not giving back an advantage after he had passed Raikkonen by cutting the chicane – a contentious penalty, with Lewis having allowed Kimi past, only to retake the position immediately as Kimi dawdled. First lap accidents claimed Lewis in 2009 and 2012, on both occasions his cause not helped by poor grid positions. 2011 was a year to forget, with Lewis reprimanded for bumping Pastor Maldonado in qualifying (Pastor himself penalized for extracting revenge as the session finished), and Lewis crashing out of the race as his seemed to misplace Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber as he attempted to make a move for fourth place in the race. 2012 saw Lewis lose the plot as he tweeted telemetry from qualifying to explain why team-mate Jenson Button had been all of 0.821 s faster in qualifying, before Romain Grosjean wiped out Lewis race in the run down to the first corner. He secured a fine pole position on a damp track in 2013 in his first season for Mercedes, but in the race the Merc was not yet the powerhouse it is today, and he had to settle for third place. In the PU era Lewis has been hit by misfortune, and his team-mate, with the famous collision with Rosberg in 2014 taking him out of contention, before a controlled win in 2015. Last year’s race was an exercise in damage limitation after he took what seemed like a million place grid penalty as Mercedes looked to make amends for Lewis early season reliability woes by stockpiling enough new parts to last till the new regulations arrive in 2021, with the eventual third place from the back of the grid representing a very successful afternoons work for Lewis.
Valtteri Bottas – Starts 4, Best Grid Position 3rd, Best Result 3rd
The highlight of Valtteri’s Spa collection to date is his fine drive to third place in 2014. He took an excellent 3rd place on the grid the following year only for his race hopes to be hit as Williams gave him two different compound tyres at his pit-stop, a mess up which ensured he would be hit with a penalty and drop back into traffic. This would be the only race where Bottas would finish behind his team-mate, with Valtteri generally looking to have the measure of his team-mates in race trim. Williams struggled last year, and Bottas had to make do with an eight place finish. In qualifying, since losing out to Maldonado in his rookie season, Bottas has emerged on top in the intra team battle, beating Massa on all three occasions they drove together. This year however he faces a slightly trickier proposition in Lewis Hamilton!
Sebastian Vettel – Starts 10, Pole Positions 1, Wins 2
Another multiple world champion whose record at Spa seems somehow less than you would expect. Seb has a 6-4 record in qualifying and races against his team-mates, with his 1 win being matched by the sister car over his 10 races, with his team-mates grabbing two pole positons in that time. Seb has had his moments, his first victory here for Red Bull in 2011 was a truly fine performance where he showcased his (much derided) racing ability with a fine overtake of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, Vettel going side by side with the Mercedes around the outside at Blanchimont to retake the lead of the race after an early stop. Of course, there are reasons people have often questioned Sebs ability to race wheel to wheel, such as his performance in 2010 here where he took Jenson Button out of the race with a clumsy move at the chicane before later colliding with the Force India of Liuzzi in a later collision. His other win in 2013 was vinatage Seb, pulling into the lead at the start and holding it comfortably to the end. 2014 was best forgotten about, as Seb was simply unable to match the race performance of Daniel Ricciardo who took the win. 2015 saw Seb lose out on a podium as Ferrari’s bid to go long on their Pirellis to hold track position backfired as Seb suffering a late tyre blow out, while last year’s race was ruined at the start, Seb perhaps showing poor judgement in squeezing team-mate Raikkonen too tight on the exit of La Source and coming to grief as Max Verstappen bounced into Kimi.
Kimi Raikkonen – Starts 12, Pole Positions 1, Wins 4
Spa is where Kimi is King! He won 4 out of 5 races here between 2004-2009, and missed out on making that 5 in a row when he spun out while leading in 2008 as the rain fell in the closing laps. He is only 6-6 with his team-mates in qualifying, but on only one occasion where both cars have finished has he been behind his team-mate – and that was last year’s race where Kimi was heavily compromised by damage sustained when Max Verstappen refused to accept defeat into the first corner and Kimi was squeezed between Max and Vettel on the outside (not to mention the trouble Kimi had in getting past Max later!). Kimi took a podium here for Lotus in 2012 before brake failure caused him to crash out in 2013. Such is Kimi’s form around Spa that he even managed to finish ahead of Fernando Alonso for Ferrari in 2014 in a season in which Alonso held a comfortable advantage over Kimi (albeit aided by a penalty for Fernando). On pure pace Kimi looked like the real deal here again last year, disappointing when he didn’t grab the pole that looked to be his. It reminded us of the driver who delivered his sensational first Spa win way back in 2004 with a storming drive to victory after starting in 10th after an error in a damp qualifying session. With every point likely to count in the battle for the 2017 title, having a driver like Kimi playing a supporting role could be a major boost for Vettel – assuming he can get ahead of Kimi that is!
Daniel Ricciardo – Starts 6, Best Grid Position 5th , Wins 1
His sensational 2014 win, where he took full advantage of the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton colliding, and took the chequered flag some 50 seconds up the road from his 4 time world champion team-mate Vettel, is definitely the Belgian highlight for Ricciardo. It’s worth noting though that Ricciardo has been outqualified by his team-mates 5-1 in his appearances here (only getting the better of the Torpedo Kvyat in their season together). In race results that balances out at 3-3, with Ricciardo taking a fine second place last year as Verstappen went into meltdown at the first corner, while Daniel looked like he could challenge for a podium in 2015 until his Renault power unit gave up. He managed to bring his Toro Rosso home in the points on both occasions he raced for the junior Red Bull outfit.
Max Verstappen – Starts 2, Best Grid Position 2nd, Best Result 8th
Max was outqualified by Carlos Sainz in their rookie season together at Toro Rosso, but looked to have the upper hand in the race before Sainz retired. Max really showed his potential with an excellent 2nd place in qualifying here last year. But the race was another story, with Max making a poor start and then insisting on trying to squeeze into a gap that really wasn’t there, with the resultant contact with Kimi Raikkonen ruining Max’s race. He drew the ire of Raikkonen again later in the race as Kimi tried to get past, with Max refusing to yield as Kimi tried to get past him on the Kemmel Staright, first barging into Kimi and pushing him off track as Kimi tried to go around the outside into Les Combes, and really getting under the iceman’s collar with a later move as Max sat in the middle of the road on the Kemmel Staright and waited for Kimi to pick a side before reacting at the last second, forcing Kimi to back off. One things for sure, all eyes will be on car 33 during the race this weekend!