Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 22° Track 31° Humidity 58% Wind 0.4 m/s
Piercing blue skies and pleasant sunshine rocked the paddock as the start of the Belgian Grand Prix approached, gentle breezes wafting through the grandstands as the spectators wondered if they were, in fact, at Spa. In other words, a total disappointment, weatherwise.
Penalty for Palmer (or his evil twin) saw him demoted to P14 once all was said and done, thanks to his gearbox issue in qualifying. And certainly a surprise for Nico Hulkenberg, who had to have been asking himself a few hard questions.
Of course, the weird issue of the standing waves in the tyres out of T1 and T19 has yet to be fully explained, though it turns out that Sauber, Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and Mercedes were all affected, with Sauber and Force India losing bits of their floor in addition to Williams and Toro Rosso losing bits of their bodywork. Red Bull had also applied for permission to examine their suspension to be sure that their suspension had not been damaged.
In their press release, Pirelli assured the teams that it was completely nothing to do with the tyres, though informed speculation targeted low speed, high power, suspension settings and high tyre pressure as contributing to harmonic resonance likely being the issue. In other words, the tyres weren’t the problem, etc…
The bottom 5 on the grid, Stroll, Massa, Ericsson, Wehrlein, Kvyat and Vandoorne were all on different tyre strategies to the front of the grid, all but Wehrlein employing the Supersoft. Sauber had decided to send the Mercedes driver on an uber long stint with the softs, splitting strategies with their cars.
Lights Out!!!! It was a stunning start from HAmilton and Vettel . Bottas was under pressure by Raikkonenl but down through Eau Rouge Vettel got a nice run and was able to put Hamilton under serious pressure. Side by side into T5 and it was Lewis holding the line and as they stretched their legs, it was Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen.
Alonso got a kicking start as well and had hacked his way up to P7, going round the Renault of Hulkenberg on the 2nd lap, with Ocon trying to join him, resulting in a pants staining 3 wide until Ocon, trapped on the inside, backed out before there were tears.
Both Ocon and Perez got a rather quotidian start and as a result were circulating P9 and P11 and as lap 3 ticked over and DRS was enabled, Hulkenberg took advantage to retake P7 into Les Combes. At the front Hamilton was making no real impression on Vettel, but as a pair they were rapidly leaving the rest of the field behind. Replay of the start showed that the Force India debacle was self inflicted, with Perez coming over and putting Ocon into the wall, full of sparks and tyre smoke. Force India were likely not to be amused.
Wehrlein was in, and into the garage as a rear suspension issue for him meant some serious work, though even by lap 7 Sauber had not thrown in the towel and officially retired him. With DRS enabled, the McLaren of Alonso was thoroughly vulnerable and dropped like a stone through the field, P11.
Lap 8 and a loss of power for Verstappen resulted in the premature end of his race, and the cry from his fans echoed throughout the firmament as he rolled to a stop between T4 and T5, politely choosing a gap in the fence as he shook his head, not believing his luck.
Magnussen and Palmer made early stops lap 10, with both choosing to ditch the Supers for the Softs. Lap 11 saw Grosjean and Ocon in, soft and Super respectively as Williams had an uncharacteristically slow stop, dooming Stroll to the back of the grid with his new set of Softs.
Hulkenberg and Massa were next up, in the following lap, which left Sainz and Perez to inherit the sharp end of the midfield, P7 and P6. Hamilton was in at the end of lap 12 for a pair of Softs in a blisteringly quick stop as Vettel dropped the hammer and stayed out. Raikkonen was dinged for not slowing under yellows for the stricken Verstappen as Vettel stayed out.
Bottas was in ahead of Raikkonen, but suffered with a slower stop leaving him vulnerable to a pushing Kimi, who along with Vettel stayed out. during the excitement Perez was in and it was Vettel in lap 15, who had lost roughly 2 seconds during his push and as he exited the pits Lewis had caught and then passed Raikkonen on the way to Les Combes on lap 15.
Perez had managed to thread the needle on Grosjean as the Ferrari strategy debacle continued to unfold, with Raikkonen thoroughly unable to slow Hamilton in the slightest and Vettel unable to make the least dent by staying out longer on his Ultrasofts.
2 laps later Raikkonen was dinged for a 10 second stop and go and Vettel had crept into DRS on Hamilton. Perez had apparently been rather naughty getting round Grosjean and was under investigation for jumping him at the chicane, off track.
Sainz was finally in lap 18 and as the dust settled from Raikkonen serving his penalty it was Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas, followed by Ricciardo (who was on a new set of Supers) then Hulkenberg, Ocon and Perez. Sainz and Grosjean rounded out the top 10. Raikkonen was on the boil, and by lap 20 was on the gearbox of Ocon, getting the job done on the way into the Bus Stop.
Slightly better news for Ocon, as his chippy teammate was dinged with a 5 second stop and go, giving him a little breather as Perez hovered about 1 second adrift of his young teammate. Sainz finally stopped on lap 21, putting him P15 when all was said and done with a new set of Softs and in front of his teammate.
That move promoted Magnussen to P10 and it was now Palmer chasing Alonso that appeared to be the only forward momentum in the race. The prospect of being passed by Palmer did not amuse Alonso in the slightest, and he complained bitterly about his helplessness, before wryly noting it wasn’t really going to change his life.
At the front, Mercedes was beginning to worry and asked Lewis to lift his pace. Hamilton responded, chunking out 0.4s but the following lap, Seb nicked 0.1s back and the gap hovered at 1.5s, which had to be considered advantage Ferrari at the moment.
Lap 25 and Kimi had finally caught Hulkenberg and executed a no drama pass. Ricciardo was 28 seconds up the road but it was not necessarily Danny Ric that the Finn was chasing, but his pit stop window as the Supers on the Red Bull seemed to indicate a second stop was in order.
Back down the order, and Force India had calculated that new tyres would give the Mexican his best possible finish and into the pits he went for a new pair of Supers, along with his penalty. Lap 27 also saw the ignominious retirement of Alonso, with, you guessed it, engine problems…
Ocon was in lap 29 for a set of brand new Supers, which set him behind Perez, despite the penalty. which set up just the battle that Force India didn’t want as he was well within DRS. And sure enough there were tears, with Ocon losing a big chunk of his front wing and Perez collecting the brutal puncture. in a desperate attempt to get back Sergio ran the carcass of his right rear… Safety Car lap 30!!!
Everyone in with Hamilton and Bottas onto a new set of Softs Ocon in first, with a nose change. Perez ever so much later, his race done. Today might be the day that Perez is officially judged to have been eclipsed by his teammate. And all due to Force India bringing in Perez first and then getting the maths wrong.
2 laps under the SC and Lewis was getting quite antsy, complaining about low tyre temps. The bad news for him was all the lapped cars had yet to overtake. Happily enough, it was setting up a brutal restart for Mercedes and with the lack of DRS the first 2 laps some serious racing seemed to be rather guaranteed.
Lap 33 SC in and bang off he went, immediately defending from Vettel into the chicane. Vettel on Lewis’ gearbox through Eau Rouge. Slipstreaming down the straight and pulling alongside the Ferrari forced the issue, before the power of the Mercedes asserted itself and gave Hamilton the marginal advantage he needed. Vettel slipped back for the optimum line and through T5 and it was Lewis hanging on by his fingernails. Ricciardo meanwhile had a rocking restart and both he and Kimi were onto Bottas. Off into T5 and right back to P5 he went, the meat in a Red Bull/Ferrari sandwich.
As his tyres and brakes warmed, Lewis eked it out to slightly over 1 second, the advantage of Vettel’s Ultras slowly waning as the lack of DRS worked to Hamilton’s advantage. A rather peeved sounding Otto Sfaznauer from Force India suggested that their days of letting Ocon and Perez race were rather over, and seemed to suggest that this latest incident was rather squarely on Perez.
The only other real excitement from the restart was KMag falling asleep and missing entirely his braking and flying off through the Bus Stop. This necessitated an extra stop for Kmag. As lap 40 ticked over Sainz was on DRS to Ocon P9, and rather further back, Palmer was having a go at Perez for P14. Ocon was bottled by Massa P8 and the SC could be judged to have done its job rather well.
2 laps to go and Vettel and Hamilton continued their battle, sector by sector, but it began to appear that the best of Vettel’s tyres had gone and barring a mistake, it was a done deal by Mercedes. Force India made the decision to retire Perez, no word as to whether he’d be made to sit in a corner once he got back. Of course, that gives FI a new gearbox for Monza, as they didn’t finish the race, but still, not what they were hoping for.
Last lap and the race at the front was run, Vettel slipping out to a 2s gap as the checquers flew. A small moral victory for Ferrari as Bottas was entirely unable to make a dent in Raikkonen’s P4 once he went off. A fantastic podium for Ricciardo and Red Bull, who at the start would’ve mainly been thinking that they would basically be racing each other, and some small redemption after the yet again retirement of Verstappen.
The SC restart proved fruitful for HAAS too, as Grosjean was able to sneak his way into P7 during the chaos and Williams also took advantage, P8 for Massa definitely a gift from the racing gods, as they in no way had the pace this weekend.
But the question of the day is why Ferrari kept Vettel out an extra lap after Lewis boxed. S2 of his outlap and he was already a tenth up on Vettel yet Ferrari kept him out. Perhaps they were hoping Raikkonen would back Lewis into him, but just as likely they seemed a bit caught out by Mercedes. They should’ve seen it coming, though, as another lap would’ve put Ricciardo into Hamilton’s pit window and Mercedes were looking for the maximum clean air to put him in and the gap from Raikkonen to Ricciardo was definitely it.
The Force India contretemps is fascinating for entirely different reasons. From the start, Perez was literally in trouble as he’d failed to get his car into the proper start mode and was suffering from a serious lack of energy. This bottled Hulkenberg and Ocon, and led to Ocon’s attempted pass 3 wide through Eau Rouge on the much slower Perez. The 5 second penalty he then collected trying to fight his way back led Force India to pit him first and crucially they miscalculated Ocon’s pit window, leaving him out just long enough to be out behind Perez. With the history the 2 have, they should never have let that happen. Inevitably, his race engineer told him to use his new tyres and again on the defense through Eau Rouge Perez tried a squeeze play, not realising that Ocon’s wing was still alongside his rear tyre. The end result of that was a tragic loss of WCC points for Force India, though given the form of Williams they seem to be under no pressure whatsoever for their current P4.
Magnificent weekend for Hamilton and Mercedes, tying Shumacher’s pole record and notching his 200th GP. Bit of a miss for Bottas, though, his poor restart costing the team WCC points as his contract for next season is yet to be confirmed (though apparently all but done). Ferrari will be happy overall, as they were much closer than expected at a track that was clearly in Mercedes’s wheelhouse and as they head to Monza next week it is clear the battle for the WDC is far from over.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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