Breaking down the Belgium Grand Prix: Turn 1, Force India’s day, and Verstappen’s questionable defending.
After four strenuous weeks without a Formula One race, it appears some drivers were still in la la land for Turn 1 at the Belgium Grand Prix. However, after these outrageously crazy opening laps which saw 5 retirements after the first few laps, it always looked imminent that Nico Rosberg would become just the 16th man to score 20 Grand Prix victories.
And despite us all knowing that inevitable outcome, most of us were secretly hoping for a Red Bull or Ferrari to lead us onto the Kemmel Straight. And it actually might have been possible if Sebastian Vettel hadn’t misjudged his angle of attack at La Source (Turn 1 at Belgium). Although some have pointed the finger at Verstappen, Vettel, in my opinion, deserves just as much of the blame. Vettel pinched Raikkonen on the apex of a Turn 1 and this had a knock on effect to Verstappen who was, quite cheekily and in his typical style, going daringly up the inside of Raikkonen. Although it is evident that Verstappen’s gap was narrow and he didn’t really have a right to really be there, Raikkonen could have given him the room had Vettel not turned into his team mate at such a severe angle. My blame is fully on Sebastian Vettel.
Jumping further to lap 6 and we saw an extremely violent crash involving Renault’s Kevin Magnussen. After having a little bit too much power on at the very top of Eau Rouge, Magnussen lost control of his car and hit the tire barriers backwards at over 250km/h. This crash on its own is one of the best testaments Formula One could have to the benefits of the continued safety endeavours this sport embarks on.
We also saw why the rule regarding tire changes under a red flag has been changed for 2017 today. The red flag is the key reason for the remarkable 3rd place Lewis Hamilton achieved after starting 21st. When the safety car originally came out for the Magnussen incident on lap 6, Hamilton was in 10th place. 5 drivers ahead of him decided to pit before the red flag came out, thus when it did Lewis Hamilton effectively gained 5 places. It’s clearly evident why this rule is being changed and I’m all for it because I would rather be sitting here telling you about Hamilton’s amazing overtakes to finish on the podium then a red flag which gifted him what was one of the easier podiums for him this season.
Sadly, Hamilton’s easy recovery did kill a dream today as it initially looked possible Nico Hulkenberg was in the hunt for his maiden podium finish. After a strong incident free start saw him run a considerable portion of the race in a podium position, he was only rewarded an agonising 4th place after Hamilton easily got by him at Les Combes on lap 18 and again on lap 34. It’s only the third time Hulkenberg’s finished in this position, Spa 2012 and Korea 2013 being the others. However, he’ll be kept smiling by the fact that combined with Perez’s strong 5th place finish, Force India stole 4th in the Constructors Championship off Williams Racing. It does appear that Force India have now effectively jumped Williams in raw pace, as Sergio Perez proved by making the overtake of the race around the outside of Les Combes during lap 29 on Felipe Massa. After a strong tow down the Kemmel Straight, the two drivers would take the right-left chicane side-by-side whilst rubbing sidepods in the process. They combined to give us some fantastic racing.
I also think Max Verstappen should take a look at Perez’s heroics and take a few pointers. We saw the Red Bull driver force Kimi Raikkonen off the track at the same corner, an action that was clearly intentional and deliberate. As Raikkonen attempted to swoop round the outside, Verstappen boldly let his car drift over and squeeze Raikkonen until he was forced to take avoiding action. This is a bold, brave and overly aggressive style of defending that frankly I don’t want to see. Forcing another driver off the track is not respectful racing and it appears Verstappen will do anything to hold onto a position.
If my point wasn’t rammed home enough Verstappen’s defending on the Kemmel Straight just a lap after the above incident is the best example of his lazy and risky style. After inviting Raikkonen to the inside line, Verstappen cut him off at the last possible moment, and action that caused Raikkonen to lift off the throttle to avoid a collision. The move was late and dangerous and could have caused a massive accident. This isn’t the way to defend and I strongly believe Verstappen cannot except that sometimes other cars are faster than him.
So after all this drama and debacle on the opening laps we weren’t treated to much more, Rosberg comfortably led from lights to flag whilst Ricciardo held onto a brilliant 2nd place. This is an important win for Rosberg as it does seriously even the playing field in the Drivers Championship, only 9 points separate him from Hamilton Rosberg knows that previously Hamilton has tended to be weaker after the Italian Grand Prix, with the German winning the last 3 races of 2015 in a dominant fashion. Rosberg needs to accept that Belgium was handed to him on a plate and it won’t be the same in Monza where Hamilton has historically had the edge on him. This will make it an important weekend for Rosberg’s title challenge and he needs to keep a clear head in order to win. He also needs the confidence as we head to the crunch time of the season.
So rounding off today’s race, Hamilton was always a comfortable 3rd whilst Force India took arguably their best result of the season with 4th and 5th for Hulkenberg and Perez respectively. Vettel would recover to 6th as Alonso pushed from 22nd on the grid to a 7th place finish. Bottas would hold onto 8th with constant pressure from Raikkonen in 9th. Massa would round out the top 10.
So now the Formula One roadshow packs up and heads over to Italy where the Temple of Speed, better known as the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, will host the historic Italian Grand Prix. This will be the biggest race of the season for Ferrari as their fledging unit will attempt to impress on home soil.
(by Steven Walton)