Sebastian Vettel has further extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings with a dominant drive to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
The German secured victory with an aggressive opening-lap overtaking move on polesitter Lewis Hamilton, and then cruised to a controlled win – leading every lap and posting the fastest lap along the way – to finish over 16 seconds clear of Fernando Alonso and Hamilton, who completed the podium.
It was a race largely bereft of drama – aside from a stupid collision between Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta that we will cover later – but there was some excitement pre-race, courtesy of a small band of Greenpeace protestors.
The quartet of activists somehow managed to scale to the roof of the main start/finish grandstand and proceeded to unveil a series of banners protesting against the Arctic drilling being conducted by the Grand Prix’s title sponsor, Shell. The group was quickly arrested and brought down to earth by police, who had to get to the grandstand roof courtesy of a cherry-picker crane!
Despite plenty of locked brakes and tyre smoke, the pack made it safely through Les Combes on the opening lap. Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton would lead for the first mile, before Vettel swept imperiously by.
As is the case in the slickly-run world of Formula 1, the race still got underway on time, with Lewis Hamilton’s pole position advantage lasting as long as the Kemmel straight before Vettel – blessed with some extra straight-line speed as Red Bull Racing gambled on the race remaining dry throughout – breezed by the Mercedes driver before the pack reached the Les Combes chicane.
From that point on, the race – barring a sudden downpour or mechanical intervention – was the three-time World Champion’s to lose, and he showed his class by thrashing the field, driving well within his limits on a conventional two-stop strategy.
The Spaniard had made a brilliant getaway from ninth position on the grid to be inside the top-five by the end of the first lap. Second place was his after the first round of pit stops when, on Lap 14, he took advantage of a small slip-up by Hamilton as the pair tried to work their way back up the order.
The mistake saw Hamilton run wide at La Source, and it was all the invitation the two-time champion needed to get by his former teammate, and then successfully resisting a DRS-assisted overtaking attempt from the Englishman along the Kemmel Straight.
While most of the field opted for a two-stop strategy, Jenson Button kept himself in contention for a long-overdue podium finish by leaving his options open with a late first pit stop. But he found his tyre degradation levels too high in his second stint, forcing him into the pits for fresh rubber, which consigned him to a sixth-placed finish behind Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber.
Felipe Massa battled his way to a seventh-placed finish, although he did himself – and his prospects of remaining with Ferrari – absolutely no favours with an appalling getaway that saw him having to fight his way back from well down the order.
Romain Grosjean claimed Lotus’ only points of the weekend in a disappointing event where many pundits had tipped the E21s to be challengers for victory. For once, the Frenchman survived the opening lap at Spa-Francorchamps to see the chequered flag and claim four more points.
Teammate Kimi Räikkönen’s incredible run of 27 consecutive points’ finishes had to come to an end at some stage, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The Finn appeared to be struggling with overheating brakes early in the race – clouds of carbon brake dust were seen billowing from his front wheels as early as ten laps into the race – and he finally succumbed on Lap 25, pulling into the pits to retire after slithering off the track at the Bus stop chicane.
Two laps later and there was more drama at the same corner, this time being a truly clumsy accident involving Pastor Maldonado and the Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.
Maldonado was actually en route to the pits for a fresh set of tyres, but found himself badly positions through the chicane as the trio came upon Esteban Gutiérrez’s Sauber. In his attempted to get towards pit entry, Maldonado cut across Sutil and clipped the German, before clattering the left-rear of di Resta as the Scot turned across the Venezuelan to complete his lap.
Certainly, it was a case of terrible track positioning by Maldonado – for which he was hit with a rather pointless ten-second stop-go penalty, his slim prospects of a decent result already ruined after pitting for a new front wing.
But it also served to highlight the appalling redesign of the Bus Stop chicane and pit entry, which certainly encourages these types of accidents.
The accident saw a furious di Resta out on the spot, leaving Adrian Sutil as the team’s only hope of salvaging some points, although the team’s hopes of keeping fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings from McLaren would be in vain after being outscored this weekend. Two points for Sutil was scant consolation for the team’s terrific qualifying strategy and pace that nearly netted di Resta his first pole position.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed the final point with tenth place in his Toro Rosso, although the position could have also gone to McLaren’s Sergio Pérez or Ricciardo’s teammate Jean-Éric Vergne. Pérez’s race was ruined courtesy of a drive-through penalty for forcing Grosjean off the circuit at Les Combes, while Vergne’s prospects of a top-ten finish finish were stymied with a slow puncture in the closing laps.
2013 Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (44 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||44||1:23:42.196|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||44||+ 16.869|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||44||+ 27.734|
|4.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||44||+ 29.872|
|5.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||44||+ 33.845|
|6.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||44||+ 40.794|
|7.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||44||+ 53.922|
|8.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||44||+ 55.846|
|9.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM06||44||+ 1:09.547|
|10.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||44||+ 1:13.470|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||44||+ 1:21.936|
|12.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||44||+ 1:26.740|
|13.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||44||+ 1:28.258|
|14.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber Ferrari C32||44||+ 1:40.436|
|15.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||44||+ 1:47.456|
|16.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||43||1 lap behind|
|17.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||43||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia Cosworth MR02||43||1 lap behind|
|19.||Max Chilton||Marussia Cosworth MR02||42||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||26||Collision|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||25||Brakes|
|DNF.||Charles Pic||Caterham Renault CT03||8||Oil Leak|