Daniel Ricciardo has claimed his third win of the 2014 Formula 1 season, capitalising on a controversial collision between the duelling Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg punctured Hamilton’s left-rear tyre with an optimistic move for the lead on Lap 2 at Les Combes. Hamilton limped back to the pits and ran well down the order before calling it a day, while Rosberg switched to a three-stop strategy and clawed his way back to a second-placed finish to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to 29 points. Valtteri Bottas completed the podium for Williams, overtaking his compatriot Kimi Räikkönen to claim the position.
While Mercedes had thrashed all comers in a rain-affected qualifying session, Sunday’s 44-lap race promised to be a much closer affair. Williams had set the pace in the final practice session, while Red Bull Racing had opted to make their one and only gearbox ratio change of the season and run in a low-downforce configuration to give the RB10s extra top speed.
It was a decision that proved well thought, with Sebastian Vettel making a brilliant getaway to split the Mercedes’ at the start and challenge Hamilton – who’d jumped pole-winner Rosberg off the line – on the run through Eau Rouge. Just as he’d done last year, Vettel’s straight line speed allowed him to nose ahead of Hamilton at Les Combes. But he got too greedy under braking and slid wide through the run-off, allowing Rosberg back into second place.
Rosberg saw his opportunity to take the lead on the very next lap and tried the same move as Vettel, only to find himself squeezed onto the apex where the inevitable contact occurred.
It was yet another sorry chapter in the rapidly disintegrating relationship between the pair – again not helped by Mercedes’ management taking another hamfisted approach in dealing with the media afterwards. The whys and fall-outs will be debated until the field regroups in Italy in a fortnight’s time, but the end result was disastrous for Hamilton and the team, which cost itself a certain 1-2 finish.
His race and yet another post-race tantrum said plenty about Hamilton’s state of mind. Few titles have ever been handed on a plate, but his demeanour of late suggests he still hasn’t grasped that the 2014 title will have to be won, even if by slightly dodgy tactics.
Rosberg struggled on in the lead until his first early pit stop – his damaged front wing was changed – and a switch to Pirelli’s slower Medium tyres in the hope of being able to make up ground with two longer stints.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was on another charge, overtaking Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and Vettel in quick succession to assume the lead when Rosberg pitted. When he too pitted, Red Bull kept him on another set of Soft tyres, with the resulting pace advantage – coupled by Rosberg having to fight his way back after his longer pit stop – ensuring victory would be his.
Rosberg managed to close in the final stages before pitting for a third time (switching back to Softs), but ultimately he ran out of laps to do anything about Ricciardo, who pumped in his fastest lap of the race on his final tour to cement back-to-back victories and close in on the Drivers’ Championship lead.
Critically, Ricciardo has outscored the entire field over the last three Grands Prix, and if the Mercedes duo continues to pick points off each other, he could prove to be a most unexpected threat in the final flyaway races. It again underscores just how much progress the team and engine partner Renault have made in the space of six months.
After thrilling battles for the lead at other rounds, Belgium wasn’t going to go down as a nailbiter once the Mercedes’ had tangled, but that certainly didn’t mean the fans weren’t going to get some entertainment.
The battle for the final podium place proved interesting, with Bottas ultimately prevailing in a tight battle with Kimi Räikkönen, who finally found the car to his liking with his best drive of the year on his favourite circuit. A four-time winner at Spa, Räikkönen made his strategy work perfectly and looked on course for his first podium of the season until Bottas swept by with four laps to go.
Vettel’s bold start put him in contention for a podium finish early on, but a switch to a three-stop strategy was ultimately his undoing. He still provided plenty of entertainment in a tight four-way scrap for fifth with Alonso (whose race was compromised by a five-second stop/go penalty when his mechanics failed to leave the dummy grid in time) and the two McLarens.
F1 rookie Kevin Magnussen had led that scrap into the final laps, robustly keeping the chasing trio at bay with some very aggressive defensive moves that ultimately proved his undoing. After forcing Alonso onto the kerbs one too many times, he was hit with a post-race time penalty that consigned him to a non-points finish. Alonso, meanwhile, tagged the back of Vettel’s car on the final lap at La Source, with the loss of front downforce allowing Button to slip into what became an eventual sixth placed finish.
With chief rivals Force India claiming five points (Sergio Pérez eighth; Nico Hülkenberg charging to tenth) to McLaren’s six, the two teams moved level in the Constructors’ Championship standings to share fifth place on the leaderboard.
After being reconfirmed for another season at Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat claimed another two championship points by finishing in ninth, sandwiched by the Force India pair. Teammate Jean-Éric Vergne finished just out of the points, promoted to eleventh courtesy of Magnussen’s penalty.
One driver who didn’t feature at all was Felipe Massa, whose Williams’ handling was ruined after he picked up debris from Lewis Hamilton’s shredded Pirelli. He finished in thirteenth, ahead of the Saubers of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez.
After questions over whether he would or wouldn’t race this weekend, Max Chilton headed the battle at the back of the back, overtaking Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham in the final laps to claim sixteenth place. Their respective teammates Jules Bianchi and debutante André Lotterer both failed to see the chequered flag; Bianchi retired late in the race with a gearbox failure, while Lotterer’s power unit packed up after just a single lap. It was hardly the kind of debut he would have hoped for.
Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean capped off a poor weekend for Lotus with the team’s third double-DNF of the season, while the only other retiree was Hamilton, who repeatedly pleaded with the team to park his damaged car and save engine mileage for future events where he might have realistically stood a chance of better points. He eventually got his wish, stopping five laps from the end.
Granted, tooling around at the back of the pack is no fun for anyone, but the episode – and yet another post-race tantrum – said plenty about the Englishman’s state of mind and his attitude towards claiming a second Drivers’ Championship. Few titles have ever been handed on a plate, but his demeanour of late suggests he still hasn’t grasped that the 2014 title will have to be won, even if by slightly dodgy tactics.
Yes, Rosberg didn’t cover himself in any glory this weekend, as the resulting boos from the fans made plainly clear. But Hamilton also needs to recall – as he should well know from 2007 – that titles can be won by the slimmest of margins. A Safety Car interruption could have brought him right back into the game, and he needs to remember that you should never leave the possibility of even a single point on the table in the final reckoning.
2014 Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (44 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||44||1:24:36.556|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||44||+ 3.383|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||44||+ 28.032|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||44||+ 36.815|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||44||+ 52.196|
|6.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||44||+ 54.580|
|7.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||44||+ 1:01.162|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||44||+ 1:04.293|
|9.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||44||+ 1:05.347|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||44||+ 1:05.697|
|11.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||44||+ 1:11.920|
|12.||Kevin Magnussen*||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||44||+ 1:14.262|
|13.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||44||+ 1:15.975|
|14.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||44||+ 1:22.447|
|15.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||44||+ 1:30.825|
|16.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||43||1 lap behind|
|17.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||43||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||39||Gearbox|
|19.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||38||Handling|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||33||Handling|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||1||Exhaust|
|DNF.||André Lotterer||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||1||Engine|
Image via BBC and Sutton Images