Lewis Hamilton put in another controlled and dominant display to win an action-packed Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Englishman led the entire race – bar the pit stop cycles – to headline another 1-2 for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, with teammate Nico Rosberg recovering from another sluggish getaway to close to within two seconds by the chequered flag.
The action behind Hamilton was intense for much of the race, with countless position changes headlined by an exciting battle for third place that initially featured Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Pérez, and later came down to a tussle between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and the resurgent Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
Ferrari’s gamble on a one-stop race ultimately backfired as he suffered a frightening high-speed tyre failure exiting Raidillon on the penultimate lap, handing the final podium position to a jubilant Frenchman, whose result will prove a great boost for Lotus after more highly-publicised legal troubles.
Behind them, there was another thrilling scrap for the remainder of the points between Daniil Kvyat, Pérez, Max Verstappen, Kimi Räikkönen and the two Williams’.
There was much speculation about how Formula 1’s new manual start rules would have an impact on the race, but two runners – Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr – didn’t even make the grid proper after the formation laps.
Hülkenberg reported his Force India VHM08B was suffering from a loss of power on his reconnaissance lap to the dummy grid, and despite fervent efforts to get some charge into the electronics on the warm-up lap, he triggered a second restart just seconds before the starting lights were to come on.
The grid had to re-form once again, and this time it was the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz which struck trouble on the second tour. The Spaniard was called into the pits and ultimately rejoined the track two laps down before parking his car later in the race to save on mileage.
Once the official start got underway, it was Hamilton who launched perfectly off the line to lead the field into La Source, while Rosberg once again fluffed his getaway and was swamped by the cars starting immediately behind him. He fell to fifth behind Pérez, Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas before the first turn, but quickly set about clawing back lost ground with a succession of clinical passing moves.
Hamilton briefly had to fend off the attentions of a rapid Pérez along the sprint down the Kemmel straight on the opening lap, and once that challenge had been seen off he was able to pull away at the tune of a second a lap.
Pérez held off Ricciardo in a good scrap for second place until Ricciardo peeled into the pits on Lap 9 for the first of two planned stops. Force India responded on the next lap by calling Pérez in, but Red Bull Racing’s undercut had worked and he was now ahead of the Mexican.
Their pitting released Rosberg, who ran longer and started to eat into Hamilton’s lead. The two pitted a few laps later and kept their 1-2, with Hamilton again easing out a lead of a dozen seconds until the Virtual Safety Car was called on Lap 20 when Ricciardo ground to a halt at the final chicane after losing his ability to downshift through the gears.
The brief pause triggered a rush of second tyre stops once racing resumed, with all except Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel electing to pit. By staying out, Vettel moved up to third place, but was now facing a stint of 29 laps on the Medium-compound Pirelli tyres until the end of the race.
The furthest that compound had been run over the weekend was 22 laps – precisely 50% of the original race distance, the exact maximum distance Pirelli would later reiterate the tyres should be run – and he would now face a tough task keeping some fresher-rubbered, softer-shod rivals behind him.
The big mover during this phase was Romain Grosjean, whose Lotus was looking a treat through the Spa-Francorchamp’s circuit’s first two sectors of the lap. The Frenchman put in a succession of great passing moves on Räikkönen, Bottas and Pérez to move up to fourth, giving him a platform to close down on third-placed Vettel.
He’d cut the gap to under one second with five laps to run, but a determined Vettel held firm and putting his foot flat to the floor through the Eau Rouge / Raidillon complex to give him enough momentum on the long run to Les Combes.
It all proved too much on the penultimate lap, and as he swung onto the Kemmel straight for the second last time, the German’s right-rear tyre cried enough and exploded. The furious German limped back to the pits, and gave an expletive-laden spray about the Pirelli tyres in the post-race media sessions.
His retirement gave Grosjean a richly-deserved podium finish to end another troubling weekend for Lotus, which could leave Belgium minus its equipment if threats to impound its equipment in yet more legal actions go ahead. This time the dispute is with former test driver Charles Pic, but it’s hardly a good look for a team actively trying to finalise a deal to be bought out and rebranded by Renault.
Behind the top-three finishers, Daniil Kvyat put in what is becoming a customary late charge in the race to climb to fourth. Showing little to suggest his Renault-powered Red Bull Racing RB11 was down on power, the young Russian put in his own series of overtaking moves to dispatch with Räikkönen, Bottas and Pérez. With Ricciardo’s DNF, the result moved him ahead of his more-fancied teammate in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Having claimed he might be in with a shout of a podium finish, Pérez eventually had to settle for fifth, leading home a gaggle of cars that included Kimi Räikkönen, Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Seventh-placed Verstappen was once again one of the more entertaining drivers in the field with his enterprising driving style and again showed little fear in battling against his much older and more experienced peers.
The highlight was an insane move around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont, which was truly heart in the mouth stuff. Less than 24 hours before, his countryman Daniel de Jong was buried in the tyre barriers and rushed to hospital after trying a similar move through the GP2 Series Feature Race, so it was a credit to Nasr for having the spatial awareness and respect that Pierre Gasly was clearly lacking.
At a circuit where many felt Williams would excel, the Grove squad finished comfortably slowest of the Mercedes-powered runners in a third weekend on the trot where either poor set-up and/or strategy has cost them valuable points.
Bottas finished a lowly ninth, with his race ruined by a costly pit lane blunder where his pit crew bolted one Medium and three Soft tyres in his first pit stop. That the FIA handed out a drive-through penalty but did not enforce that he return to the pits as well to immediately swap out the wrong tyre was curious indeed.
Slower still were the hapless McLarens, despite supposedly getting much gruntier Honda engines this weekend which cost Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button a wealth of virtual grid places. Neither driver stood a chance in any section of the track that needed good straight-line speed, and the pair barely finished ahead of the Manor-Marussias in the final reckoning.
|2015 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix – Final Classification (43 laps*)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||43||1:23:40.387|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||43||+ 2.058|
|3.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||43||+ 37.988|
|4.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||43||+ 45.692|
|5.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||43||+ 53.997|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||43||+ 55.283|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||43||+ 55.703|
|8.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||43||+ 56.076|
|9.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||43||+ 1:01.140|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||43||+ 1:31.234|
|11.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||43||+ 1:42.3114|
|12.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||42||Puncture|
|13.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda MP4-30||42||1 lap behind|
|14.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||42||1 lap behind|
|15.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||42||1 lap behind|
|16.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||42||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||32||Retired|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||19||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||2||Power Loss|
|DNS.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||Power Loss|
* Race distance reduced to 43 of its scheduled 44 laps after first attempted start was aborted.
Image via Sutton Motorsport Images and XPB Images