Race Report: Rosberg tames Belgian GP…but not Lewis

The weather at Spa Francorchamps is usually the moving target and talking point every year but not this year. In fact, the sunny, warm weather created another talking point surrounding tires, pressures and temperatures. How would the Super-Soft compound tires manage the abuse and would we see a repeat of the blow-outs from last year’s Belgian Grand Prix?

Nico Rosberg had no trouble managing his medium compound tires to victory in Belgium and with his teammate forced to start at the back of the grid, he did everything he needed to do to maximize his points haul and capitalize on Lewis Hamilton’s misfortune of a 55 grid-place penalty. Nico may have tamed the mighty Spa Francorchamps but he couldn’t tame Lewis Hamilton’s brilliant drive for damage limitation and he couldn’t walk away from Belgium with the lead in the Driver’s championship.

Unfortunately for Nico, Lewis did everything he needed to do in order drive from last to finish on the podium in third place and minimize the points damage that Rosberg’s victory did. Heading into the weekend, Lewis could have left the circuit in second place in the Driver’s Championship but his stellar drive through the field—aided by several DNF’s, safety car and red flagged session—to completely neutralize Roserbg’s top-shelf performance on Sunday. A tremendous damage limitation drive from a champion who went a long way in preventing his teammate from easily becoming a champion.

The biomass in the stands around the Spa Francorchamps circuit were dominated by the color orange and there’s only one man on the grid who could claim the focus of their presence—Max Verstappen the Plucky Teen and youngest driver to secure a front-row starting position. Max’s Super-Soft tires and a performance marred by some dodgy moves, ragged driving and over exuberance left the door wide open for a much more measured race craft and piercing performance by his teammate Daniel Ricciardo who looked every bit the more complete package at Red Bull Racing by claiming second.

WinWin

You’d be silly in not giving both Mercedes drivers a win as they both did exactly what they had to do given the penalties to Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes has won 44 of the last 50 races such is their domination and coming from last to third only goes to show just how oppressive this team’s performance currently is on a track like Spa where lap length and time deltas would normally make the feat impossible.

A huge win for Spa Francorchamps and the crowd it pulled in the form of a sell-out attendance. The circuit has teetered on financial challenges over the years and this has to go a long way to filling the coffers of the race promoters and financial backers of this iconic track.

A big win for Daniel Ricciardo who drove a terrific, if not measured, race and should be a lesson for his teammate about how to manage a 44-lap race and not try to win it on the first lap. This, among other things, is why the team or even fans would be slightly premature in discounting Ricciardo for the new, shiny object in the team. Daniel knows exactly what he’s doing and how to do it. He’s a champion dressed in Red Bull clothing which means he doesn’t quite have the tools to get there yet…yet.

It was gutting to see Nico Hulkenberg miss out on his first podium but still, a 4th and 5th for Force India moves them ahead of Williams in the Constructor’s Championship and this is worth big money folks. A terrific result for a team who has been so impressive this year even though their owner is on the lamb and in some bizarre Indian political and business taxation problems.

A win for McLaren fans who were keen to see what the new Honda engine upgrade would bring to the dance in Spa. The answer? 7th place and fighting for 5th and one point in the hands of Fernando Alonso. While Jenson button was punted off the track early on, Alonso kept his foot in it and managed to secure points for McLaren and this is also starting from the back of the grid.

While the actual crash could be a fail for Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, the win is the chassis and fact that the driver walked away from a very violent crash exiting Raidillon and thankfully he went into the wall backwards otherwise that may have been a very different result. A win also for the FIA for red flagging the race and getting the wall properly fixed and for not over-doing the track limits issue.

FailFail

One doesn’t have to go far down the grid order to find the first fail and that’s Ferrari. I am unclear as to why Sebastian Vettel chose to turn into La Source so aggressively at the start. Perhaps he wasn’t aware that a diving Max Verstappen left Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, no place to go so muscling the Fin wasn’t going to work. Regardless of why, the collision between Ferraris is not how the team wanted to start the weekend that they felt they could do well at. It also makes you wonder who’s head Sergio Marchionne will cut next?

A fail for Williams who couldn’t get on top of the surging Force India and fell behind the smaller team in the Constructor’s Championship. There may be many reasons due to mechanical issues from Valtteri Bottas’s car and Felipe Massa’s troubles on track but regardless, the team is clearly sliding backwards and it does bring the question up—will they use resources to gain the position back in 2016 or are they focused primarily on 2017?

A small win for Haas F1 and Esteban Gutierrez who finished 12th just ahead of his teammate Romain Grosjean. A small win for Esteban Ocon who completed his first grand prix in 16th.

WTHFail

A fail for Kevin Magnussen who is, if you believe rumors, driving for his job in 2017. Totaling a car is not the way to Renault’s heart.

A fail for Sebastian Vettel for clouting his teammate and to Pascal Wehrlein for punting Button out on the first lap.

A fail for Max Verstappen who, admittedly, was on the wrong tires to start the race on but nevertheless, so was both Force India’s and they didn’t make a mess of their races by running off track on several corners, blocking way too aggressively and eventually falling back to 11th.

Belgian GP Results:

POS DRIVER CAR GAP
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1h44m51.058s
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 14.113s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 27.634s
4 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 35.907s
5 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 40.660s
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 45.394s
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 59.445s
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m00.151s
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m01.109s
10 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m05.873s
11 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m11.138s
12 Esteban Gutierrez Haas/Ferrari 1m13.877s
13 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m16.474s
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Ferrari 1m27.097s
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m33.165s
16 Esteban Ocon Manor/Mercedes 1 Lap
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
Kevin Magnussen Renault Spun off
Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari Gearbox
Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Ferrari Tyre
Jenson Button McLaren/Honda Collision
Pascal Wehrlein Manor/Mercedes Collision

Drivers’ Championship

POS DRIVER POINTS
1 Lewis Hamilton 232
2 Nico Rosberg 223
3 Daniel Ricciardo 151
4 Sebastian Vettel 128
5 Kimi Raikkonen 124
6 Max Verstappen 115
7 Valtteri Bottas 62
8 Sergio Perez 58
9 Nico Hulkenberg 45
10 Felipe Massa 39
11 Fernando Alonso 30
12 Carlos Sainz 30
13 Romain Grosjean 28
14 Daniil Kvyat 23
15 Jenson Button 17
16 Kevin Magnussen 6
17 Pascal Wehrlein 1
18 Stoffel Vandoorne 1
19 Esteban Gutierrez 0
20 Jolyon Palmer 0
21 Marcus Ericsson 0
22 Felipe Nasr 0
23 Rio Haryanto 0
24 Esteban Ocon 0

Constructors’ Championship

POS CONSTRUCTOR POINTS
1 Mercedes 455
2 Red Bull/Renault 274
3 Ferrari 252
4 Force India/Mercedes 103
5 Williams/Mercedes 101
6 McLaren/Honda 48
7 Toro Rosso/Ferrari 45
8 Haas/Ferrari 28
9 Renault 6
10 Manor/Mercedes 1
11 Sauber/Ferrari 0