There’s a saying in sports that it’s best to have a short memory. On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on Sunday seemed to possess exactly that. In banishing the ghosts of both his most recent race in Hungary and the infamous clash between Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg at Spa last year, the Brit seemed to possess the mind of a goldfish, seemingly unburdened as he put together an imperious drive to claim his sixth win of the season.
Even the FIA’s new regulated manual-start procedure was not enough to faze the Brit, who enjoyed a clean getaway for the first time in several races. Rosberg was not so lucky, having to come back from fifth to reclaim his original second by the chequered flag. The Silver Arrows’ aside, Sunday’s race provided some real variety amongst the final order, with Romain Grosjean capitalising on some blistering pace and a late Sebastian Vettel tyre explosion to claim his first podium since USA 2013.
So, what to make of the first race back from F1’s summer break? Read on to find out.
Admitting on Thursday that Spa was not one of his favourite tracks, you’d be forgiven on Sunday for thinking Lewis Hamilton a liar.
Putting together a dominant display in his return to the scene of last year’s most infamous race, Hamilton was at his calm and collected best in adding to his haul of 2015 victories. Starting with his first smooth launch in several races – new clutch bite-point rules and an extra formation lap be damned – it was apparent that Hamilton had brought his A-game back from his holidays.
In a race where he spent little time among the on-camera action, perhaps what was most impressive about Hamilton’s victory was simply the course of his weekend itself. After trailing Rosberg on the Friday timing sheets, he didn’t put a foot wrong thereafter. It was the composure of his final lap in Q3 that made for a four-tenth margin to Rosberg, and Sunday was just an extension of that. Able to dictate pace as necessary, Hamilton built his lead with a relatively lengthy stint on the soft tyres he qualified on, and later in the race when Rosberg turned up the wick, he was easily able to respond in kind. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine he ever thought the result was ever really in doubt.
If Belgium is an indication of the Lewis Hamilton we can expect to show up for the rest of the season, the world championship is his to lose. Now 28 points ahead, everything about his weekend suggests a driver who is at the very top of his game, and that will make the task of overcoming him very difficult indeed.
Romain Grosjean: Man. Racer… Poet?
As the future of Lotus becomes in increasingly cloudy with the onset of their financial woes, the Frenchman was able to provide a silver lining when they needed it most.
Metaphor aside, this had been a long time coming for both team and driver. Entering into a partnership with Mercedes for this season, the Enstone outfit were supposed to be challenging for top-5 finishes on a regular basis. Better late than never.
Qualifying fourth behind the Silver Arrows and Valtteri Bottas’ Williams, Lotus was able to nail their low-downforce setup for Spa, giving Grosjean a car in which he could actually attack.
Starting ninth after a gearbox penalty, the Frenchman wasted no time making his presence felt, cruising past Bottas, Ricciardo and Perez on his way up to third. Managing his engine power perfectly, come the final laps Grosjean was all over the back of Sebastian Vettel’s one-stopping Ferrari, and looked on for a podium regardless of the German’s tyre blowout. It seemed that for once, of the Mercedes customers, Lotus indeed had the superior package, and furthermore, they still had the same driver who was able to impress multiple times in 2013.
Unfortunately, due to the impending seizure of some of the team’s assets, celebrations were probably a bit muted in the Lotus garage. It remains to be seen whether they’ll make it to Monza, let alone the fly-away races. Still it was nice to have one more reminder that while a mercurial talent, Romain Grosjean certainly has the goods to be a race-winner in Formula 1. If for nothing other than his sake, let’s hope Lotus are still around to make it a reality.
Risking the performance of his tyres on a one stop strategy, Sebastian Vettel ended up paying the price in the most explosive way possible.
With a little under two laps remaining, Vettel’s right-rear tyre exploded coming down the Kemmel straight. His 27th lap on the same set of medium tyres, Vettel was able to limp back to the pits and finish ninth. Understandably, the four-time world champion held nothing back in criticising tyre suppliers Pirelli post-race, as had the incident happened a few hundred metres earlier while he was going flat-out in Eau Rouge, things could’ve ended significantly worse.
Unfortunately for Pirelli, this was not the first such failure of the weekend, with Nico Rosberg suffering a similar fate in the third and final practice session on Saturday, already putting them in the spotlight.
Having said that, what this weekend highlights is less their product’s safety, and more so that the Italian company are in somewhat of an impossible position. Pirelli are designing their tyres at the directive of the FIA, ones that are intended to degrade quickly once they reach a “cliff” in terms of mileage, but have to do so without the use of extensive on-track testing. It’s almost certain that Pirelli have yet to see a driver go for as long and as aggressively (he constantly had all four wheels on the kerbs) as Vettel did, and therein lies the problem.
Having a cliff isn’t necessarily a bad thing – considering the difficulty cars have passing each other nowadays, manipulating tyre life is one of the better ways to even out performance – but incidents such as Vettel’s might be unavoidable if a tyre is pushed too far. The concern is we don’t know, and neither do Pirelli, because they haven’t been given a real chance to experiment as needed. With testing restrictions set to get even tighter next year, don’t be surprised if the solution is even less-aggressive tyres, and then we’re back to other ways of fixing the racing.
Hopefully, F1’s decision-makers can refrain from any knee-jerk reactions and look objectively at the sport’s relationship with its tyre supplier. Incidents like Vettel’s should not happen, but this is a problem that goes far beyond that individual tyre from Sunday, the hope is they realise that.
Can anyone stop Hamilton? Is Grosjean worthy of a race-winning car? What action – if any – should be taken in the wake of Vettel’s incident? Let us know in the comments.
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