- Belgian Grand Prix - The Final Stint
Vettel stamps his authority at Spa
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix
- Belgian Grand Prix
Title hopes in tatters?
It was a somewhat demoralising sight for the chasing pack and neutral fans to see Sebastian Vettel breeze past Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Kemmel Straight and then continue to coast away from everyone behind. But has he also disappeared into the distance with an unassailable title lead? Recent seasons have taught us that the championship is never settled until it's a mathematical impossibility for the leader to be caught, and there are still likely to be twists and turns this season. Don't forget that both Red Bull's failed to finish at Monza last year while Hamilton and Alonso took two of the podium spots, and a repeat this year would breathe new life in to the title race. The pace shown by Red Bull on Sunday at Spa was mightily impressive, but in making a car that quick Adrian Newey also tends to make one slightly less reliable than that of its rivals. The bookies won't be paying out just yet.
Mixed messages at Red Bull
On Sunday's grid Mark Webber said Red Bull had made a decision over his replacement and it was a good decision for Australia. It appeared to be the latest in a long history of middle fingers towards the management of his team, as he apparently spilled the beans on Daniel Ricciardo's promotion. However, Christian Horner continued to deny that was the case after the race. He explained that both Toro Rosso's drivers are on Red Bull contracts and so are under the control of the company, but that Red Bull Racing is still exploring options outside the junior team. It may well be that it is waiting for clauses/options in contracts elsewhere to come into action/expire, and so Red Bull will play the waiting game to see what happens with someone like Fernando Alonso, for example, knowing Ricciardo is a fall-back option. Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, claims not to have talked to Red Bull for some time and his Lotus boss Eric Boullier seemed more confident than ever that his star driver would stay in 2014. There is definitely a driver-market poker game underway, but it's not yet clear who's bluffing.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock: Sebastian Vettel - Not a surprise winner, but that he was so dominant wasn't expected. (The lack of rain was a close second.)
- Shocker: Kimi Raikkonen - Didn't do a lot wrong but his first retirement for Lotus has left him almost 70 points adrift of Vettel
- Best overtake: Kimi Raikkonen - When he was running he pulled a great move around the outside of Perez at the left-hander before Pouhon
- Best lap: Fernando Alonso - After another electric start Alonso rose from ninth to fifth by the end of lap one
- Worst lap: Pastor Maldonado - On lap 28 his race fell apart at the chicane, losing out to Gutierrez, hitting Sutil and then taking out di Resta. A 10 second stop/go penalty compounded it all
- Drive of the day: Fernando Alonso - He climbed from 9th to 2nd and ultimately ensured Vettel only made minimal gains in the championship standing
Raikkonen's run at an end
When Kimi Raikkonen pulled in to the Lotus garage and climbed out of his car at the end of lap 26 it marked the first time he has failed to finish a race in his career with Lotus. Since returning to the sport at the start of 2012 Raikkonen has finished every race - a run that even extended back 39 races in to 2009 - and he had also finished 27 consecutive races in the points before this weekend. It's a remarkable run which has kept Raikkonen in the title frame both last year and this year despite not having the fastest car, but with his luck running out he now finds himself 63 points behind Vettel and requiring two wins and a third place without Vettel scoring just to erase that gap. The top five drivers have all had one non-score each, but realistically only Vettel can afford another.
Protests outside the paddock
With the amount of multinational companies in Formula One, it's surprising protesters don't target the sport more often. Greenpeace's ongoing vendetta with Shell eventually sparked into a protest at Spa-Francorchamps - the oil company's big weekend in Formula One - with a number of banners targeting its controversial drilling practices in the Arctic. The protest was remarkably well executed, with the banners on the podium put in place several weeks in advance and unfurled via remote control. The abseilers on the grandstand got into position before the start of the race and the one above the podium used a Paddock Club pass to bluff their way onto the roof. This was not simply a bunch of hippies chancing their arm, but a very determined political protest with a serious point to make about drilling for oil in the Arctic. The rather verbose press release from Greenpeace made clear that the problem was not with Formula One but Shell and that it was hoping to highlight the issue to a wider audience. It went on to argue that it had succeeded in that respect, but the crowd's boos towards the abseiler over the podium suggested the F1 fans were not that thrilled to have their event hijacked.
Tyres the talk of the town
It's usually good PR for a tyre supplier to have everyone talking about them. When Bridgestone was in the sport they supplied a very advanced product but got no column inches in return and duly left the sport - there was simply nothing of interest to talk about. But this year Pirelli has created more headlines than most teams, and most of them have been negative. On Friday there was a storm in a teacup over a couple of punctures, but by Saturday it became clear that the offending punctures were caused by a piece of debris - an occupational hazard in motorsport. Panic over. Then came Pirelli's most feared headline of all: Michelin is considering a return to F1. Without the FIA's seal of approval, Pirelli is not guaranteed a place in F1 next year and all its hard work on its 2014 tyre, not to mention its contract negotiations with the teams and Bernie Ecclestone, could come to nothing. If Michelin is serious, the FIA will have to put the tyre contract out to tender to assess which company is best. That is not likely to be the work of a moment and, with the teams eager to know what sort of tyres they will be dealing with at the first 2014 test in January, time is running out. One thing 2013 has proven is that making tyres for F1 is not something that should be entered into without sufficient testing and preparation. Therefore, playing a game of chicken with Pirelli based on a promise from Michelin could be very dangerous for Formula One.
Ferrari moves forward as Merc drops back
Ahead of the start of the track action at Spa, one oft-repeated question to Lewis Hamilton was whether he and Mercedes could take the fight to Red Bull, and similarly Sebastian Vettel was asked about the threat from Hamilton. While Mercedes might have been unsure whether it could match Red Bull or not, Nico Rosberg admitted his surprise that Ferrari ended up being quicker in the race. However, the nature of the tracks at Spa and Monza require the cars to be in a different configuration than at many circuits - namely different front wings and skinny rear wings - and Hamilton said after the race that he just felt both Red Bull and Ferrari had done a better job with those specific parts for this set of races. Mercedes might be able to recover in Monza but it certainly bodes well for another strong weekend for Ferrari, leaving Singapore as the real indicator as to who will be strong for the rest of the season.