- Belgian Grand Prix - The Final Stint
Smash-ups at Spa
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix
- Belgian Grand Prix
A clear statement
After the first corner crash (which was frankly a very lucky escape), the FIA stewards investigated the incident and at 17:19 handed Romain Grosjean a one race suspension. It was big punishment, but came for a crash that could have had even greater consequences than just seeing four cars retired from the race. The FIA statement did not reference Grosjean's previous record, but surely the penalty took seven first-lap crashes in 12 races in to account. That leaves Pastor Maldonado feeling like a very lucky boy on Sunday night, with two five-place grid penalties (one for a jump start and one for a collision with Glock) bringing his penalty tally for the weekend up to three, and an average of one per race. Fortunately for Maldonado, his second penalty in the race was for hitting Timo Glock, and not one of the "leading championship contenders" which the FIA appears to insinuate makes an incident worse…
Jenson Button started the weekend answering questions about whether he'd given any thought to supporting team-mate Lewis Hamilton's title charge. He finished the weekend with the best possible answer. Button is now 63 points behind Fernando Alonso, which is still a significant number, but also a significantly smaller number than it was on Saturday. However, it's his dominant performance that he and McLaren will take the most joy from. If McLaren can maintain that form for the rest of the season, 63 might not be such a big number after all.
Hamilton all a-Twitter
One of the many complaints levelled at Formula One drivers is their lack of honest answers. The media training engrained into them from a young age ensures that they say nothing to upset the team, or fellow drivers, when asked questions by the press. That's why Twitter has been such an important influence in the sport, allowing drivers and team members an outlet for honest comments. Hamilton's been embracing the social medium even more of late, but this weekend has seen two tweets - one including the acronym 'WTF' after qualifying, and the other a picture of his and Button's telemetry from qualy - removed, the second at the team's request. While telemetry rightly shouldn't have been shared, the fact that he felt the need to censor his own tweets initially could be a sign that it's another area the teams are clamping down on.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock Kamui Kobayashi - While Sauber has looked competitive at most circuits this weekend, it was still certainly not expected to grab a spot on the front row. Kobayashi delivered the goods after little dry running but was unfortunately caught in the first lap carnage
- Shocker Romain Grosjean - His seventh first lap crash was undoubtedly his worst, as he hit Hamilton and then ploughed through a very lucky Alonso. He won't be back at Monza as he serves a one race suspension
- Best overtake Kimi Raikkonen - Last year was punctuated by Webber v Alonso at Eau Rouge, this year Raikkonen did the same against Schumacher. Brave, bold, and brilliant
- Best lap Sebastian Vettel - Stuck back in 10th behind his team-mate, on lap eight Vettel radioed in to say the DRS wasn't effective with cars in a line so he'd go for any gap if he saw it. He then muscled his way past Webber in the final chicane and began his march to second
- Worst lap Pastor Maldonado - As the race resumed on lap five Maldonado was informed he was under investigation for jumping the start. He then promptly ran in to Glock (for which he was also penalised) and retired by Les Combes
- Drive of the day Jenson Button - As all hell broke loose behind him, Button managed the race from the front - including the perfect safety car restart - and delivered a faultless performance which in truth left us in no doubt who the winner would be at any point
Vettel's sense of humour
Sebastian Vettel seemed to be getting a bit short-tempered before the summer break as his title defence continued to be more challenging than expected. You'll remember the demanding radio message at Hungary telling his team to "try something" that resembled a child complaining to its mother to sort something they have no control over. Vettel returned from his break the buoyant, smiling and joking version we were used to in 2011. After finishing second, he was reminded of his clash with Button here in 2010 and after initially joking that all the moves he'd pulled off in today's race proved it was actually Button's fault, with a smile across his face Vettel said "I f****d up a couple of years ago when I pushed him out of the race which was not nice, so I learned my lesson." Learning lessons is something Vettel does well, and with the points deficit to Alonso reduced to 24 points, odds on his third consecutive title just shortened.
300 not out
Michael Schumacher went into his 300th grand prix weekend hoping it would be "interesting" and "beautiful". It's hard to tell whether he got what he wished for, but it was an impressive performance given Mercedes' lack of pace and the fact he lost sixth gear seven laps from the end. The big question still hanging over him is whether he will still be around for another 20 races next year (which would see him better Rubens Barrichello's record for grand prix appearances). On Sunday the BBC aired an interview with Bernie Ecclestone in which the F1 supremo said it was a shame Schumacher was retiring without another win. But Schumacher cleared the air, saying there must have been a misunderstanding: "I guess he said if I take the decision to leave Formula One," Schumacher said. "That must be what he meant because yesterday we had a little chat and I told him that we hadn't yet reached a decision and that's where we are. Nothing new."
The weather wins
Rain has featured on several grand prix Fridays this year, which is annoying for the teams but even worse for the attending fans. There were thousands of hardy souls watching in the stands at Spa during first and second practice, with not much more than umbrella maintenance to entertain them. The teams get a hard time from the media after each wet session, but the risk/reward equation of sending a car out in such conditions simply doesn't add up. A track like Spa is dangerous in the dry, so wet weather means that running for the sake of it is verging on stupidity. There's not much F1 can do about the situation, but there is also an upside. The lack of set-up time meant drivers were running varying levels of downforce and different seventh gear ratios on Sunday. That made for some thrilling racing with different cars quick at different parts of the track, and without it we probably wouldn't have seen Kimi Raikkonen dive down the inside of Michael Schumacher at Eau Rouge. Every cloud has a silver lining.