Spa-Francochamps – Formula 1 returned this weekend from its Summer Break with a roar. The race in Belgium, which swiftly broke away from the plans set out by the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, was quick to be taken up by their rivals at Red Bull, leaving Australian Daniel Ricciardo to claim Sunday’s race victory.
After dominating both practise and qualifying, the two Mercedes drivers locked out the front row of the starting grid, leaving the possibility of yet another Mercedes 1-2 seemingly more of a probability. However, with the start of the race Red Bull shot into action, with 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel briefly taking 2nd on Lap 1, splitting the two Mercedes. However Vettel lost his place following an unfortunate loss of control, which led him off track for a moment too long.
Meanwhile, the Ferrari camp found themselves in serious trouble with the FIA following Fernando Alonso’s pit engineers staying out on the starting grid past the 15 second warning mark that began the pacing lap. Alonso would later be penalised with a 5-second stop-and-go penalty, which he served soon there after.
Perhaps the biggest incident of the race came quite early on at Lap 2, when the two Mercedes drivers made contact whilst German Nico Rosberg attempted a pass on Briton Lewis Hamilton at Les Combes, a chicane in the track. Rosberg’s front left wing made contact with Hamilton’s rear right tyre, resulting in the tyre going flat and Rosberg needing a new wing and nose. Unfortunately for Hamilton, his tyre damage also resulted in severe damage to the floor of his car, which caused the 2008 World Champion to retire on Lap 39.
As the race progressed, the problems for Ferrari’s Alonso kept coming, with the penalty bringing him back out onto the track behind rookie Danish driver Kevin Magnussen of McLaren, who kept the veteran Spaniard at bay for the majority of the race. In the last five laps, the Spaniard and Dane found themselves engulfed in a four way battle with Magnussen’s British teammate Jenson Button and German Sebastian Vettel. In the end Alonso suffered front wing damage, which left him finishing in 8th, with Vettel coming in 7th, Magnussen in 6th and Button in 5th. As a result of his blocking, Magnussen was handed a 20-second penalty and 2 driver penalty points by the FIA following Sunday’s race. These will come into effect on 7 September at Monza.
The race concluded with Ricciardo on top, with Rosberg in 2nd, and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas in 3rd. Off the podium, but scoring points were Ferrari’s Finnish veteran Kimi Räïkkönen (4), Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel (5), McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen (6) and Jenson Button (7), Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (8), Force India’s Sergio Pérez (9), and Toro Rosso’s Russian Daniil Kvyat (10).
They were followed in the non-points scoring category by Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg (11), Toro Rosso’s Jean-Éric Vergne (12), Williams’ Felipe Massa (13), Sauber’s Adrian Sutil (14) and Esteban Gutierrez (15), Marussia’s Max Chilton (16), and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson (17).
Sunday’s retirements were Marussia’s Jules Bianchi on Lap 39 (18), Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on Lap 38 (19), Lotus’ Romain Grosjean on Lap 33 (20) and Pastor Maldonado on Lap 1 (21), and Caterham’s stand-in driver Andre Lotterer (22) whose Formula 1 debut ended on the first lap.
Formula 1 will return once again in 2 weeks time on 7 September, this time to the fast-paced circuit at Monza in Italy, possibly for the last time according to reports that came out earlier this year from Bernie Ecclestone’s office. Looking forward from Belgium, the championship is now open not just to two, Rosberg and Hamilton, but quite possibly to a third, Ricciardo. Will the Western Australian make his country proud and win a third straight on the 7th? We will just have to wait and see.