Vettel Coasts to Victory Unopposed, as Räikkönen Retires for the First Time in 27 Races
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
It was a relatively tame weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel again finishing in first place unopposed after overtaking pole sitter Lewis Hamilton at Turn 3, Lap 1. Like at Silverstone, only the hand of God would stop Vettel rampaging across Spa-Francorchamps, but no transmission failure was in the cards today. The proficiency of the Red Bull RB9 in the straights combined with the overall skill of Vettel made the car feel right at home at Spa, known for its long runways which result in high speeds. The surprise retirement of Kimi Räikkönen makes Fernando Alonso’s second place finish that much more important. The Ferrari driver was only 1 Championship Point behind the Finn going into the race, but now leads Räikkönen by 17 points. Lewis Hamilton’s podium finish also pushes him in front of Räikkönen, placing him in third in the standings.
The hard and medium Pirellis were chosen for Spa’s demanding high speed sections; the dry tires saw use for the entire race, as the dark clouds that threatened to soak the track never leaked. This led to ever-changing tire strategies for the teams, some of whom recommended drivers run flat out in the middle of the race in case rain prompted a third stop for rubber changes.
Hamilton started the race in pole position yet again, although he was quickly dispatched by Vettel just after the starting lights faded. Vettel built a commanding lead to push Hamilton out of the DRS zone, and then simply turned out consistently competitive lap times to hold the pack at bay. Little happened in the first half, with the exception of an off road excursion by Romain Grosjean. Sergio Pérez forced him off the track, which the race stewards found less than pleasing; they handed down a drive through penalty for the McLaren driver. Räikkönen began calling his pit team, asking them to keep checking on his fiery red brakes. It proved to be an accurate prophesy for the events of Lap 26.
That lap saw Räikkönen plowing through the Bus Stop chicane as he attempted to pass Felipe Massa, and he was forced to backtrack to hit the circuit again. He sauntered back to the pits and was forced to retire. It is believed that a visor tear off blocked air flow to cool the brakes, and even though it was removed during a pit stop, the damage had been done. The brakes were never allowed to return to a normal temperature, and the Lotus burned through them until they ended Räikkönen’s stunning 27 consecutive race finishes.
Just a few laps later, an accident involving Pastor Maldonado, Paul di Resta, and Adrian Sutil occurred at the same chicane. Maldonado attempted to exit the track after being clipped by Sutil, but apparently didn’t realize that di Resta was located immediately to his right. The resulting carnage caused di Resta’s rear left tire to nearly rip off, while Maldonado was able to limp back to pit row, and eventually finished the race at the back. Maldonado was given a 10 second stop/go penalty for the crash; after the race, Maldonado vehemently denied being responsible for the collision, which he blamed on Sutil.
Aside from the accident and Räikkönen’s retirement, the race was largely uneventful, even boring in some places. Spa has some very interesting sections, especially the famous Eau Rogue complex, but the vast majority of the track is raced flat out. It allows for the V8s to sing at 18,000 RPM, but it’s not thrilling to watch on television. The most interesting developments were the results of the race and not the race itself. With Vettel in distant first place, Räikkönen, Hamilton, and Alonso are all strong contenders for second. The season is far from over, but at this point, a dark horse Champion is looking less and less likely.