Front to back: the Belgian Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver from Sunday’s season resumption at Spa.


Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 21st, finished 3rd
Nico Rosberg: qualified 1st, finished 1st
Rosberg could have done no more on Sunday – he won from pole and led every lap en route to his first win in Belgium and his sixth of the season – but when the dust settles on 2016, this may go down as the race that Hamilton wins the world championship. Facing a critical shortage of fresh engine parts and subsequent penalties in future races, Mercedes elected to effectively bed in three new engines across the weekend for Hamilton to use for the remainder of the season, condemning the championship leader to a back-of-the-grid start and an eye-watering amount of penalties that required several calculators to work out. Yes, the Brit was aided to some degree by the red flag that halted the race on lap nine, but he’d worked his way from the back to fifth by then, setting up a salvage operation that could barely have been better, and was barely believable on Sunday morning. Rosberg was inch-perfect and dominant, but to gain just 10 points on his teammate on a day when everything was in his favour would have turned down the volume on his victory celebrations. For the statistically-minded, Rosberg’s 20th career victory saw him draw level with a pair of Finns in the all-time win list – Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen.

Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 4th, finished 6th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, finished 9th
A second-row lockout looked set to pay dividends on race day for Ferrari, especially given Raikkonen felt pole position on Saturday “was there” but for a mistake on his best Q3 lap. That all went by the wayside at the first corner of the race, the Finn squeezed between Vettel on the outside who turned in tightly, and Verstappen, recovering from a poor start from second, squeezing down the inside into a space that was either large enough or not, depending on whether your heart bleeds red or blue. What was blue was the air after Raikkonen’s response to some robust defending by Verstappen later in the race, the pair duelling over positions outside of the points for a time after Raikkonen was forced to stop for a new front wing after lap one, his car briefly on fire in the pit lane. Vettel was last after being turned around at the first corner, but mounted a superb recovery drive that saw him snatch eight precious points to pass his teammate for fourth in the drivers’ standings. The bad news was that Spa marked the fourth race where neither Ferrari driver made the podium – and Monza is coming up in a week’s time, only increasing the pressure on a team going backwards.

Felipe Massa:
qualified 10th, finished 10th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 8th
A disappointing Sunday after a dispiriting Saturday for Williams, who fell behind Force India for fourth in the constructors’ standings after both cars finished where they started. The problems started in qualifying, a software gremlin seeing both cars unable to extract the potential from their Mercedes engines around Spa’s sweeping layout, and while Massa managed to get to sixth before the early red flag, he spent much of the latter part of the race defending and snared just a single point. On his 27th birthday, Bottas finished five seconds and two positions further up the road, and despite his team telling him Alonso was a “sitting duck” with three laps to go, couldn’t muscle his way past the McLaren driver on the last of the 44 laps.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 5th, finished 2nd
Max Verstappen: qualified 2nd, finished 11th
Most of Raikkonen’s comments about Verstappen aren’t suitable for print on a family website, but the Dutch teenager was more quotable – yet still firm – after a disappointing result in a front of a record Spa crowd, most of whom seemed to be dressed in orange to support the Belgian-born teenager who races under the Dutch flag. “The start was not great, I dived in the inside and was easily making the corner, but they kept squeezing. Sebastian (Vettel) turned in on both of us and I had a lot of damage. He knows he was on the outside and he turned into the corner when there were two other cars there.” As for Raikkonen, Verstappen was blunt. “I’m defending my position and if someone doesn’t like it, it is up to them.” No points for the first time in seven races would have stung Verstappen, particularly after he became the youngest front-row starter in F1 history on Saturday when he qualified second, breaking Ricardo Rodriguez’s record that had stood since the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. Ricciardo was far happier – perhaps because he was able to find an Australian flag in the crowd – with his well-judged second place, where he avoided most of the chaos of the start, managed his tyres well across just two stops, and moved well clear in the battle between the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers for third in the championship with his third consecutive podium finish. A shoey champagne celebration on the podium with compatriot and post-race interviewer Mark Webber rounded out a day that could scarcely have been better.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 7th, finished 4th
Sergio Perez: qualified 6th, finished 5th
Force India has been threatening to surpass Williams for fourth in the constructors’ championship for some time, and did it in convincing fashion with 22 points between Hulkenberg and Perez, one fewer than the team managed at its best race in Monaco. Fourth for Hulkenberg equalled his career-best result (with Belgium 2012 and Korea 2013), and he could be excused for feeling a little aggrieved that it wasn’t better, as he was in third place behind Rosberg and Ricciardo and had already pitted when the race was red-flagged after nine laps, effectively relinquishing his pit-stop advantage over the leading duo. Perez was in more fights than his teammate for most of the race, and on a day when plenty of cars lost bodywork, was precise and clean in battle and showed his class. A very, very good day for a team that seemingly always shows well at Spa.

Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 14th, finished 15th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 12th, did not finish
Magnussen’s massive shunt on lap nine at Raidillon after he blasted through Eau Rouge and lost control was terrifying, not least because the headrest in his car came flying out as he ploughed into the barriers. The Dane suffered a left ankle injury in the incident that saw him taken to hospital, and while his involvement in next Sunday’s Italian GP is far from a certainty, he was fortunate that his injuries weren’t worse given the ferocity of the shunt. Regardless, there’s no way his badly-damaged chassis will be seeing any more track action any time soon. Palmer was a beneficiary of the opening-lap drama and was inside the top 10 when the race was stopped, but struggled with overheating tyres thereafter and could only manage to finish 15th. It was a shame for the Brit after he had a season-best qualifying on Saturday, and arguably looked more convincing than at any other stage during his rookie campaign.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 19th, finished 14th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 15th, did not finish
If you ever wanted evidence that progress in Formula One moves quickly, the struggling Toro Rosso cars – using the 2015 Ferrari engine, remember – were blown away down the straights at Spa, and the full-throttle nature of the circuit had Kvyat out in Q1 on Saturday and Sainz complaining of no power as he qualified 15th. Race day wasn’t a lot better, Sainz suffering a spectacular rear right tyre failure on lap two and retiring, and Kvyat going backwards the longer the race went to finish 14th after running a longer opening stint. Sainz said before the weekend that he expected Belgium to be “painful”, and more of the same is forecast at Monza in seven days’ time at a circuit that rewards straight-line speed – or punishes cars with a lack of it – even more than Spa.

Felipe Nasr:
qualified 17th, finished 17th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, did not finish
Sauber’s more stable financial situation saw some much-needed upgrades brought to Spa, including a heavily revised aero package. It didn’t help much in the race though; Ericsson started from the pit lane after an engine change and subsequent 10-place penalty, and lasted all of three laps before returning to the pits and retiring. Nasr picked his way through the first-lap carbon fibre shower well enough to get to 11th, but not so well to avoid a puncture, which saw him make an unscheduled early stop. The Brazilian later picked up a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and trailed home 17th and last.

Jenson Button:
qualified 9th, did not finish
Fernando Alonso: qualified 22nd, finished 7th
A weekend of contrasting fortunes for Button and Alonso, the former of whom was happy on Saturday, the latter ecstatic on Sunday after a remarkable drive from the back into the points. Button was surprised to qualify ninth and said it was his best Saturday of the year so far and “one of the best laps I’ve ever done”, but that joy was short-lived on race day when he was rear-ended by the Manor of Wehrlein on lap one at Turn 6 and was forced to retire. Alonso, like former McLaren teammate Hamilton, took a brain-bursting tally of penalties into the race after multiple power unit changes, but stormed through in the early laps to be fourth by the lap nine red flag. Holding onto that was always going to be a hard on a circuit where sheer grunt is everything, but seventh and six precious points would have been unthinkable for the Spaniard and his team 12 months ago, and the result saw McLaren leapfrog Toro Rosso for sixth in the constructors’ standings.

Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 16th, did not finish
Esteban Ocon: qualified 18th, finished 16th
Wehrlein came as close as any F1 driver does to apologising for the lap one incident with Button, saying “I tried to avoid the crash but couldn’t make it. If you crash you always think you could have avoided it. There is nothing I can change, but I’m really unhappy about what happened.” The German had been the standout performer at Manor on a weekend where the backmarker team had plenty of eyes on it, with Mercedes protégés Wehrlein and Ocon going head-to-head as the French teenager made his F1 debut to replace Rio Haryanto. Wehrlein did a tremendous job to make Q2, while Ocon was very solid indeed for a teenager in his first F1 race. Their battle will be away from the front of the grid for the rest of the season, but it’ll be intriguing nonetheless.

Romain Grosjean:
qualified 11th, finished 13th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 13th, finished 12th
Another race where points were – just – out of reach for the American newbies. Gutierrez was given what he felt was a “very harsh” five-place grid penalty for impeding Wehrlein in third practice, a sanction plenty of other drivers would have applauded after being critical of the Mexican’s on-track behaviour recently. Grosjean was one of many drivers to speak out vehemently about the tyre pressures mandated by Pirelli for the weekend, which he felt were too high and exacerbated further by the unusually warm weather for Spa.


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