2010 Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, Round 13, August 29th)

Layout for Spa-Francorchamps. © FIA

2010 Belgian Grand Prix (Round 13)
Sometimes it comes to you and other times it doesn’t. Lewis Hamilton just missed out on pole position to Championship leader Mark Webber by 0.1 of-a-second in yesterday’s qualifying session; but determination and a cool head saw the 2008 World Champion surge to a fabulous victory when it mattered most.
However, the constantly changing weather made sure the Briton would have to work hard for it – in fact the first droplets of rain were felt on the warm up lap.

In fairness a slow starting Webber gave Hamilton an easy run to the first corner – so poor was Webber off the line, that even Robert Kubica and Jenson Button were able to pass the Australian out of La Source. Webber eventually fell to 7th spot as cars rushed by his Red Bull.
The race was barely into its second lap when the safety car emerged for the first time – as the pack approached the Bus Stop chicane on lap 1, the top 5 all ran off circuit in the damp conditions.

However that was topped when Rubens Barrichello missed his braking point and slammed into the side of Fernando Alonso; somehow Alonso survived the hit and pitted for tyres and a front wing, but Barrichello was out on the spot – his 300th race over early.
Just as the race was nullified, Sebastien Vettel and Robert Kubica go wide up the famous Eau Rouge and onto the Kemmel straight, letting Button into 2nd. With the Mercedes deployed, Hamilton led Button, Kubica, Vettel and Webber.

The safety car period was short and the race recommenced come lap 4 with the field remaining static up front. Whereas Webber was poor off the line, both Vitaly Petrov and Michael Schumacher had phenomenal starts from further down the order – Petrov jumped from 23rd starting place up to 11th and Schumacher slipping up to 12 position after starting 21st as the Renault and Mercedes men enjoyed sterling starts.
Another driver out of the limelight and out of the race was Hispania racer, Bruno Senna – the Brazilian pitted twice early and damaged his Cosworth-powered car in a spin at Stavelot. Senna would pit again to retire from the race at the end of the 6th tour from last position.

Not too far ahead of the Brazilian driver, Alonso was on a charge – after a short time spent wandering down in 17th place, the Spaniard comfortable on new tyres, forced his way passed Lucas di Grassi, Pedro de la Rosa and Jarno Trulli by lap 9; however Trulli did not make it easy. Desperately trying to hold off the Ferrari, the Lotus driver stuck to a defensive line, but had no answer when Alonso ducked the inside at Campus.
Trulli was not the only driver defending hard. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg resiliently defended his 10th place from Vitaly Petrov on the Kemmel straight, weaving across the track in a dangerous manner as they approached Le Combes. Petrov was not perturbed and brilliantly shoved Rosberg aside as he passed the Mercedes around the outside. With Rosberg destabilised, Schumacher saw an opportunity to take another position and as the silver pair exited the Le Combes chicane, the veteran cut across the track, removing Rosberg’s left front wing endplate in the process – a fantastic opportunistic move.

Sebastian Vettel would certainly have wanted to do the same to Jenson Button; as the race approached the one-third mark, the reigning champion had fallen 7.2 seconds behind his race leading team mate, but was under severe pressure from the trailing Vettel. However it was clear that his Renault power was no match for the Mercedes unit in the back of the McLaren. As good as the Red Bull was through the sweeping Spa-Francorchamps corners, Vettel had nothing on the straight.
A stalemate was forming before our eyes, that was until Vettel finally made a determined lunge on Button into the Bus Stop, lost his rear end and speared the McLaren in the side. Incredibly despite the huge hit, Vettel suffered only a damaged front wing, yet no suspension worries and while he lost many positions when pitting for new front wing, at least he was still running. A few minutes later, Vettel would have a drive through penalty added to his list of woes.
…which couldn’t be said for Button. Irritated, the Briton attempted to continue, but his car was a wreck, its radiator punctured – retirement and a huge dent in his title hopes.

Vettel should arguably have taken notes from Fernando Alonso – it took a few laps, but the Ferrari driver pushed his way passed Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Force India at the same point. No damage done. Liuzzi would soon find himself in a battle with Vettel – the Red Bull driver came out behind the Force India man and shot down the inside of La Source; however the Italian had more than enough juice to retake the young German on the approach to Le Combes. It was all irrelevant as Vettel took his penalty a lap later.

Up front, with Button and Vettel now out of the way, Kubica and Webber found that they were able to pick up the pace without obstruction. Hamilton, however, was already 11 seconds down the road by the 23rd lap, it was going to be a struggle to catch the McLaren – the only thing for was pit strategy.
First in was 5th place Sutil on lap 22, followed by Webber the next time around and the Kubica / Massa pair on lap 24 – Hamilton took to the pitlane last at the start of the 25th lap. While the fresh rubber Adrian Sutil the extra grip to pass Kamui Kobayashi and Schumacher for 5th place, Webber managed only to get closer to the 2nd placed Pole, but not close enough to make his strategy work – stalemate. Massa watching from a short distance away in 4th, had some good speed on his fresh Bridgestone’s, but not enough to close to the Red Bull.

Not all the stops was strictly for fresh rubber though. Vettel recovering from his drive through penalty pulled up to the back of Liuzzi once again, only this time the pair collided coming through the Bus Stop chicane – Liuzzi had his front wing sheared, while Vettel received a sliced left rear tyre. The Italian had enough of an angle to pull into the pitlane; however Vettel in taking the corner had no choice, but to complete the lap with only three inflated tyres – both would drop back down the order.
Just like Liuzzi, both Sauber’s were also under huge pressure as 8th place Kobayashi continued to fight off Alonso’s mighty Ferrari (successfully). Nico Hulkenberg was also trying his hand at passing Pedro de la Rosa for 12th position – also with no success; both Ferrari-powered cars were on roll, considering their poor starting places.

There was no carnage out front either – in fact, Hamilton was surging away from Kubica by the two-third’s distance. In reality, the McLaren team were worried. Just above the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the micro-climate changed its mood once again, and dark clouds descended upon the forest lined track. The rain was coming, although no one was quite sure when
On the 33rd lap of the course, the expected droplets of rain finally began to fall – the pitlane spring into action as hordes of intermediate tyres were sprung from their blankets. Timo Glock was the first to pit as his Virgin swapped used slicks for fresh intermediates, but the rain was yet to cover the entire circuit – the back section of circuit clearly damp, while the first turn up to Eau Rouge and Le Combs remained dry, but not for too long more.

As the wet weather spread, Hamilton stayed out – as did Kubica and Webber – while the rest of the field seemingly poured into the pits. It was a decision that very nearly cost Hamilton badly – as the former Champion tiptoed around the damp condition, he lost traction at Bruxelles, ever-so-lightly glancing the barrier, before regaining his McLaren and retaking the circuit. Hamilton was lucky twice over in that no damage was done to his car and that he had enough of a lead over Kubica. The Pole was 12.4 seconds behind, but with one mistake that gap was down to 4 seconds – Hamilton could not afford another error.
The top three finally pitted for intermediate tyres at the end of the 35th lap – both Hamilton and Webber got out cleanly, but it went awry for Kubica. As he pulled his Renault into his pitbox, his car slid slowly forward as he missed his slot by a mere couple of feet. The time lost would cost Kubica his 2nd place, as Webber left the pits ahead of him.

Suddenly, the leaders had plenty of grip, but the conditions still changed lap after lap, as Fernando Alonso was to find out when he slammed his Ferrari hard into the barrier, destroying his suspension, at Bruxelles on the 38th time around. The Spaniard had made his way into the top ten, but as his red machine clutched a wet kerb at the medium speed corner, he was flung around into retirement.
For the second time, the safety car was called out as his stricken Ferrari lay perilously across the track, blocking much of the road.

And so the field closed up again and as the safety car peeled into the pits at the end of lap 40, the remaining pack of cars made a huge dash across the line – the group was led by Hamilton, followed by Webber, Kubica, Massa and Sutil, but neither could make a move on another.
The same could not be said for Nico Rosberg – the Mercedes driver restarted from 8th spot and immediately drafted his veteran team mate, Schumacher up the Kemmel straight. As Rosberg pulled up alongside the seven-time World champion, he barged Schumacher out of the way, forcing the issue and robbing Schumacher of 7th position – a marvelous move as Rosberg continues to assert his authority at Mercedes.
7th place would soon become 6th when the high running Kamui Kobayashi fell off the road at Stavelot; although the Japanese driver would still regain 8th spot as he rejoined ahead of the Vitaly Petrov’s Renault.
Jarno Trulli had a much more frantic spin at Pouhon in the closing moments – his Lotus spun wildly through the fast corner and into the middle of the track, but somehow all those behind missed the Italian; some truly fantastic reactions on display.

All of this was happening a long way behind Lewis Hamilton as despite the pressure from Webber, the Briton claimed a truly fantastic victory in a mesmeric race. Once again, Red Bull failed to convert a pole position into a win, but a sigh of relief for Webber considering his torrid start was present; however despite Webber’s podium, Hamilton has retaken the championship lead, albeit by only three points.
Today’s result was ever more crucial for the front pair considering the poor days for Button and Alonso; one wonders if their title hopes are now finally cooked. Vettel has also dropped 31 points behind Hamilton, as his tile run-in also falters. With Monza coming in two weeks time, the Vettel, Button and Alonso trio need a startling result to reinvigorate their chances.

Robert Kubica took a solid 3rd behind Webber, but he may be disappointed with the small error that cost him a possible 2nd place. The Pole had pulled away from the Massa, Sutil and Rosberg trio by the chequered flag, with Schumacher and Kobayashi several seconds behind the top 6 finishers. Vitaly Petrov picked up a superb 9th from his 23rd starting place.  Jaime Alguersuari crossed the line in 10th place, but was later penalised 10 seconds for overtaking Liuzzi by jumping the Bus Stop – whereas the Toro Rosso driver was dropped to 13th, Liuzzi was promoted to 10th place, collecting a single point in the process.

Today was all about Lewis Hamilton and no one could possibly take this away from him now – and what an emphatic way to exercise the demons of 2008.
Sometimes it comes to you and other times it doesn’t. Today, it came to Lewis Hamilton.
Race Rating: 5 out of 5

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgian Grand Prix (Round 13, August 29th)
1  HAMILTON     McLaren      44 laps
2  WEBBER       Red Bull     +1.5s
3  KUBICA       Renault      +3.4s
4  MASSA        Ferrari      +8.2s
5  SUTIL        Force India  +9.0s
6  ROSBERG      Mercedes     +12.3s
7  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +15.5s
8  KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +16.6s
9  PETROV       Renault      +23.8s
10 LIUZZI       Force India  +34.8s
11 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +36.0s
12 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +39.8s
13 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +49.4s*
14 HULKENBERG   Williams     +1 lap
15 VETTEL       Red Bull     +1 lap
16 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +1 lap
17 DI GRASSI    Virgin       +1 lap
18 GLOCK        Virgin       +1 lap
19 TRULLI       Lotus        +1 lap
20 YAMAMOTO     HRT          +2 laps
R  ALONSO       Ferrari      +7 laps
R  BUTTON       McLaren      +29 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +39 laps
R  BARRICHELLO  Williams     +44 laps

* 10-second time penalty for cutting chicane

Driver Team Points
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 182
2. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 179
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 151
4. Jenson Button McLaren 147
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 141
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 109
7. Robert Kubica Renault 104
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 102
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 45
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 44
11. Rubens Barrichello Williams 30
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 21
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 19
14. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 13
15. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 10
16. Sebastien Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 7
17. Pedro de la Rosa Sauber 6
18. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
Constructor Team Points
1. Red Bull Racing 330
2. McLaren 329
3. Ferrari 250
4. Mercedes GP 146
5. Renault 123
6. Force India 58
7. Williams 40
8. Sauber 27
9. Scuderia Toro Rosso 10

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