Famed Japanese firm Honda endured, what can best be described as a horror show at their home Grand Prix on Sunday – and it’s not going to be getting better any time soon.
Where last week’s race in Singapore offered the McLaren-Honda pairing a glimmer of some points, a double retirement under the lights left the Anglo-Japanese effort with nothing to show for their efforts.
Unlike Singapore, both of the McLaren’s saw the chequered flag, albeit outside of the points, much to the dismay of Honda’s chief motorsport office (and R&D senior managing director) Yasuhisa Arai. “Disappointingly, we missed out on 10th position, and the final point on offer,” commented Arai. He added words of encouragement: “Through rain and sunshine, our fans gave us the support we needed throughout the three days of the grand prix weekend. We hope that we’ll be able to give back to them soon, by fighting every step of the way to improve in the remaining races of the season and development for next year. I cannot say thank you enough for everyone’s support.”
At a time when the rest of the field has been making development gains, McLaren-Honda can appear stagnant; however the development is there, but against Mercedes, Ferrari and even the lacklustre Renault, their rate of improvement requires context.
Realistically Honda does appear to have reasonably strong internal combustion engine and their energy recovery unit has also improved, as some of the overheating and other reliability issues have been overcome – albeit not totally, as Singapore made evident. On top of that, there are also apparent issues with energy retention and release, meaning that the McLaren paring are occasionally forced to “turn down their engines” during a Grand Prix.
On Sunday, Fernando Alonso took 11th place, while Jenson Button was adrift in 16th place (not aided by a couple of poor pitstops). Two finishes was a credible effort, but it is not enough when one considers the calibre of talent on hand and Alonso was keen to make that known over the team radio.
Calls that the Honda power unit was comparable with a GP2 Series engine may have brought some sniggers to the viewers, but when watching Alonso and Button get passed on the main straight with such ease, one can understand the frustration of the drivers.
Alonso is a man is expects the best, yet even his patience is being stretched beyond limits. Button, on the other hand, merely appears to have settled into a constant state of resignation, as he waits for a dire 2015 season to draw to a close.
For the McLaren’s to be 15kph and 17kph off the top the top of the speed traps in the fast sector two in Suzuka is not good enough, but such are the regulations, there is precious little that will change until 2016 and even the token system that is in place to monitor power unit development may hold Honda back.
As it stands, Alonso and Button have little choice but to withstand more competitive pain.
Lewis Hamilton dominated this morning’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, after passing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg on the opening lap.
Sebastian Vettel claimed another podium for Ferrari, after having run 2nd place for a portion of the race.
“It was just a beautiful… it’s like sailing. When you go through the corners here, it’s flowing. Honestly, I wish I could share the feeling with you.”
There is little doubt this was Lewis Hamilton’s day. At the race where he matched Ayrton Senna’s victory total, the Briton was imperious.
After initially getting a good launch from pole position Nico Rosberg, appeared to fall back into the hands of Hamilton, with the pair almost side-by-side as they drew through the first corner.
As turn one unraveled into turn two, Hamilton claimed the inside, forcing Rosberg to the astro turf as the exit of the second corner as they almost clipped wheels. “It was very tight through Turn One but from then on it was just the most beautiful day,” said Hamilton.
Where Hamilton grabbed the lead, Rosberg lost pace and grip in the run-off area, falling backward as a result, with the German adding, “It was very close throughout the corner and on the exit I had to go off the track to avoid a collision, which cost me speed and pushed me back to fourth place…” In just the briefest of moments, the race was won – although there were still 52 laps and sixteen turns remaining.
Admittedly, it was hardly the most thrilling of event thereafter, although there was enough happening in the points places and midfield to keep one entertained, but for the victory? Not a chance. However even this couldn’t explain why the Mercedes pair received so little television coverage from the world feed director…
In a nutshell, Hamilton led Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) by 1.6s after one lap with Valtteri Bottas (Williams) a close 3rd, while Rosberg attempted to recover. By the one-tenth distance, it was 3.2s; then 6.04s on lap ten, before stalling at a 7.6s lead for Hamilton when Vettel stopped for a set of new Hard Pirelli tyres on lap 13.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was still struggling to pierce the top three, but Bottas’ place did come to him with the help of some strategy. Pitting on lap 11 for a new set of medium tyres, the Finn found his replacement rubber not to be quite as effective as his old tyres. Losing a half-second to Rosberg on his in-lap and a further one-second to the Mercedes man on their respective out-laps merely helped the German close in on the Williams. Rosberg eventually pitted four laps after Bottas, with the Mercedes man switching to surprisingly effective new hard tyres. He was quick to depose Bottas from 3rd.
Meanwhile Hamilton pitted for new mediums on lap 16 and emerged to clear air and a 6.9s lead, which had extended to over ten seconds by lap 20. Such was Hamilton’s ferocious pace; neither he nor the still 2nd place Vettel could even be seen on the same stretch of road by the halfway mark. Yet despite the prowess on display, not everything was quite plain sailing for Hamilton mid-race, according to Mercedes Executive Director Paddy Lowe. “During the race, there were a few issues to manage with engine temperatures and a flat spot on Lewis’ second set of tyres, which was through to the canvas. As always, even when you’re in a position with apparent control of the race, there are always risks and worries but it was great to get both cars home, which we haven’t done since Belgium.”
For the leader content on what has usually been a bogey circuit, he barely even noticed the Ferrari man fall away in his mirrors. “I have struggled every year at this circuit, but I always loved it,” said Hamilton. “When you have the balance and the car is doing what you want it to do, and you’re attacking through the corners, there’s no better feeling. We didn’t have much data to go through after practice, but the car felt unbelievable.”
It would not be long before Vettel’s attention switched to the second Mercedes, now with tyres finally switched on and closing in… Rosberg would ultimately take the 2nd place spot from Vettel, but where he pushed by Bottas on track, the Mercedes man was able to utilise pit strategy to pass the Ferrari. Both drivers began the second stints on new mediums, with the battling duo settling for another set of the option tyres for the final laps; however Rosberg would have to run a scrubbed set compared to Vettel’s new rubber.
It involved a little rejigging of the strategies on the Mercedes pitwall, but with Hamilton so far ahead, there was little chance of any overlap between he and Rosberg – although to pin solely on pit stops would do a disservice to the recovering Rosberg.
Once up to speed after his first stop, Rosberg was simply faster than Vettel – much faster; until he caught the rear of the Ferrari. From a gap of over five seconds, Rosberg logged laps in the low-to-mid 1’38s, while his Ferrari rival was locked in the 1’39s, but then a problem – overtaking Vettel.
With all due respect to Bottas, he is not quite Vettel (yet) and the Williams is certainly no Ferrari this year and Rosberg, while a speedy pilot, lacks that steely-eyed aggressiveness possessed by Hamilton. Now strategy was to come into play.
Both Rosberg and Vettel spent the following laps clicking off similar times (early-1’39s for the most part), while the leading Hamilton kept knocking out laps in the 1’38s-1’39s range. Having tyres two laps younger than Vettel, Mercedes brought Rosberg in on lap 29, one tour prior to Vettel. It would be enough. Where Vettel’s in-lap was slightly quicker than Rosberg’s, the Mercedes drivers out-lap was almost two seconds faster in the second and third sectors than anything Vettel could manage. Job done.
As Vettel emerged from the pitlane, Rosberg by, taking 2nd spot. “The team did also a great job with the undercut of Sebastian, this worked out perfectly with a really hard out-lap on the new tyres,” said Rosberg. Meanwhile the now 3rd place Ferrari driver was rather circumspect about the demotion afterward. “Had we pitted one lap sooner, I think it could have been more interesting and challenging for Nico to get past. It’s not so easy to follow the cars here through the high-speed sections, so I think we had a good chance but probably underestimated the out-lap that he had…” Vettel stayed close to Rosberg for the final stint, but it was never close enough to make a meaningful challenge.
But that was for 2nd place. Hamilton continued to stretch his lead out front. He didn’t need to, but he could anyway. As the laps ticked by, the Briton pulled further and further away, eventually by 18.9s from Rosberg, with Vettel a further 2s adrift.
For a delighted Hamilton, it was all about the rush. “I’m buzzing like you could not believe. As I’m walking through after the race I’ve got this rush but I’m thinking about all the different experiences I’ve been through and the people that have helped me along the way: my family, without whom I wouldn’t be here today, and everyone else that’s helped me – they know who they are.” The reigning champion moves to the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks with a 48-point lead over Rosberg. With only 125 left on the table, Hamilton is looking more and more secure for a third world title.
During the second half of last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, a member of the public breached security and entered the circuit – a moment of madness that could have rewritten the race.
Beyond the obvious alterations to the form of the event – the track invasion necessitated a second safety car period – the wandering man presented a significant safety issue for himself and the drivers.
One only needs to recount the horrific events of the 1977 South African Grand Prix top understand the consequences of a person entering a live track during a active event.
Following the incident, the FIA ordered an immediate investigation, tasking Gabriel Tan – the Clerk of the Course – to compile a report and solutions to the matter.
According to Me Tan’s report, the intruder “entered the circuit […] via a designated Egress Point (EP) along the track on the driver’s right on the Esplanade Bridge. This type of EP is a horizontal slot through which personnel can slide through to gain access the track.” The report adds that the opening is secured in selected locations around the circuit before sessions by locks gate.
This did not deter the track invader, who then “climbed over a 1.1 metre high security fence, gained access to a protected 2-metre-wide Marshal Zone, crossed a carriageway and slid through the opening in the EP.”
What is most frightening about the incident is that it only took ten seconds for the intruder to enter the track, after which he crossed the track at Esplanade Bridge before exiting over the Armco fifteen seconds later.
While a 1.1 metre high fence may not seem on the surface to be a great deterrent, it is of similar height to other fences used at Formula One circuits. It is not unusual for circuits to have only half of their EPs manned throughout the weekend by race officials, while those that are not manned are under the eye of patrolling security personnel or have spectator fences as an additional barrier.
Mr. Tan’s report concluded with recommendations to increase security in certain areas, as well as installing higher spectator fences in the area where the intruder gained access. The report also recommended an increase in the number of marshals covering the event.
From a purely sporting side, the was some luck in that the safety car did not particularly alter the running order, despite what Red Bull Racing may think. This was always Sebastian Vettel’s race – the track invader merely made his and Ferrari’s victory a touch more difficult than it should have been.
One hopes you allow the author to be self-indulgent on this occasion.
Although TheMotorsportArchive.com has, on the surface, been somewhat less active in 2015, what has being going on in the background has certainly being more meaningful and enjoyable to say the least.
And there is plenty of work and research going on, so more to come soon, but for now…
Away from TheMotorsportArchive.com, a portion of this year has been spent writing a few features for Racecar Engineering Magazine – a highly respected publication of which I was a subscriber anyway. This year the magazine has published contributions on the new BTCC Honda Civic and the new-for-2015 LMP3 category.
For me, this has been riveting stuff and has been very educational and most importantly, it has been wonderful to contribute to a publication with a editing office who actually appear to know what they are doing. It is amazing how much one steps up their game when working with professionals in this environment.
Apart from that, earlier this month I made my debut behind the microphone as co-commentator for two races at the European Formula 3 Championship round at Portimao. It was a wonderful experience and one that felt absolutely right and it is an opportunity ones hopes come again – but that is something that I need to work at. Like everything in this world, nothing is certain – that could be a road that leads to something quite different or it could be another blind alley. Mostly, it is up to me to work that part out.
Last weekend, I submitted the latest contribution for Racecar Engineering – a piece focussing on the Venturi VBB-3; an electric land speed record car, capable of speeds of over 400mph. Although the weather at Bonneville has not been kind to the joint Monegasque/American effort, thereby ruining any chance of a full-speed run, their spirit remains undimmed and the team will certainly return to Utah next year to push for the land speed record once again.
There is other work in the pipeline – not necessarily with Racecar Engineering – including an piece on the technical challenges faced by Manor Marussia Grand Prix team this year, as well as some Formula 3 technical updates. There is also a thesis in the works, which aims to examine the way audiences engage sporting and televised drama, while also delving into the theories behind attention spans and how broadcasters treat their audiences’.
But that is all work in progress.
Should more work comes along, that will be great. If it can be scraped together on my side, even better, but for now one can only plug away.
So you will forgive me if I didn’t roar into action with the news that Maldonado had re-signed for Lotus for 2016. To be frankly honest, the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com, Crash.net and NBC handle that fare far better than I could – it is their everyday job after all.
105 points. That is one hell of a lead for Stoffel Vandoorne at the top of the GP2 Series standings.
While eight races still remain – four Features and four Sprints – and there is still 192 points on the table, it is looking more and more as if Vandoorne has his hands wrapped tightly around the throat of this championship.
The Belgian proved his worth once again at his home race in Spa-Francorchamps – his 2nd major victory at the circuit having tasted success there in Formula Renault 3.5 two years ago. “Today was a very great day for us,” said Vandoorne after his Saturday success. “The whole weekend had started perfectly for us. We were quickest in free practice and then quickest in qualifying as well. To win my home race is something really special.”
Behind him, one challenger – Alexander Rossi – prospered, while another – Rio Haryanto – crumpled. At the Hungaroring four weeks previously, it was the other way around.
Haryanto’s campaign has been showered with inconsistency. Three Sprint Race victories have been tempered by middling performances in the Feature Race – where it really counts. Rossi, on the other hand, has been busy scoring regular points, but just not enough of them. Amongst five podiums, the American has recorded his fair share of 4th, 6ths and 7th’s… It’s not enough, for either driver.
Although a Sprint Race win is nice, we should not try to kid ourselves – the grid for the Sunday morning special is set-up from a partial reversal of the Feature Race result, where those swho start 8th “earn” the pole.
Haryanto and Rossi have nabbed four victories between them this year and all have come from reverse grid races, having finished 2nd, 7th and 8th (Haryanto) the previous day, while Rossi’s Sprint Race win came from a 6th place finish on Saturday at Spa.
Vandoorne continues to score big with each passing weekend, as he continues to pull away from his fellow competitors. Confident and assured, the McLaren junior is simply in a different league right now.
Admittedly, Vandoorne did enjoy some luck on Saturday in the Feature Race. From pole, a sluggish start meant Sergey Sirotkin grabbed the immediate lead; however the Russian botched the exit of La Source, running wide and allowing Vandoorne back ahead. “My start wasn’t really great. I lost a position to Sergey. But then I got into the lead again quickly,” quipped the ART Grand Prix man. Behind them Nobuharu Matsushita made mincemeat of the rear of front row starter Oliver Rowland.
The ART Grand Prix team also showed great capability of thinking on their feet when they switched Vandoorne from soft Pirelli’s to the hard compound during a safety car period on lap six, brought out when Danïel de Jong suffered a horrific accident at Blanchimont following a clash with Pierre Gasly.
There is little doubt that the championship leader’s cause was helped when the safety car picked up the wrong driver. Crucially it gave Vandoorne a free pass and while others ahead still needed to pit, the Belgian simply kept a solid pace and drove back to the front. “We had eight or nine cars ahead of us after that I think. From then on I knew it was going to be difficult for them to get back to us even when they had the softer tyres in the end.” This may not have been the sexiest way to win the race, but who cares when the points are the same.
One shouldn’t count on luck, but when it does arrive, one would be foolish to ignore it. As the field filtered, Arthur Pic and Artem Markelov rose to 2nd and 3rd – the latter having started near the back of the pack, but neither had a patch on the leader. “I tried to control Arthur behind and Artem as well to make sure they couldn’t pass me and keep a good enough gap with them,” said the victor. “To get another victory after the summer break does feel good. Some people asked me after two more challenging rounds for us in Silverstone and Budapest if we had lost it, but today shows that we haven’t lost it at all,” Vandoorne noted.
Julian Leal, meanwhile, courted 4th place for Carlin, while Mitch Evans (RUSSIAN TIME) pipped Rossi to 6th position. Following a pitch infringement, Haryanto could do better than 13th…
Rossi did turn it around to a degree on Sunday. The American took his first GP2 win since the 2013 finale in Abu Dhabi and did so by forcing the issue with Racing Engineering teammate Jordan King on the approach into Les Combes on the opening lap.
Thereafter, Rossi and King held station, while a forceful Evans grabbed 3rd after late moves on Nathanaël Berthon and Rossi. Although disappointed to not score a podium, it was another score for Vandoorne while Haryanto took an anonymous 10th place and no points. The championship leader, meanwhile, had been paying plenty of attention to his tally. “To be honest, you’re always looking at [the points] … I’ve been leading since the beginning of the season and we’re still on the same flow now,” concluded Vandoorne.
There does appear to be much talk of Rossi getting the draft for the Haas F1 seat for next year, although sources inform me that precious little of that talk is emanating from Charlotte.
If anything, there are apparently no American drivers on their ‘shortlist of ten’ for the team’s debut season, but Rossi’s weekend results do at least bring him into focus, as he requires at least 2nd in the championship to score enough Super Licence points to graduate to the leading category.
It is difficult to imagine a situation where Vandoorne loses this championship. In fact, such is his dominance the Belgian racer can seal the deal in Sunday at Monza. Yet from the outside, it appears as if his promotion to the top level is still the subject of discussion at McLaren, as the Woking team ponder their options for 2016.
The team do have Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on their books, but considering Vandoorne’s level of talent, it would be frankly astonishing if he is left on the sidelines in a manner similar to Kevin Magnussen.
Red Bull youngster Daniil Kvyat jumped teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the points standings yesterday, following a gutsy drive to 4th.
The Russian made a late race charge to collect twelve valuable points to bring him six clear of Ricciardo, leaving him a credible 7th in the World Championship as the Formula One circus prepares to move to Monza.
From 12th on the grid, Kvyat has taken four positions by the time the stops began in earnest of lap eight, including moves on Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) and Felipe Massa (Williams), with the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas dropping behind after a pit mishap.
Thereafter Kvyat ran at a keen pace, as he initially chased Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and later Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and climbed to 5th, when Red Bull opted to bring the Russian in for his final set of tyres on lap 27.
Prior to that, Kvyat’s strategy seemed to be something of an off-kilter manoeuvre by Red Bull. At the end of lap 20, Ricciardo’s Red Bull machine suffered an instant power loss at the exit of the Bus Stop chicane, prompting a Virtual Safety Car; however unlike several others in the field, the Milton Keynes squad order Kvyat to stay out, allowing the 21-year-old to make the most of his Pirelli tyres.
And he did so. From the beginning of his second stint, Kvyat settled into a consistent pace in the 1’56s range and only stepped out of that consistent range when the Virtual Safety Car was in place. “The strategy from the team to keep me out during the virtual safety car was good and we were able to have a strong last stint,” he commented.
It proved to be one of the strongest stints of the entire Grand Prix, with Kvyat maintaining an impressive pace that kept him at the top end of the laptimes throughout the run.
Emerging from his second stop in 9th, Kvyat claimed one place when Max Verstappen’s strategy took him out of contention; however it was here that the Red Bull man showed his teeth with cool overtakes on Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari, lap 37), Massa (lap 40) and Sergio Perez (Force India, lap 41). Speaking of his positions gained late in the race, the former GP3 Series champion commented, “I had a lot of overtaking opportunities and the car performed well.”
With two laps remaining, 5th became 4th when the one-stopping Vettel suffered a right rear tyre failure at the tip of Radillon, ending the German’s run with only short distance remaining. “It was a very interesting race and really good fun,” said a delighted Kvyat, then adding, “The team did a good job and we scored some solid points. We should be happy with the performance today and hopefully we can continue this form over the next few races.”
It was a performance that did not go unnoticed by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “Dany drove a very strong race to finish fourth from his starting grid position of twelfth. He produced some very strong overtaking manoeuvres and the strategy worked very well, so we were able to score some very useful points.”
Following a great start where he jumped from 5th to 3rd, Ricciardo’s day was seemingly smooth, before going south toward the halfway mark. The Australian was running a similar strategy to Kvyat, which – considering his early race performance – could well have secured him 3rd, although a tricky time on the medium compound Pirelli’s saw Ricciardo lose some time before retiring.
Kvyat remains some 22 scores adrift of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, despite the Finn enduring a difficult weekend at the office.
Romain Grosjean secured Lotus’ first Formula One podium since the 2013 US Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps today.
The Frenchman’s effort went some way to curing what has been a difficult week for the Enstone squad, during which their financial issues once again made the headlines.
The result was also tempered by some luck, when Grosjean gained 3rd from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel two laps from the end, when the right rear tyre of Vettel’s SF15-T machine blew apart in spectacular fashion.
“Today’s result is wonderful. It’s good for the team and for myself of course,” said a clearly delighted Grosjean. Continuing he added, “Yesterday’s good qualifying result put a smile on my face but today was an unbelievable race. Everything came together when it mattered during those 43 laps. I drove with my heart today and pushed 100 % throughout the race.”
Starting 9th, Grosjean jumped the slow starting Felipe Massa (Williams) on the opening lap, before a retirement for Grosjean’s Lotus teammate Pastor Maldonado offered up another position. The former GP2 champion followed Williams’ Valtteri Bottas until the stops; however an additional lap in clear air for the Lotus man was enough to take him past the Finn for 6th.
The charge continued with a move of Daniel Ricciardo on lap 18, although the Red Bull driver’s eventual retirement three laps later rendered his effort mute. It was a charge that brought Ricciardo back down to Earth following his Hungarian podium of four weeks ago. “I lost power going into the chicane, everything switched off, including the dash. It looks like it’s electrical but we’ll see what the investigation brings,” noted Ricciardo. “It’s disappointing not to finish, we are not sure what the issue is but the team are investigating.”
Indeed it was Ricciardo’s retirement that unraveled the next stage of the race. The Australian’s Red Bull machine suffered a complete power shut down at the final corner on lap 20, necessitating a Virtual Safety Car as marshals attempted to move the Renault-powered machine. It would key for Grosjean, who stopped on lap 21 – along with Massa, Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen as strategies unfolded under slower conditions.
Ferrari having pitted Vettel on lap 14 altered their strategy to keep Vettel on track for the duration, while Grosjean rejoined just over 5s adrift of the German – attempting to make the medium compound Pirelli’s last 29 laps would prove a bold strategy for Vettel and Ferrari and one that would eventually bear no fruit.
Chasing the Ferrari hard, Grosjean closed in to less than a second from the rear of Vettel, but was struggling to make a move stick the DRS zone, when Vettel’s right rear Pirelli blew apart. “We deserved to finish on the podium but that’s racing,” an angry four-time champion said post-race. “I think this is not easy to accept for a driver, even if it’s not as bad as in Silverstone few years ago, but still we need to talk to each other as it can’t happen without prior notice. There’s no explanation for what happened: it’s not a puncture, the tyre just exploded.” It was an explosion that left Vettel furious post-race and demanding answers from Pirelli. The Ferrari man would eventually classify his car in 12th.
While feeling for Vettel, Grosjean was – naturally – in a delighted mood. “We were really trying to go for the podium this afternoon and I felt very emotional during the last lap of the race! It’s a great feeling today.” With a breath, the Lotus man added, “I did some great overtaking manoeuvres and was really pushing to catch up and hopefully overtake Sebastian Vettel – of course it was bad luck for him to have had the tyre issue at the end.”
It was not all good news for Lotus however. Having crashed during the opening free practice session on Friday, Maldonado’s machine slowed significantly after he clouted the curbs in Radillon, forcing the Venezuelan to retire in the pits at the end of lap two. “We had been doing a great job this weekend, especially yesterday. The car was feeling very good, very competitive and I had a good race start,” said the 30-year-old.
“We had an issue with the drive of the car which the team are investigating. I’m disappointed about the issue we had today but that’s racing sometimes. We are keeping focused for the next race now and Romain has shown what is possible. I love Italy and Monza so I’ll be doing everything I can for a strong result there,” added Maldonado, whose torrid season continues to go from bad to worse.
Despite this good result, there is still a cloud hanging over the Lotus team, but with Renault apparently still in talks to buy the team back for the 2017 season, the uncertainty will only continue.
Lewis Hamilton dominated today’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, cementing a 28-point lead ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean took 3rd to secure the Enstone team’s first podium since Austin in 2013.
The initial start was aborted following a mechanical failure for Nico Hulkenberg on the grid; however Hamilton led the start proper from start-to-finish holding off – in turn – Sergio Perez (Force India), Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).
Also with a great getaway, Perez was able to get a run on Hamilton and even nosed ahead of the points leader on the outside of Hamilton on the approach to Les Combes on the opening tour, but it was not enough to solidify the lead.
Thereafter Hamilton extended his lead to over six seconds over Perez, when the Mexican opted for an early stop on lap eight, dropping him in behind Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and promoting the slow starting Rosberg to 2nd place.
It was something of a minor recovery for Rosberg, who having dropped from the front row to 4th spot on the opening stretch into La Source, assumed 3rd from Ricciardo when he pitted on lap seven, before Perez too made way for tyres.
Rosberg made his first tyre change on lap 12, with Hamilton coming in one lap later; however Perez’ additional six laps stuck behind the Renault-powered Red Bull ensured Rosberg maintained his 2nd spot.
The now medium tyre shod Mercedes-duo continued to power ahead from the pack, but by lap 15 Rosberg had removed nearly four seconds from Hamilton’s 7.2s lead.
The German racer closed to within 1.8s of the lead when Hamilton slowed too much under the Virtual Safety Car on lap 22, caused when Ricciardo’s Red Bull shut down awkwardly at the exit of the final corner.
Yet once alerted to the shrinking gap, Hamilton began to ease away from his Mercedes counterpart and extended the gap to 5.5s by the time the reigning champion stopped for his final set of tyres on lap 29.
Rosberg pitted one lap later and while he closed to less than four seconds of Hamilton, the reality was the race had been won and Hamilton was merely pacing his efforts, taking care to maximise his point score and register his sixth victory of the season.
There was a brief scare two laps from the end, when a long-running Vettel suffered a right rear tyre blow out at the top of Radillon, but were able to avoid the debris and rubbish in the final miles.
On the podium following the victory, an exultant Hamilton said, “We’ve had such a great crowd here this weekend, so thank you all for coming. For me an incredible weekend. Today was a dream.” Hamilton even made a slight dig at Rosberg, revealing how much of an advantage he believed he had in hand. “Nico had good pace but I was able to answer all the time. At the end when I saw a tyre had blown on another car, I was very cautious.”
Rosberg continued home to assume 2nd spot, confirming Mercedes first 1-2 finish at the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit since 1955; however the contender was clear a to where and how he lost this race.
“I completely messed up the start,” commented the runner-up. “I fought my way through and gave it everything, we were both really on the edge all the time. Lewis did a great job and deserved the win. I gave it everything – but not enough.”
Despite the race being run, Rosberg was in no position to hang around, due to impending birth of his first child with wife Vivian Sibold. “I’m rushing off – we’re expecting our first child at any moment” enthused Rosberg.
Grosjean grabbed the final podium spot from Vettel when the Ferrari driver’s tyre let go on lap 42. The Frenchman had been catching Vettel for sometime after it became clear that Ferrari’s one-stop strategy was no working, with a 5.2s gap closing to less than one second in the final stages.
Yet getting close to Vettel was not as easy as initially assumed and in the final miles it looked as if Vettel might do enough to keep his Lotus-Mercedes rival behind, but as the Pirelli pulled apart, Grosjean was promoted to the final podium spot. “It has been an incredible weekend for us. I still can’t believe we are on the podium,” exclaimed Grosjean. “These guys work so hard to give us this car. Of course at Spa I still remember Turn 1 in 2012 [when a crash led to a race ban], but I think that made me stronger. For us [third] has the prize of a race win.”
Vettel’s late retirement brought the feisty Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) up to 4th, with Perez having to settle for 5th ahead of Felipe Massa (6th, Williams), Kimi Raikkonen (7th, Ferrari), Max Verstappen (8th, Toro Rosso), Valtteri Bottas (9th, Williams) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) rounding out the points in 10th.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr would end the race just outside the scores in 11th, with Vettel eventually classified 12th in from of both McLaren’s (Fernando Alonso, 13th; Jenson Button, 14th) and both Manor’s (Roberto Merhi, 15th; Will Stevens, 16th).
Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso suffered a mechanical issue on the warm-up lap; however the managed a minor fix, allowing the Spaniard to obtain some mileage, albeit two laps adrift. This lasted until lap 35, when the Italian team eventually called his day.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) also retired with a mechanical issue on lap two, while Hulkenberg didn’t even get to take the start, after his Force India gave up the ghost on the initial warm-up lap, causing an aborted start.
One of Formula 3’s biggest selling points is that its rulebook is one of the few to still possess “open” technical regulations.
Although what one can do with the cars is highly restricted, that does not mean the teams are wholly bound following the final chassis homologation, unlike in GP2 or Renault World Series for example. In those categories (and numerous others), teams are forced to run specification cars with identical chassis, tyre and engine packages.
There are those who believe this evens out championships and make it fairer for the drivers, while at the same time, a great many will disagree, arguing that spec championships play too well toward teams with the best engineers and facilities. That such a level playing field is rarely achieved by spec championships might lend one to agree with the naysayers, but as with with everything in motorsport, the complexities of how teams and drivers perform run far deeper than that.
Those who back championships with open regulations will argue that it allows engineers and designers to work in an environment that is at least in line with the top level of motorsport, even if it is to a very limited degree. Also they might opine that developing cars is what helps nurture drivers as they move toward categories, like Formula One or LMP1; categories in which cars never stay the same.
Detractors will point toward growing costs and that drivers don’t notice the alterations enough to comment on them or offer up good enough information to make them worthwhile.
Regardless, these open regulations are to stay in Formula 3 and may become a key part of the returning FIA Formula 2 when that eventually launches with a new car in 2017.
Meanwhile, at the Red Bull Ring a few weekends ago, both Carlin and Prema Powerteam turned up with bargeboards featuring rivets – all with the aim of sculpting nuanced airflow toward the rear of the Dallara.
Money well spent or an unnecessary throw away? Naturally it depends whether you are a winner or a loser.