ROUND 11 – Belgium, 25 August 2013
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 23m 42.196 (av. race speed 220.817 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap: 16.869s
3rd: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) gap: 27.734
Fastest Lap: Vettel 1:50.756 = 227.657 km/h on lap 40
Pole Position: Hamilton 2:01.012 = 208.362 km/h
With those two words Lewis Hamilton summed up Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull Renault as the three place-getters gathered in the anteroom before heading out on to the Spa-Francorchamps podium. Though Hamilton’s Mercedes was on pole, Vettel – perhaps boosted by the go-faster colour of his newly-dyed hair -- made a superb start from the front row, breezed past the Englishman on the opening lap of 44 and cruised to one of his most dominant victories with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Hamilton in his wake. This was the 31st victory of Vettel’s career, putting him equql fourth on the all-time list with Nigel Mansell. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that statistic is that Mansell had to wait until he was 32 for the very first of those 31 wins at Brands Hatch in 1985; Vettel’s 31st comes while the German is still only 26. Next in his sights is the man who finished second on Sunday, Fernando Alonso, on 32, and ahead of them both is the 41-win legend named Ayrton Senna.
“He did the damage on the first lap,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner of his German phenomenon, and Vettel was quick to agree. “It was a fantastic race for us,” he said. “Once I passed Lewis we had incredible pace, we just had to control the race.” Encouraged by his crew to look after his tyres from as early as the second lap, Vettel two-stopped his way to the finish on laps 15 and 31 and increased his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 46 – almost two full race wins – over Alonso, with Hamilton now another 12 points back in third place.
“We had to recover some places,” shrugged Alonso when asked about his superb effort in coming through from ninth on the grid to second position. “Everything went OK from the start, the car had the speed to pass some other cars – it was a little boring once we got to second place because we knew we could not get close to Sebastian.” Teammate Felipe Massa was seventh on a weekend that further increased paddock speculation about the Brazilian’s tenure on his Maranello seat for next season.
Hamilton had started from his fifth pole of 2013 and his fourth in a row but he knew the writing was on the wall as Vettel blazed past him on the way up to Les Combes hairpin. “I got everything that I could out of the car today but we just weren’t as quick as Sebastian and Fernando,” Hamilton said. “I made a nice start and it felt like the exit out of turn one was good, too. But Seb just caught me on the run out of Eau Rouge and there wasn’t really much I could do to defend: I moved once, like we are allowed to, but then I just had to watch him glide by. From that point, it was very difficult to hold on to him, and the same thing happened with Fernando, too, later in the race.”
Fifth was Mark Webber in his farewell race at Spa – and sadly for the Australian it started in typical fashion when his Red Bull proved problematical at the start. With his clutch bite-point “all over the place” Webber was swamped on the opening lap and had to play catch-up all day. “Once the car was up and running it performed pretty well,” he said. “But when you’re stuck in traffic you end up taking more out of your tyres and I had other issues like gear ratios to contend with as well. I’d expected to run in clear air during the race and had set my top gear accordingly, which meant I didn’t have the top speed to pass people.”
Kimi Raïkkönen lost ground in the Championship when his extraordinary run of race results came to an end with suspected brake failure after 25 laps. The Finn was putting a move on Massa at the Bus Stop chicane when the Lotus Renault suddenly shot straight on, wheeled back into pit lane and retired on the spot. Raïkkönen had gone a staggering 38 races without a retirement, the last 27 of them producing World Championship points, but he is now 63 adrift of Vettel as talk of a move to Red Bull or Ferrari continues to swirl around him.
For multiple Spa winners McLaren Mercedes it looked briefly as if Jenson Button might steal a first podium of 2013 when he and the team made a late call to try to one-stop, but the 2012 race-winner couldn’t make his tyres last and came home sixth. “In terms of performance there’s been a small but definite improvement, so we should be pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Button said. “I’m pretty happy with the feel of the car now, in fact; okay, there’s still room for improvement in terms of pace, but the good thing is that we know which areas we should be focusing on. So I’m looking forward to Monza – another great circuit – where hopefully we can take another small step.”
Teammate Sergio Pérez was given a drive-through penalty for a muscular pass on Romain Grosjean after eight laps, the Mexican finishing one place outside the points, but McLaren had the consolation of moving up to fifth overall, four points ahead of Force India. They had Adrian Sutil in ninth place while Paul di Resta saw the back of his car wiped off in a Bus Stop blunder by Pastor Maldonado that also saw the Williams man given a stop-and-go penalty.
A last quick word for Marussia, who enjoyed a rare moment in the spotlight on Saturday when Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton stayed out on slicks in a damp Q3 and earned a place in Q2. Sadly they couldn’t translate it into Sunday points, with Chilton also copping a drive-through for failing to observe blue flags.
Next race: round 12, Italy, September 08
The last European round of 2013 takes us to the last of the great traditional circuits at Monza. Catch our full preview right here…