Red Bulls roar again
Vettel and Webber claim RBR’s second 1-2 finish of the year... Hamilton has a big ‘off’ but Button fights through to the podium... Michael has ‘big fun’ and makes up 19 places in a busy Belgian race... Senna off to a bad start.
The boys are back in school – and young Sebastian Vettel showed he is still very much the man in charge with his seventh win of the year and the 17th of his short F1 career to put one hand on a second successive Drivers’ World Championship trophy.
Mark Webber recovered superbly from another disastrous start to back up his team-mate in second place, his 27th F1 career podium setting the seal on a weekend where the Aussie re-signed for another year with the team he joined in 2007.
Starting 13th on the grid, Jenson Button endured the slings and arrows of other people’s misfortunes in the early laps but brought his McLaren home in third place on a day when team-mate Lewis Hamilton escaped unharmed from a high-speed collision with Sauber’s Kamui Kabayashi.
The race was run in dry weather, unusual for the fabled Ardennes circuit, but began under a cloud of uncertainty as the leading teams feared the consequences of a tyre blistering issue that had arisen in Saturday’s qualifying. Although their fears proved unfounded, both Vettel and Webber pitted within the opening four laps and used differing strategies to fight back through the field.
“The beginning of the race was more research and science than racing,” said Vettel, “and we sacrificed a lot by stopping early.” The picture was complicated by a Safety Car period following the clash between Hamilton and Kobayashi after 13 of the 44 laps: the McLaren was past the Sauber when the two collided, with the 2008 World Champion turning sharp left and hitting the barriers very hard but suffering no personal damage.
“I was ahead, so I don’t know why I got hit,” said a dejected Hamilton. “I stayed on my line and didn’t expect him to move over,” retorted the Japanese driver, and stewards took no further action.
But there were consequences for Webber, whose race was compromised first of all by his anti-stall software triggering as he tried to get away from third spot on the grid, then by a radio failure as he expected the team to bring him in under the Safety Car.
“When I got the instructions of what to do in the pit lane I was the wrong side of the pit wall and I never heard the call to come in,” said Webber, who then had to run a very long stint on the (harder) prime Pirellis. But he distinguished himself with a fearless pass round the outside of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari at Eau Rouge early on and by catching the Spaniard and passing him once more in the closing stages of an action-packed race.
Button, starting 13th after a ‘misunderstanding’ with the team cost him any chance of reaching Q3, was hit from behind at the start, had his front wing and right-hand mirror damaged by debris on the opening lap, rejoined 19th then drove superbly to the podium. “I feel better than I ever have in Formula 1,” said the 2009 World Champion who leap-frogged Hamilton into fourth place in the standings.
With Alonso falling back to finish fourth, the last few laps were lit up by the fight for fifth between Mercedes team-mates Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. Rosberg’s blistering start had carried him to the early lead, while Schumacher’s qualifying catastrophe – his right rear wheel came adrift on his out-lap in Q1 – saw him start from 24th.
Twenty years on from his debut at this wonderful venue, the seven-time world champion carved his way through the field and eventually passed Rosberg with just two laps remaining. “Making up 19 places is a good feeling,” said the 42-year-old, six times a winner at Spa. “I had big fun hunting and making my way forward.”
Adrian Sutil came through from 15th to seventh for Force India ahead of Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, Vitaly Petrov overcame fading brakes to bring his Lotus Renault home in ninth, while Pastor Maldonado broke his F1 duck with a point in 10th place for Williams.
After a brilliant qualifying effort to put the second Lotus Renault on seventh spot on the grid, Bruno Senna’s debut weekend for the team fell apart at the first corner. The Brazilian, nephew of four-time Belgian GP winner Ayrton, made a mistake under braking that wiped out Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso and had to serve a drive-through penalty before coming home 13th. Only five drivers retired, Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo one of them in the HRT after 13 laps – his first non-finish after graduating to the race seat.
Vettel now has 259 points – that’s three more than he managed in the whole of his title-winning 2010 season – and leads Webber (167) by 92 with seven races remaining. The Aussie, though, has put a little daylight between himself and third-placed Alonso on 157 as Red Bull rocket towards the Constructors’ title with a 131-point margin over McLaren. Next up is another of F1’s most inspiring circuits, Monza, venue for the Italian Grand Prix on September 11.
1. Vettel 259 points
2. Webber 167
3. Alonso 157
4. Button 149
5. Hamilton 146
6. Massa 74
1. Red Bull Racing 426 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 295
3. Ferrari 231