Pirelli, power units, pay-outs and penalties: the four Ps dominated the return to racing at the wonderful Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Mercedes-Benz pulled off their seventh 1-2 finish of the season as Lewis Hamilton extended his title lead over teammate Nico Rosberg with the 39th win of his F1 career.
Hamilton’s sixth win of 2015 puts him on 227 points, which is 28 – more than a full race victory – clear of Rosberg, who in turn is now 39 clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, victim of the race’s major incident.
Hamilton, helped by Rosberg’s tardy reactions at the start, said he was always fully relaxed at the front. That comment could now apply to his pursuit of a third title, with just eight races remaining in 2015.
‘I just completely messed up the start,’ admitted a surprisingly cheerful Rosberg, possibly preoccupied by the prospect of his first child’s imminent arrival. ‘I fought my way back and tried to give it everything but it wasn’t enough.’
Romain Grosjean finished third for Lotus, the team’s first podium for almost two years and a happier memento of Spa than the French driver’s 2012 experience, when he earned a one-race ban for triggering a first-lap accident.
With that third spot in his sights, Vettel paid the price for pushing to finish on a very worn set of Pirelli’s Prime (medium) tyres when the German’s right rear tyre blew out spectacularly with just one lap remaining.
As Grosjean pounced for the final podium position, Vettel was left wondering what price he might have had to pay had the blow-out occurred around 200 metres earlier as he blasted through Eau Rouge…
Pirelli issued a terse statement saying they had requested a ruling in late 2013 to limit the number of laps permissible on any given set of tyres, but the teams declined.
The Italian company wanted a maximum of 50% of race distance on their Prime tyre, which at Spa would have been 22 – and Vettel had pitted for his on lap 14 of the scheduled 44.
Ferrari’s pursuit of Mercedes took a double hit as Kimi Raikkonen, hamstrung by technical issues in qualifying, could finish only seventh. Mercedes now have a massive 184-point lead over the Scuderia.
Grosjean had to overcome a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change on his way to his 10th F1 podium. ‘I drove with my heart today,’ he said. ‘Being here on the podium today is kind of special for us – it has the value of a win.’
That’s partly because Lotus lost at the weekend – their cars, that is, said to have already been impounded as a dispute with former driver Charles Pic over payment rumbles on and threatens to engulf the team.
A number of drivers paid the penalty for power unit failures, notably Nico Hulkenberg, whose Force India expired en route to the grid, came back to life briefly then finally gave up the ghost, prompting a second formation lap, and Dan Ricciardo, who was enjoying new pace from his Red Bull Renault until it too suffered a ‘power shutdown’ at the halfway point of the race.
The Spa rumour mill suggested that Red Bull and Renault are bound for the divorce court, possibly as early as the end of this season, as the French company considers a buy-out of the beleaguered Lotus outfit and a return as F1 constructor in its own right.
Behind the top three the main stories were of tyres again at Williams, who contrived to put Valtteri Bottas on two compounds at once: three options plus a medium on his right rear wheel. The drive-through penalty blew the Finn’s chances of a podium as he came home ninth.
Also penalised, this time 10 places for an engine change, was Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, who stormed through the field from 18th to finish eighth.
‘Even if some of the overtakes were a bit risky,’ insisted the Dutch teenager, ‘when you start from so far back you have to go for it if you want to move forward.’
Young Russian Daniil Kvyat would agree: some spectacular passes in the closing stages lifted the one remaining Red Bull driver in the race to fourth place – his third top-six finish in a row as he edged ahead of Ricciardo into seventh place overall.