Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag and victory at the Belgium Grand Prix yesterday and thus cut the gap to Sebastian Vettel at the top of the championship to just seven points.
The two title rivals started on the front row and held position at the first turn before pulling a small gap over the rest of the field. They would run like this for most of the race in a race high in quality driving with every lap almost like qualifying but low in the drama we all want to see. In fact the top two ran within two seconds of each other for the entire race, save time around pit stops.
The Mercedes driver had to rebuff the advancing Ferrari on the run to Le Combes on the first lap before repeating the trick after the safety car period caused by the two Force India’s getting into the wars with each other again, this time causing the need for Ocon to replace the front wing and Perez to have a flat rear. Vettel got too good a run out of La Source and had to pull out the slip stream early to avoid hitting Hamilton, this meant he didn’t have enough momentum to complete the move as they reach Le Combes, despite being on the ultra soft tyres. This was as close as Vettel could get to actually passing the Mercedes who took a hard thought win, albeit lacking in real wheel to wheel action.
Max Verstappen retired early again with yet another technical issue on his Red Bull, stopping in front of the mass grandstand on the Kemmel straight that was decked out in orange to support the youngster. This stoppage also ruined Raikkonen’s podium chances as he received a ten second stop and go penalty for failing to slow for the double waved yellows that were on display for the stricken Red Bull. The chief gainer from this, and an opportunistic move at the safety car re start was the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian managed to mug Bottas at the safety car re start and stay ahead of the fast approaching Raikkonen to take third place and another podium for the year. He now has six podiums, the same number that his team mate has in retirements for 2017, showing the stark contrast in each drivers fortunes come race day. Raikkonen recovered for fourth with Bottas fifth, frustrated at his safety car mugging.
Back at Force India the civil war that seems to have broke out between Perez and Ocon reached a new high, or low depending on how you look at it. Having been three wide with the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg on the run to Eau Rouge on lap one with Ocon squeezed into the support pit lane wall, on this occasion able to continue without damage. Later in the race the pair collided again on the run to Eau Rouge, again Ocon against the pit wall but this time the right rear of Perez hit the front wing of Ocon’s car, taking part of the Frenchman’s wing off while causing the Mexican to suffer a puncture and thus retire. Ocon recovered for ninth but it was points lost with both in the points at the time.
The team are now likely to lay the law down with race bans being threatened on both drivers and leaving many to wonder if both drivers will be at the team next year considering their relationship at this time, Ocon even tweeting that his team mate ‘tried to kill me 2 times’ post race.
Another to get hot under the collar was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard made a great start and was seventh behind the top three teams but it didn’t take long before he was being passed by the field with ease down the long Kemmel straight. The two time champion made many radio comments including ’embarrassing’ before he retired around the mid point of the race. Post race Honda said they had found no issues with the engine that Alonso reported as having issues, another blot on the relationship between Alonso and Honda with McLaren in the middle of it all. A decision is expected next month in regards to 2018 for Fernando however many feel that unless the McLaren has a different engine in the back of it he will leave for pastures new.
The top ten was finished out with Hulkenberg (6th) Grosjean (7th) Massa (8th) and Sainz (10th) but it was Hamilton’s weekend with a record equalling 68th pole position on Saturday followed by victory on his 200th start. This Sunday the teams head to Ferrari heart land, Monza. A Hamilton win would take him into the lead of the championship in the Scuderia’s back yard, something the Italian team will look to avoid. The final race in Europe before the fly away’s kicks off on Friday with practice before race day on Sunday.
Photo Credit: autosport