Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton untouchable as Rosberg chases
Lewis Hamilton delivered a faultless lights to flag display to claim victory in the Belgian Grand Prix, the 39th of his career and his sixth of the season and as a result he now leads Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 28 points in the world championship standings.
Hamilton managed a reasonable start from pole but teammate Rosberg, second on the grid, was sluggish off the line and thereafter was destined to chase all afternoon which he did so gamely, but by his own admission simply had no answer to the world champion who managed proceedings from a position of control – clearly a case of the very best F1 car in the hands of the best F1 driver delivering while raising the bar.
Hamilton said on the podium, “We have had such a great crowd here this weekend. The whole circuit has been packed out with the fans. Incredible job done by the team throughout the weekend. Today was a dream and the car was fantastic all weekend. When I saw one of the tyres blow off one of the others cars I was being very cautious but I felt 100% all weekend.”
Rosberg summed up his sentiments, “I messed up the start. Lewis did a great job and deserved the win. I tried to challenge him but not enough. I am rushing off after this because we are expecting our first child any moment. An exciting time and I look forward to next week.”
Surprise of the weekend was undoubtedly the performance of the beleaguered Lotus team and repaying the hard work, under great duress at Enstone, was Romain Grosjean delivering a one of his strongest showings in memory to claim third place.
Beaming from ear to ear the Frenchman got a huge cheer as he was interviewed on the podium, “The guys have been working hard to give us the car to be where are today. Being here today is special for us, it has the prize of a race win.”
The start of the race was aborted as Nico Hulkenberg had a problem. On the first formation lap the German reported that he had no power and he was initially told by his engineer to return to the pit lane.
However, as he cruised towards the end of the lap he was then told the boost was coming back to his power unit and he should take the start. He formed up on the grid but was soon waving his hands to indicate the problems had persisted.
A second formation lap was ordered and Hulkenberg this time made his way to the pit lane. He was joined there by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz who also reported a loss of power.
When the start finally took place Rosberg was the big loser. Second on the grid behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton, he made a poor start and was swamped as the cars powered away he dropped to fifth place.
Hamilton, meanwhile, made a solid getaway to take the lead while Force India’s Sergio Perez and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo made excellent starts to slot into second and third respectively ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
Rosberg managed to get past Bottas at the Bus Stop to reclaim fourth place. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was a decent sixth up from eighth, with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado seventh.
The Venezuelan would not remain there for long, however. On lap two he reported that had “lost the engine” and he joined Hulkenberg in retirement. Sainz, though, had managed to get away, although he was two laps down on the pack.
Kimi Räikkönen was on a charge and in the first few laps made his way forward to 12th place from 16th on the grid.
At the front Hamilton was already building a lead and by lap five he was 2.6s ahead of Perez, with Ricciardo a further second back. Rosberg was already six seconds adrift of his title rival.
Ricciardo was the first to pit, on lap eight, and in a 2.4 seconds stop the Red Bull driver shed his starting soft tyres and taking on medium compound Pirelli tyres.
Force India responded by pitting Perez on the next lap, for a second set of soft tyres, but Ricciardo made the undercut work and passed Perez as the Mexican was stationary in the pit lane.
The pit stops for both meant Rosberg swept through to second and began to utilise his Mercedes’ power to build a gap that might allow him to pass Ricciardo and Perez when he made his stop.
Williams erred during the stops, however. The team brought Bottas in but somehow managed to fit medium tyres on three corners but a soft compound tyre on the front-right side. He was soon under investigation for the mistake and he was handed a drive-through penalty.
When the first stops were complete Hamilton was still out in front on lap 16. Second now was Rosberg, who had emerged from his stop ahead of Perez, who had used his soft tyre pace to re-pass Ricciardo.
Grosjean was now fifth, with Vettel in sixth place ahead of Kvyat and Massa. Räikönnen moved to ninth as Bottas served his penalty and Verstappen was 10th.
Grosjean passed Ricciardo for fourth on lap 18 and the Frenchman began to close on Perez, who was now almost 13 seconds behind Rosberg, who was 3.4 seconds adrift of Hamilton.
Grosjean came up on the back of Perez’s Force India on lap 20 and under DRS swept past the Mexican along the Kemmel Straight to stake a claim to a podium place.
Ricciardo’s race was drawing to an end, however. The Australian’s sector times plummeted and on lap 21 his RB11 ground to a halt on the inside on the pit straight just after the exit of the Bus Stop.
The Virtual Safety Car was deployed and the failure promoted Vettel to fourth ahead of Kvyat. A number of drivers chose to pit under the VSC, including Grosjean, Massa, Räikönnen, Perez and Verstappen.
The front three of Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel elected to stay out, however, and on the restart Hamilton lost time to Rosberg with the gap closing to just 2.6s, with Vettel in third.
The leader was also heading towards backmarkers. Grosjean was fourth ahead of Kvyat who would need another stop, while Perez was now sixth ahead of Massa, Räikönnen, Verstappen and Bottas.
Hamilton quickly responded to the threat from Rosberg and over the next handful of laps he powered away from his team-mate, carving out a 4.8s gap by lap 27.
Kvyat made his final stop from fifth place on lap 27 and took on a set of soft tyre, with which he hoped to attack in the final laps. He emerged behind Bottas but was soon past the Finn. Grosjean, meanwhile, was closing on Vettel, cutting the Ferrari man’s advantage to 3.5s in lap 28.
Hamilton made his final stop on lap 31, taking on a set of soft tyres in a 2.9s stop. He was followed a lap later by Rosberg, who also took on soft tyres and rejoined in second place, though he was now seven seconds behind his team-mate.
The question was what would Vettel do? The Ferrari driver was 3.7s ahead of Grosjean but had only made one pit stop, on lap 15, for medium tyres. His race engineer came on the radio and told the German that from the data going to the end looked possible and Vettel settled in for a final 14 laps of careful tyre management.
On lap 34 Perez was now fifth, just 0.7s ahead of Massa who was 1.3s clear of Räikönnen. Kvyat was now eighth ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.
Three laps from the flag Kvyat, who had been battling hard with Massa, eventually got past the Brazilian. As Massa was forced to defend he lost the DRS tow from Perez ahead and as he did so, Kvyat reeled the Williams in and the passed Massa with a brave late-braking move into Les Combes.
The Russian set off after Perez and on lap 41 passed the Mexican under DRS on the Kemmel straight to steal fifth.
It soon became fourth as Vettel’s hopes of a podium exploded on lap 42. With Grosjean close behind Vettel was pushing hard but as he crested the hill at Raidillon his aged right-rear tyre let failed, leaving the Lotus driver to power past into third.
At the front Hamilton took the flag with two seconds to spare over Rosberg. Grosjean took his first podium finish since the US Grand Prix of 2013 with third place. Kvyat was an excellent fourth ahead of Perez and Massa. Räikönnen was seventh ahead of Verstappen and Bottas and the final point on offer was claimed by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps – Sunday, 23 August 2018
|4||Daniil Kvyat||Rus||Red Bull Racing||+45.692s||12|
|5||Sergio Perez||Mex||Force India||+53.997s||10|
|8||Max Verstappen||Ned||Toro Rosso||+56.076s||4|
|13||Fernando Alonso||Esp||McLaren||+1 Lap||0|
|14||Jenson Button||Gbr||McLaren||+1 Lap||0|
|15||Roberto Merhi||Esp||Marussia||+1 Lap||0|
|16||Will Stevens||Gbr||Marussia||+1 Lap||0|
|Nc||Carlos Sainz||Esp||Toro Rosso||Dnf||0|
|Nc||Daniel Ricciardo||Aus||Red Bull Racing||Dnf||0|
|Nc||Nico Hulkenberg||Ger||Force India||Dns||0|
* Provisional Results
Fastest Lap – Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1m 52.416s (Lap 34)