Lewis holds off Seb in Belgium to close on the championship leader
The Formula 1 world headed to the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit in the forested Ardennes hills of eastern Belgium last weekend for the first race following the four week summer break and the drivers’ championship leader, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, arrived with a 14 point advantage over his main rival, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
The German driver also had the added bonus of a new three year contract, which will keep him with his famous Italian team until the end of the 2020 season. The Grand Prix won’t go down in the history books as one of the most exciting ever, but it proved to be a tense closely fought affair around F1’s longest and arguably most challenging circuit and Hamilton emerged on top, reducing his points deficit to championship leader Vettel to just seven.
In the three free practice sessions Ferrari and Mercedes had appeared evenly matched, with Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen initially quickest, then Hamilton and then the Finn again. Come the all-important qualifying hour Lewis emerged on top, claiming his 68th F1 pole position to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time record, just ahead of Sebastian, setting the stage for another tremendous battle. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Räikkönen lined up right behind them ahead of the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. You had to feel for local Belgian hero Stoffel Vandoorne though, racing for the first time at his home circuit in F1, as technical woes with his McLaren Honda car earned him a 65 place grid penalty and a starting position at the very back.
When the red lights went out bang on two pm local time the top six on the grid quickly settled into the same positions, with Hamilton and Vettel edging clear of the rest. There was drama on the eighth lap though when the Red Bull of young Dutch superstar Max Verstappen ground to a halt, disappointing both its driver and the massed ranks of orange clad supporters all around the track.
On lap 12 the leading Hamilton made his first pit stop to switch onto soft tyres and three tours later Vettel did likewise, with the order out front unchanged. Räikkönen picked up a 10 second stop-go penalty for ignoring yellow flags as he passed the stricken car of Verstappen and duly served it, dropping him from fourth down to seventh place.
By lap 29 Sebastian was still chasing down the leading Lewis, both clearly the class of the field, when the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon indulged in some open warfare ontrack and not for the first time this season. As the duo then charged down towards Eau Rouge Perez squeezed his team-mate towards the old pit wall, clipping the latter’s front wing and giving himself a right rear puncture. With debris strewn over the track, the Safety Car was forced to intervene and teams took the opportunity to pit their cars for fresh tyres.
Mercedes put more soft tyres on Hamilton’s car, whereas Ferrari gave Vettel a set of ultra soft boots. With the Safety Car returning to the pit lane at the end of the 33rd lap it was game on between Lewis and Seb over the remaining 10 tours, but the British driver kept his rival at bay to the chequered flag. Ricciardo pulled off an excellent move on Bottas to claim the final podium position and was typically overjoyed afterwards.
So the F1 circus moves on from one very quick track to an even faster one, F1’s quickest, Monza in northern Italy. As Ferrari’s home circuit it will be a sea of red and I hope to see you there in just a week’s time.
2017 F1 Belgian Grand Prix Results
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr24m42.820s
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +2.358s
3 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +10.791s
4 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +14.471s
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +16.456s
6 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +28.087s
7 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +31.553s
8 Felipe Massa (Williams) + 36.649s
9 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +38.154s
10 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +39.447s
11 Lance Stroll (Williams) +48.999s
12 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +49.940s
13 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) +53.239s
14 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +57.078s
15 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m07.262s
16 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +1m09.771s
17 Sergio Perez (Force India) Retired
18 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Retired
19 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
20 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) Retired
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 12 rounds of 20)
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 220
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 213
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 179
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 12 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 392
2 Ferrari 348
3 Red Bull 199