Belgian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

It may not have been a classic race, but the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix was undoubtedly an interesting one where strategy, the weather forecast and Sebastian Vettel dominated proceedings. The German exhibited a faultless cruise to victory, after an incredible start which saw him claim a three second advantage within the opening three laps. Lewis Hamilton had no answer to what was a 2011-esque performance from Vettel. Fernando Alonso managed to seize P2 away from a disappointed Hamilton, despite the Brit’s tactical attainment of DRS – The Ferrari was too strong in a straight line. Neither driver posed any threat to the Championship leader.
Following practice and qualifying, Red Bull dominance was out of the question, irrespective of the weather. Both Mercedes and Lotus looked strong in the dry conditions, while Mercedes and Ferrari seemed to have the edge in the inclement scenarios. Consequently, Vettel’s seamless control of the race was a huge shock; at one of the team’s weakest circuits.
Vettel’s race defining moment came before Turn four on the opening lap. Rather than use the conventional approach of deploying KERS off the line, Sebastian saved his additional power for the run into Eau Rouge and onto the Kemmel Straight. This proved to be a fantastic decision, as the German managed to hold onto P2 through La Source before mounting a potent attack on a helpless Lewis Hamilton along the straight. The race winning overtake was completed in emphatic fashion only half-way down the infamous back-straight.
Once Sebastian had build his advantage, Red Bull focused all their attentions on tyre management, despite degradation being limited by the team’s use of the Monza specification rear wing. The unpredictability of Spa’s weather was also a concern for the team, as the possibility of rain was always apparent. “It wasn’t clear if the rain was going to come at the end of the race,” Sebastian explained, “so we kept pushing, but the gap we had by that stage meant we were able to control the race from there and the last couple of laps weren’t too stressful.” Sebastian has now extended his lead to 46 points in the championship from Fernando Alonso in second. It is not an unassailable advantage, yet Red Bull will require some significant misfortune to loose their control of both championships.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso demonstrated his magnificent ability to convert a poor Saturday into a strong Sunday, as the Spaniard rose from P9 on the grid to his P2 finishing position. Another blistering start elevated him to P5 on lap one, before two DRS assisted overtakes allowed him to quickly dispatch both Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg. His Ferrari was frighteningly fast in a straight line due to intelligent gear ratios which were optimised in the dry conditions. It was a gamble which paid off for Ferrari. Alonso’s straight line speed was so strong, that when Lewis Hamilton deliberately let Alonso past at La Source to gain the DRS advantage, the Ferrari maintained the position. Fernando reflected; “The car worked well in all conditions, with a full fuel load at first and then with a lighter one at the end and, on top of that, the extra speed we had on the straight meant I could overtake without taking too many laps to do so. We know we have made a step forward and that we have recovered some of the competitiveness we had lost in recent races. In Monza and Singapore we will see the next steps in this process.”
Alonso has now claimed second place in the standings, after Kimi Raikkonen’s record breaking run of consecutive finishes came to a bitter end. His progress was curtailed by a brake failure after a visor tear-off strip became lodged in the front left brake-cooling duct. Consequently, the brake was seen to be glowing during the early phases of the race, with significant quantities of brake dust being created during each major braking event. While the visible signs of the issue became less apparent as the fuel load decreased, Kimi’s brakes finally gave way at the Bus Stop chicane, as he was attempting an overtake on Felipe Massa. Fortunately, the sizeable run-off area spared the team of a sizeable repair bill as Kimi retired the car.
“I had a brake failure so there was really no point in trying to continue,” Kimi evaluated. “We both got good starts off the line but there wasn’t enough space into the first corner where I went over the kerb and lost some time, but after that I was pushing as hard as I could. There were some brake issues at the beginning of the race but we were managing them and it was going okay until we had to retire. We’ve finished a lot of races and had some good reliability; one day your luck has to run out and today was that day.”
Another driver who suffered a disappointing Belgian Grand Prix was Force India’s Paul Di Resta, who was caught in the crossfire of a titanic five car battle. The two Sauber’s battled with the Force India duo and Pastor Maldonado during the opening laps of the final stint. However, as Adrian Sutil clipped Maldonado’s front wing at the Bus Stop, the Venezuelan headed for the pits, failing to spot Di Resta who was heading around the outside. The two collided, with Di Resta’s rear suspension shattering at the point of impact. While Maldonado returned to the pits, Paul was less fortunate. His heroics on Saturday were followed by a discouraging Sunday. Paul explained; “Pastor went in deep and missed the apex so I tried to get the cut-back and was going around the outside of him. He then decided to try and enter the pit lane, which was impossible given his track position. As a result he hit me, which took the rear corner off my car. It’s a real shame because the speed was quite strong today and I think there was definitely a point or two up for grabs.”
Pastor received a 10 second stop-go penalty for causing the collision. “It was a difficult situation because I was fighting hard with the Sauber and I didn’t see Di Resta on the outside as I turned toward the pitlane,” he said. “I tried to brake to avoid the accident but it was too late. It wasn’t a good weekend for us but we need to keep working hard and improving the performance of the car.” Williams once again struggled, as they failed to consolidate upon their point in Hungary, with Bottas finishing in P15, and Maldonado in P17.
As Formula One departs Belgium, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus has been left pondering the same question; How can Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull be stopped?

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