Vettel’s Title Hopes Dashed In Tyre Drama
Heading into Ferrari’s 900th Grand Prix, it seemed fitting to consider their lead driver’s hopes of a remarkable title turn-around in the second half of the campaign. The German started the day just 42 points adrift of Lewis Hamilton in the standings and on a high following a determined drive to victory in Hungary. However, the ambition of those who predicted a title charge was matched in a high risk strategy from Ferrari today which ultimately saw Vettel limp home in a dismal P12. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton made the perfect start and proceeded to enjoy what was an untroubled cruise to victory on a circuit which has been unkind to the Briton in the past.
Another Mercedes 1-2 on Sunday to couple their Saturday afternoon exploits, but the spice of unpredictability was a feature of the intense scrap behind, which culminated in a surprise podium appearance for Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.
Blown Off Course
In order to take the fight to Mercedes, Ferrari needed to be bold in the second act of the 2015 tale. Following an awful Saturday which left Vettel locked into eighth on the grid, this need to go against the grain was somewhat amplified. While their rivals opted for two and three stops, Vettel’s strategists chose to run a one stop race, requiring the second set of Pirelli’s for a staggering 29 lap stint. Ultimately, the compound could only last for 27, when his right rear tyre exploded, costing Vettel an eighth podium of the campaign.
However, to say that the failure cost the Scuderia a podium is perhaps unfair on Lotus. Romain Grosjean drove a textbook race today, comparable with his hugely impressive efforts in the Japanese Grand Prix in 2013. It was Lotus’ raw speed which rather forced Ferrari’s hand on strategy. They had to try the borderline one-stop on Vettel’s car or otherwise cede the last step on the podium to Lotus.
In the final assessment, given Vettel’s starting position and Grosjean’s surprisingly rapid race pace, Maranello could not beat Enstone on this day in history, regardless of which strategic route they opted for.
Mercedes Struggling In Traffic
The ever entertaining duel between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was decided early on at Spa. The Briton launched well, leaving his German counterpart struggling for traction and falling to fourth. It was in the opening stint, while Hamilton was stretching his advantage at the front of the pack, that Mercedes’ weakness was on display once again as Rosberg foundered behind Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo.
Nico required strategic intervention to navigate those rivals in-between him and the race leader. The W06 looked average when effected by turbulent air ahead and was unable to bridge a gap. Ultimately, it was this phase of the afternoon which proved decisive. By the time Rosberg emerged in second, Hamilton’s margin was insurmountable – even when the former stole over a second with a fortunately timed Virtual Safety Car.
To The Max
Being half-Belgian, Max Verstappen enjoyed a race with an essence of home and it was an incredible performance. The rookie sensation was at his brave best, with an afternoon characterised by an outrageous move around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont and finished in fine style at the Bus Stop. It was a magnificent display of his talent, dominated by aggression on the limit of adhesion. He certainly was the source of plenty of entertainment.
Driver of the Day
A stunning drive from the Frenchman, who was unfazed by suddenly being granted an opportunity to fight for the podium. Those who argue that it was a fortunate third forget the fact that it was Grosjean’s pace which forced Ferrari down the high-risk route in regards to strategy.
Overtake of the Day
VERSTAPPEN vs Nasr
Breathtaking. The young Dutchman swooped around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont in fearless style. Executed with the confidence of an experienced racer but formulated with the exuberance of youth.
Team of the Weekend
After a start to the weekend tarnished by financial strife, Lotus exploded out of the gates of Saturday afternoon, with Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado putting themselves in play with a surprising qualifying performance. Despite more unreliability for Maldonado, Grosjean carried the Enstone flag in fine fashion, delivering a present which, at least momentarily, served to let the team forget about their budget and bask in their rediscovered form.