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The McLaren team’s battle cry before they chase Sebastian Vettel deep into the Ardennes forest.

LEWIS HAMILTON won last Sundays Belgian Grand Prix (29 August) at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which as usual saw highly unpredictable weather. The McLaren driver won the 44 lap race in a time of 1:29:04.268, an average speed of 128.941 mph. The 2008 World Champion also set the fastest lap of the race with a tour of 1:49.069 (143.645 mph) and led every lap of the race. Mark Webber (Red Bull) finished second and Robert Kubica (Renault) came home in third. 

Webber did start the race on pole, but when the lights went green his anti-stall system kicked in. The championship leader going into this race found: Hamilton, Kubica, Jenson Button (McLaren), his team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa ahead of him at the first corner – La Source. 

But things became very interesting for the drivers very quickly. Halfway around the first lap it started to drizzle with rain, making it hard for the drivers to judge their breaking distances. Virtually all of the leaders overshot the final corner (The Bus Stop chicane). Rubens Barrichello (Williams) locked his wheels and crashed straight into Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and out of his 300th Grand Prix. 😦 Alonso decided to gamble and put on rain tyres and pray for heavy rain. How he was even still in the race after Barrichello hit him I’ll never know. 

Because of the damage Barrichello had caused, the Safety Car was deployed. It came into the pits at the end of lap four. The order now was: Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Kubica, Webber, Massa, Sutil (Force India) and Hülkenberg (Williams). Alonso came darting back into the pits in order to change his tyres. The rain hadn’t come. 

Hamilton instantly started to pull away from his team-mate Button who had his hands full with Vettel. Further down the track on lap 11, Vitaly Petrov (Renault) threw himself past Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes at Les Combes. Rosberg’s team-mate Michael Schumacher saw that he was off line and passed him as well, but not without making slight contact with him. This was a lucky escape for the Mercedes team. 

But potentially championship deciding drama unfolded on the end of lap 16. Sebastian Vettel had gotten himself right up behind Button in the ultra fast Blanchimont sweep and looked to pass the defending World Champion up the inside at the Bus Stop. But Vettel changed his direction at the very last moment, and on a damp track, swerved and crashed into Button’s McLaren, destroying his sidepod and radiator. Vettel kept going and dived into the pits for a new nose cone, but Jenson Button was out of the race. 

Having thought this incident over (apart from thinking that it looked like Istanbul all over again), I believe that Vettel misjudged his closing speed on Button’s car. He realised too late that he was going to hit the back of the McLaren and tried his best to avoid hitting it. But he doesn’t quite have the skill yet to be able to pull this kind of manoeuvre off. If he had been patient he could have taken Button later on the next lap. 

For his actions Vettel was given his second Drive-Through Penalty in as many races. As he drove down the pit lane he was watched by angry McLaren mechanics that were standing in their pit box with their arms folded. 

Vettel continued not to win any new friends on lap 25 when he took Vitantonio Liuzzi’s front wing off his Force India when he pasted him at the Bus Stop. But justice was instantly done. Vettel had given himself a left-rear puncture and had to drive the whole 4.3 mile lap extremely slowly. By the time he rejoined the race with a fixed car he was off the lead lap and down in 20th place with no chance of scoring any points. 

More drama followed on lap 35. The rain which had been expected had arrived, but it wasn’t heavy enough for the intermediate tyres to be 100% effective and the teams were keeping their drivers out on track on slick tyres. Race leader Lewis Hamilton then showed the world that inters would be a good idea. As he turned into the right-hander of Bruxelles he slid off the track and almost into the barrier. But he kept the car running and the lead with it. The pit lane was now a hive of activity as everyone charged into the pits to put the inters on. Alonso and Vettel almost came together in the pit lane, and were wheel to wheel at one point. 

The three leaders: Hamilton, Kubica and Webber came into the pits after the other drivers had already been in. Hamilton and Webber’s stop went smoothly, but Kubica overshot his pit box and knocked over one of his mechanics (who was OK). The Polish driver lost time and second place to Webber in the process. 

Two laps later another championship contender was out of the race. Fernando Alonso had gone off and crashed his Ferrari on the exit of Les Combes and ended up blocking two-thirds of the race track. This brought out another Safety Car and bunched the whole filed right up again. 

The cars were back up to racing speeds at the end of lap 40 with Hamilton just needing to keep his car on the black stuff to win. Nico Rosberg returned the favour to his team-mate Michael Schumacher by passing him at Les Combes for sixth place. 

That was the last real action of the race, and Hamilton finally won what was an extremely intense Belgian Grand Prix. 

The F1 circus now moves from one classic track to another, Monza, for the 81st Italian Grand Prix. But before all that, we have Ferrari’s World Motorsport Council’s hearing about their team orders in the German GP. 

In the mean time, McLaren and Red Bull should start to decide sooner or later which one of their two drivers are going to challenge for the title. 

PS: Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa has now gone over his eight-engine limit.

DRIVERS’ STANDINGS (13/19 GPs)

Pos

Driver

Constructor(s)

Points

Gap From 1st

1

Lewis HAMILTON (ENG)

McLaren

182

2

Mark WEBBER (AUS)

Red Bull

179

3

3

Sebastian VETEL (GER)

Red Bull

151

31

4

Jenson BUTTON (ENG)

McLaren

147

35

5

Fernando ALONSO (ESP)

Ferrari

141

41

6

Felipe MASSA (BRA)

Ferrari

109

73

7

Robert KUBICA (POL)

Renault

104

78

8

Nico ROSBERG (GER)

Mercedes

102

80

9

Adrian SUTIL (GER)

Force India

45

137

10

Michael SCHUMACHER (GER)

Mercedes

44

138

There are 150 points still available

 

CONSTRUCTORS’ STANDINGS (13/19 GPs)

Pos

Constructor

Engine

Points

Gap From 1st

1

RED BULL (AUT)

Renault

330

2

MCLAREN (ENG)

Mercedes

329

1

3

FERRARI (ITA)

Ferrari

250

80

4

MERCEDES (GER)

Mercedes

146

184

5

RENAULT (FRA)

Renault

123

207

6

FORCE INDIA (IND)

Mercedes

58

272*

7

WILLIAMS (ENG)

Cosworth

40

290*

8

SAUBER (SUI)

Ferrari

27

303*

9

TORO ROSSO (ITA)

Ferrari

10

320*

Yet to Score

LOTUS (MAL), HRT (ESP), VIRGIN (ENG)

Cosworth (All)

0

330*

  *Can’t win title.

There are 258 points still available

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