After a magnificent qualifying session on Saturday, when the rain that the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is so famous for played its part perfectly, you could be forgiven for being somewhat underwhelmed by Sunday’s race, as Sebastian Vettel romped to his fifth victory of the 2013 season, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamiltom. However, while Vettel may have dominated around the Ardennes, there is certainly no shortage of talking points from Belgium to reflect on as we head to Monza, the home of the Italian Grand Prix in just two weeks’ time.
Can anyone now stop Sebastian Vettel’s march to a 4th title?
Sebastian Vettel came to Spa with a 39 point lead in the championship and following his win leaves with a 46 points advantage, a deficit which would require two race wins for his nearest challenger, Fernando Alonso to overcome. Simply put, this is the biggest championship lead that Vettel has had since his all-conquering year of 2011. Knowing how the German likes to shift into another gear as the Formula One circus heads to the Far East, having won four races on the bounce there last year, the question is, with eight rounds to go, is anyone in the field capable of stopping the 26-year-old from collecting a fourth championship trophy?
On the back of last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, the title fight might not be quite as dead as it seems. Fernando Alonso pulled out a stunner of a drive on Sunday, driving from 9th on the grid to 2nd at the finish, in the much improved F138. With all shades of joining Red Bull seemingly forgotten, the Spaniard now seems intent on making life as difficult for Vettel as possible over the next eight races. Don’t forget that Sebastian Vettel trailed Alonso by 42 points before last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. The Red Bull has proved reliable so far this season, with just two retirements, one a piece for Vettel and Webber, but as Alonso found out last year, all it takes is to be caught up in an accident and suddenly that is 25 points of your lead gone. Alonso proved last year that you discount him at your peril and with Ferrari seemingly out of the doldrums expect him to chase Vettel for the title all the way to Brazil.
Lewis Hamilton also looks set to remain a thorn in the German’s side, as he showed at Spa with a 4th consecutive pole position, his 5th of the season. While it might seem farfetched to expect Hamilton to make up the 58 point gap to Vettel, Lewis surely still has a key part to play in the championship fight. The Summer Break has obviously been good for Lewis, with reports that his on-off relationship with Nicole Scherzinger is back on track and with his dominant win around the Hungaroring still fresh in his mind, Hamilton looked impressive all weekend around Spa. If Hamilton keeps performing like he did in Belgium, coupled with an ever improving Mercedes W04, expect the 2008 champion to at the very least snatch a few more wins before the end of the season.
Who made the most of the summer break?
On the evidence of the Spa weekend it seems that of all the top-teams, Ferrari and McLaren have made the biggest gains over the summer break. Fernando Alonso still looks set to be Sebastian Vettel’s best challenger for the title, with the Ferrari much improved in Belgium, after two very disappointing races for the Scuderia in Germany and Hungary. Ferrari will be looking to impress in front of the Tifosi at Monza and having been 3rd and 4th last year you can’t rule out another extra special performance, especially if Alonso and the Prancing Horse want to keep in touch with Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes in the title battles.
Jenson Button also had a strong weekend at Spa, with the Brit ultimately finishing 6th, equalling his and McLaren’s best result of the year. Button’s points, coupled with an underwhelming weekend for Force India, which saw Paul di Resta eliminated from the race after a collision with Pastor Maldonado, means McLaren leapfrog them for 5th in the Constructors’ Championship.
Sergio Perez on the other hand was on the wrong side of the law in Belgium, being awarded a drive-through penalty for forcing Romain Grosjean off-track at Les Combes on lap 8, before missing out on the last points paying position after he was passed by Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo late in the race. The Mexican heads to Monza, a track where he equalled his best ever finish of 2nd at last year, desperately in need of some points to get his year back on track.
Mercedes still flatter to deceive
One thing that had not changed is Mercedes’ raw one-lap pace, as seen on Saturday, when Lewis Hamilton took the teams 8th pole position of the year. However, despite Hamilton’s stunning win last time out in Hungary, it is evident that the team is still lacking that overall consistency over a race weekend, as their half minute deficit to Sebastian Vettel at the flag shows. Lewis won at Monza last year for McLaren though and the Italian Grand Prix was one of Mercedes’ better races in the second half of 2012, so they could be in for another decent weekend. Certainly the fact that 3rd and 4th at Spa was deemed somewhat of a disappointment for Mercedes shows just what a turnaround this year has been for the Brackley-based-squad. If Mercedes can finally unlock that consistency over a weekend in time for Monza expect to see a ‘silver arrow’ at the head of the field.
Giedo van der Garde is actually quite handy
Certainly a surprise choice for many when he was officially unveiled as Charles Pic’s partner at Caterham for 2013, Giedo van der Garde has impressed many members of the Formula One paddock with his recent displays. Around the daunting Ardennes circuit, van der Garde produced perhaps his best performance of the year, stunning everyone on Saturday when he went 3rd fastest in Q1 after his Caterham team gambled on dry tyres. While it ultimately did not count, the Dutchman was into Q2 for the second time in 2013. Once there the drying track put paid to any more surprises, but van der Garde still thumped his two nearest rivals, lapping half a second faster than the Marussia pair of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.
Come race day, while the Marussia’s tumbled down the order on lap 1, van der Garde battled away with the Toro Rosso’s and Williams’, at least for the first few laps anyway. The Flying Dutchman ultimately finished the race 16th, mere seconds ahead of the recovering Pastor Maldonado, with Jules Bianchi some 50 seconds further back. Van der Garde is certainly doing a fine job, much to the detriment of the (once) well-fancied Charles Pic. Don’t be surprised if Caterham stick with him for another season.
Is he or isn’t he?
Daniel Ricciardo was once again the figure of media speculation at Spa, as the storm surrounding Mark Webber’s vacant Red Bull seat continued to rumble on. Over the summer break there were thousands of words published linking different drivers to different teams. At one stage it even seemed as if Fernando Alonso was staying at Ferrari, joining Red Bull and heading back to the Enstone team all at once. Following comments made by Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, stating that the proposed deal to see the Finn join Red Bull had fallen through, the media then turned back to Daniel Ricciardo, almost the forgotten man of the whole saga.
The 23-year-olds situation was not helped when Mark Webber announced to Australian TV before the start of the race that the agreement to take Ricciardo to Red Bull was now a done deal. This was only for Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner to deny the Australian’s claims, stating that nothing has yet been finalised. Unfortunately it seems that we are still no closer to finding out who will partner Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing in 2014. I wonder what the odds are on a Schumacher comeback?
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.