MOTORSPORT: Circus with too little magic

Lewis Hamilton/Photo:

Sure Vettel and Hamilton fought from start to finish last night in the Belgian Grand Prix, which restarted the championship after the four-week summer break, but there was no overtaking between them.

Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo made another brilliant move to snare third place, the sixth podium of the season for the global ambassador.

But the other main highlights at the revered Spa-Francorchamps circuit were two clashes between Force India’s drivers, Mexican Sergio Perez and young Frenchman Esteban Ocon, which left the fourth-ranked team without points for the weekend – and Ocon claiming Perez had endangered both their lives in a risky overtaking move on the main straight.

The lowlight was the early retirement of Max Verstappen, Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate, after a power unit failure in his Renault engine. Verstappen’s latest sidelining gutted him and was a massive disappointment for the predominantly Dutch crowd which flocked across the border into Belgium to support him.

In the United States, Aussie Will Power’s hopes of a second IndyCar title are as good as gone after a crash early in the third-last round at St Louis. And 22-year-old Kalgoorlie-born Anthony Martin is on the back foot now in the Pro Mazda series as he chases a scholarship worth almost $A1 million to help him advance another step towards and IndyCar drive.

Hammer time … big time
It was Lewis Hamilton’s weekend at Spa. In his 200th F1 appearance, not only did the enigmatic Brit win the Belgian GP – his fifth victory in 12 races this year – in qualifying he equalled Michael Schumacher’s 68 pole positions.

Incredibly, Hamilton also finally broke the 47-year-old pole speed record set by Jackie Stewart before the changes which slowed the Spa-Francorchamps track. His latest victory, by 2.358 seconds over Vettel, was the 58th of his career and his third at Spa.
It was the third consecutive Mercedes victory at Spa, whereas Ferrari is now winless there for eight years.

Vettel was able to push Hamilton all the way but just couldn’t get past him, despite a two-thirds distance Safety Car which bunched the field.

While Vettel left Belgium with his championship points lead halved, the German did announce a three-year extension of his Ferrari contract. Which may not be good news for Ricciardo’s chances of joining the Scuderia when his Red Bull contract expires at the end of next year.

Memories of being “dusted” by Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014 are thought to have Vettel less-than-keen on having the West Australian as his teammate again, even if – on a personal level, at least – he would be easier to live with than Verstappen, who must also be under consideration as a replacement for Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari seat.

Ricciardo executed what Red Bull team principal Christian Horner called “a fantastic piece of opportunistic driving” in shooting past Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas at the Safety Car re-start. He then kept Bottas and Raikkonen at bay and was “really happy” with his sixth podium of the season (including victory in Azerbaijan). and five third places.

Horner said Ricciardo drove “a phenomenal race”. “As soon as it went to the Safety Car (after the second collision between the Force India pair) we knew Daniel would get one shot at the restart against Bottas and he made it work,” he explained. “He then fended off Kimi to the end, securing third place – fully deserved.”

But Verstappen’s sixth retirement of the year was “extremely frustrating” for the team, and Horner was quick to publicly rebuke power unit supplier Renault – reminiscent of the repeated 2015 blasts. And wonderboy Verstappen, still only 19, said he could not tolerate many more mechanical failures, although he is under contract at Red Bull for two more years.

Raikkonen has another year, at least, to go at Ferrari alongside Vettel, while Bottas is as good as re-signed at Mercedes as Hamilton’s partner next season.

A somewhat belligerent Verstappen could barely contain his rage at his latest demise. “For a top team, this cannot happen,” he said. “In the beginning you can say it’s bad luck, but if it’s happening for the sixth time this year you can’t call it bad luck anymore. The fans buy very expensive tickets to come and watch the race and then after eight laps it’s finished. It’s very de-motivating.”

Each of Verstappen’s non-finishes this year have come within the first 12 laps. He’s completed fewer race laps (405) than any other regular driver, even though McLaren’s Fernando Alonso skipped the Monaco GP for the Indianapolis 500 and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein missed the first two races through injury.

Alonso made yet another of his lightning starts at Spa to be seventh early, but he called his latest retirement with Honda power unit problems “embarrassing, embarrassing”. While the Spanish dual world champion says he has multiple offers to switch teams next year, with Williams reported to be pursuing him strongly, perhaps it’s best for him is to remain at McLaren, which already has an excellent chassis and the prospect of Renault engines from next year.

Force India says it will impose team orders on its drivers after the contact and worsening relations between Ocon and Perez in Belgium. Of the second clash between them during the race, 20-year-old Ocon said: “He just squeezed me into the wall at 300km/h, risking my life, risking his life, for no reason and costing a lot of points for the team. He’s supposed to be a professional driver [with seven years’ experience in F1]and he didn’t show it today.”

Perez, eight years Ocon’s senior, said: “I think Esteban was really optimistic because there was no room for two cars there. He had the whole straight to do the manoeuvre, so it’s a shame that we touched.”

Spa also saw races seven and eight of the Porsche Supercup and Australia’s Matt Campbell impressed by finishing sixth and fifth (the final race ending in carnage after a collision saw one competitor spectacularly rolling over). The Porsche teams and the F1 squads will reconvene next weekend for the Italian GP at Monza.

Formula 1 World Championship driver standings after 12 of 20 rounds – 1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany, Ferrari) 220 points; 2. Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain, Mercedes) 213; 3. Valtteri Bottas (Finland, Mercedes) 179; 4. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia, Red Bull-Renault) 132; 5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland, Ferrari) 128; 6. Max Verstappen (Netherlands, Red Bull-Renault) 67; 7. Sergio Perez (Mexico, Force India-Mercedes) 56; 8. Esteban Ocon (France, Force India-Mercedes) 47; 9. Carlos Sainz Junior (Spain, Toro Rosso-Renault) 36; 10. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany, Renault) 34.

F1 constructor standings – 1. Mercedes 392 points; 2. Ferrari 348; 3. Red Bull-Renault 199; 4. Force India-Mercedes 103; 5. Williams-Mercedes 45; 6. Toro Rosso-Renault 40; 7. Haas-Ferrari 35; 8. Renault 34; 9. McLaren-Honda 11; 10. Sauber-Ferrari 5.

Source: Gears Of Biz