F1 Belgian Grand Prix: The Song Remains the Same

f1-2015-belgium-hamilton-victoryComing off the annual summer break, Formula One returned from vacation with the Belgian Grand Prix. If you were expecting F1’s annual summer vacation to spark a shake-up in the running order, you were going to be disappointed. At the front, it was all Mercedes with the two works cars dominating the race led home by Lewis Hamilton.

The race probably peaked at the start. There was a lot of interest in the start of the Belgian Grand Prix as the teams would not be allowed to radio drivers with information about the clutch’s bite point from the telemetry. Instead, it would be left up to the drivers to determine what RPM to launch at. The idea being that there would be more mistakes which would mix up the field and lead to more passing.

f1-2015-belgium-start-hamilton-perezThat may have actually been the case. The start came after a second formation lap forced by a sensor failure on Nico Hulkenberg’s car that crippled the Force India on the grid. On the second start attempt, the other Force India was the big beneficiary as Sergio Perez vaulted from 5th to 2nd. The loser at the start was Nico Rosberg who bogged his way down to 5th.

Rosberg clawed his way by Valtteri Bottas on the first lap but didn’t make any more progress on-track after that. He required a little pit strategy to get by the Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez to get to second. Unlike the standard approach, they didn’t have to use the undercut. The other two stopped earlier than Mercedes so the release into clear air was all he needed to get ahead.

Rosberg went on a charge for teammate Hamilton at the point but couldn’t close the gap beyond a little help from the Virtual Safety Car. The VSC was called upon when Ricciardo’s car broke down exiting the Bus Stop chicane and came to a stop on the side of the front-straight. Somehow, during the VSC, Rosberg was able to trim 1.5 seconds off the gap to Hamilton. Even with all the timing and scoring, there are some slight loopholes in the current regs. Of course, that was the same problem that befell Hamilton in Monaco. The difference here is that it didn’t cost him the race.

f1-2015-belgium-podiumThe win was Hamilton’s sixth of the season which gives him double the wins of his teammate Rosberg who crossed the line on Sunday in 2nd. Rounding out the podium was Romain Grosjean who took advantage of Vettel’s misfortune and a stop under the virtual safety car to vault ahead of the rest of the mid-pack.

Daniil Kvyat equaled his career best finish with a 4th. Checo Perez couldn’t convert his strong start into an equally as strong finish as he finished where he started in 5th. Felipe Massa crossed the line in 6th. Kimi Raikkonen lined up 16th on the grid after a gearbox failure in Q2 but fought his way up to 7th. Max Verstappen looked like he was going to get The Iceman late in the race but came up short in 8th. Valtteri Bottas’ race was compromised by the team incorrectly fitting a prime tyre with three options in his first stop which resulted in a drive-through penalty which meant he could only manage 9th. And Marcus Ericsson rounded out the points for the second-straight grand prix.

Sebastian Vettel’s tyre failure is the subject of some debate between Ferrari and Pirelli.

f1-2015-belgium-arrivabeneVettel came in for his sole stop of the day on Lap 14 and ran the next 28 laps on the prime tyres. On the 29th lap, it all went wrong as his right-rear failed on the Kemmel Straight which left the Ferrari to limp back to the pits.

The argument comes from whether Ferrari pushed the tyres on Vettel’s car too hard by trying to get 30 laps out of them or if there was something wrong with the tyres that resulted in the right-rear falling apart on the penultimate lap. Pirelli holds the former opinion while Ferrari believes the latter.

Ferrari’s problem is two-fold. First, Pirelli indicated that the life of the tyre was 40 laps and it failed before reaching even 30 laps when the track was at its highest-grip and his fuel load was getting progressively lighter. Hypothetically, the tyres should have lasted longer but clearly they didn’t.

This argument could be considered entirely moot when you consider that a major part of motorsport is luck. Even if there was a fault with the Pirelli tyre that cost Vettel a podium, it was a fate that could have just as easily befallen someone else on the grid. Normally, I’m pretty willing to fan the flames of controversy but this is one time that I think that any ongoing debate is much ado about nothing.

Lawsuits and court bailiffs aren’t just for the Sauber F1 team. Lotus is in the middle of an ongoing legal dispute with former test driver Charles Pic which saw bailiffs impound the team’s equipment in the garage at Spa on Sunday evening.

f1-2015-belgium-lotus-parc-fermePic took the team to court over a breach of contract from last season which is an improvement over Sauber’s early season legal battle. Pic claims that the team failed to meet its contractual obligation to him over the minimum testing mileage that he was to get.

Lawyers for Pic and Lotus are planning to meet on Monday with the intention of coming to an agreement that would allow for Lotus to bring their equipment back to the factory and prepare for the Italian Grand Prix.

It’s worth noting that Lotus says that this has been the worst season in team history from a financial perspective. Alan Permane, Lotus’ trackside director of operations, told reporters, “we’ve had to scrimp and scrape for parts, and to get the parts on the track is a massive effort each week.” That leads into the next story…

A season-long news story has been Renault looking for a team to purchase to get back into the sport as a factory effort. So far this season, rumours have swirled that Renault has been interested in buying Lotus, Toro Rosso and Manor in order to get back into the sport as a full works effort.

This weekend, a new frontrunner was added to the fray. Renault held a meeting with Force India boss Vijay Mallya about buying a majority share of the team. Talking to reporters after the Grand Prix, Mallya said that he was willing to sell a portion of the team to Renault but not a majority share. Currently, Mallya owns 42.5% of Force India with the Sahara Group owning an equal 42.5% and the remaining 15% owned by the Mol family. Considering Mallya kind of makes himself the face of the team, I can see him not wanting to relinquish control.

So Lotus isn’t completely out of it yet. And if Permane is to be belived, they need to still be in contention for a buy-out.

While he extended his lead in the World Drivers’ Championship as he chases down his second-consecutive title, Lewis has already secured one championship this year.

Last year, Formula One instituted the FIA Pole Trophy which gives a special award to the driver that scores the most pole positions in a season. The Belgian Grand Prix might only be the 11th of 19 races in the 2015 season but Hamilton has already clinched his first Pole Trophy by winning the pole in 10 of the first 11 races.

In the post-race press conference, Hamilton responded to his accomplishment by saying “the pole trophy is not particularly exciting.” F1 fans will probably agree.

The next round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship will bring the circus back to another one of the championship’s historic homes. With the Nurburgring seemingly off the schedule, there are really four historic tracks that still host Formula One and each of those four have held Grands Prix since 1950. We’ve already visited Monaco, Silverstone and Spa. In two weeks, F1 goes to Italy and Monza which has hosted more Grands Prix than any other venue.

As per usual, it’s going to be a battle between the two Mercedes cars. Hamilton has scored two wins at Monza in his career to his teammate’s none. Rosberg’s best finish in the Italian GP was a 2nd last year which leaves him two podiums shy of Lewis. That would indicate advantage Lewis once again.


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