Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber turned the tables emphatically on McLaren
and Ferrari to score a dominant Red Bull one-two in a gripping Grand Prix in
Belgium on Sunday.
The race began with slow-starting Jaime Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso being
hit at La Source by Bruno Senna’s Renault, who later received a drive-
through penalty. Further back, Timo Glock hit Paul di Resta’s Force India, the Virgin driver also receiving the same penalty.
Up front, Vettel grabbed the lead, but he and Webber (whose anti-stall
ruined his start for the second year in succession) and Ferrari’s Fernando
Alonso had taken a lot out of their Pirelli tyres in qualifying and knew their
life was limited. There had been pre-race moves for the Italian company to
supply teams with fresh front tyres, but the FIA would not allow that, nor for any team to make changes to their front camber angles without starting
from the pit lane.
Nico Rosberg grabbed the lead for two laps before Vettel passed the
Mercedes. Then Webber was the first to pit, on lap three, with Vettel coming
in from the lead two laps later. That put Rosberg ahead again until Alonso
led for two laps before pitting on lap eight. That put Lewis Hamilton into the lead after a slow start, but the McLaren was also in for fresh rubber by lap
At this stage there was more overtaking up and down the field than you
could shake a stick at, a fierce battle between the Ferraris and Hamilton
particularly enlivening the fifth lap as they raced wheel-to-wheel and
Hamilton followed Alonso’s lead in squeezing by Massa in a breathtakingly brave move on the run down to Pouhon.
On the ninth lap Webber pulled a spectacular pass on a startled Alonso on
the downhill run to Eau Rouge. And a lap later, Vettel went round the
outside of Rosberg at Blanchimont. This was Grand Prix racing in the grand
manner, without any influence from DRS.
The world champion was back in the lead by lap 10, but pitted when the safety car came out on 13. Hamilton had been pushing back up after his stop
and had climbed to fifth, chasing Vettel, Rosberg, Webber and Sauber’s
Kamui Kobayashi who had yet to make a pit stop. But the Sauber was still
closer than Hamilton had expected at Les Combes and he moved over too
much to take the line and caught his left rear wheel on Kobayashi’s right
front. The contact spun the McLaren anti-clockwise into a very heavy shunt with
the barriers, ringing his bell and triggering the safety car intervention.
Adrian Sutil, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Daniel
Ricciardo, Jarno Trulli and Jerome D’Ambrosio also pitted like Vettel, and by
the time the race resumed the order on lap 18 was Vettel (who had passed
Alonso going up Kemmel on lap 17), Alonso, Webber, Rosberg and Felipe Massa.
Behind them Sutil fended off Schumacher, who had piled up from his back-
row start, Button, whose rear wing had been savaged by Di Resta in the
opening lap melee, Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez.
Vettel steadily pulled away from the Ferrari, and now clearly owned the
race. So it became a matter of whether the Ferrari could hang on in second. It couldn’t. Webber began to haul it in after a long stint on the medium
Pirelli tyre, and after the final stops around the 30-lap mark the Australian
slashed a four-second deficit and overtook the red car with DRS on the 37th
lap going up the hill after Eau Rouge.
By this stage Button’s race had finally started to come alive, and a strong
drive saw him picking people off until he was Alonso’s big threat over the final laps. He decimated a 6.8s gap to the Ferrari and dived past it at Les
Combes on the 42nd lap. After Hamilton’s accident, that was a big boost
for McLaren in a race they had expected to win.
In the end Schumacher took fifth for Mercedes after team mate Rosberg was
instructed to ‘save fuel’, and Sutil got some respite when the challenging
Petrov also had to go into conservation mode and was passed by Massa, who had to make a third pit stop after picking up a puncture. Petrov hung
on for ninth ahead of Pastor Maldonado who took the final point – his first in
F1 – for Williams ahead of Di Resta and Kobayashi.
Senna recovered from his drive-through to take a disappointed 13th, leading
home the Lotuses of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen both of which lost
ground when they were forced to a halt in the first-corner mayhem. Barrichello was 16th after a late stop necessitated when he damaged his
front wing on the back of Kobayashi while challenging him going into the
chicane, as local boy D’Ambrosio brought his Virgin home ahead of team
Tonio Liuzzi was the final finisher, with everyone from Trulli downwards a
lap behind. The HRT driver’s team mate Ricciardo retired, as did Perez after a drive-through for an incident with Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi and a
series of pit stops. Besides Hamilton and Alguersuari, whose steering and
front suspension were damaged when Senna hit him, Buemi also failed to
make it home after running as high as sixth on the opening lap and being a
points contender until damage to his rear wing sustained early on caused it
to collapse after six laps. In the drivers’ championship Vettel looks increasingly omnipresent with
259 points, ahead of Webber on 167, Alonso on 157, Button on 149 and
Hamilton on 146. Massa remains sixth with 74, but Schumacher’s fifth hoists
him clear of the ninth-place scrap with 42 points to Rosberg’s 56. In the
constructors’, Red Bull had a very profitable day, garnering 43 points to
bring their leading score to 426 ahead of McLaren on 295 and Ferrari on 231.