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Rencken: 2013 Belgian GP wrap

2013-08-26 08:03

DOMINANT AT SPA: Sebastian Vettel (middle) stretched his overall lead to 46 points after winning the 2013 Belgian f1 GP ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (left) and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton. Image: AP


Although eight rounds of the original 19 in the 2013 Formula 1 championship remain the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit will likely go down as the point in which the season tipped fully in favour of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.

True, his points cushion of 46 over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso pans out at under six per race but it was the almost routine manner of Red Bull Racing’s serial champion’s victory that left his rivals reeling.

True, Alonso’s second place (from ninth on the grid after a scratchy wet qualifying) equals his best result in five races.


He has two wins in 2013 to date compared to Vettel’s five and it was only his relentless performance in Spa, which provided his podium place. It was certainly not the overall pace of his Ferrari F138.

It’s equally true that he can never be written off but it seems the romance between Alonso and Ferrari is slowly evaporating. Such nuances make the difference between drinking bubbly and getting sprayed.

True, Lewis Hamilton scored his fourth pole position on the trot but, as has been the case at all grands prix this year bar one, he and Mercedes simply fail to convert their qualifying pace into victory. Yes, Hamilton is very much a theoretical title contender but that’s about the extent of it after a poor start to his maiden season with the Three Pointed Star and a single victory to date.    

True, Kimi Räikkönen, formerly second on the log after a metronomic display of consistency which saw him complete every one of his 30 grands prix contested since making his return with Lotus. At Spa however he was forced to retire due to brake issues, likely caused by a rip-off visor strip which lodged itself in a cooling duct.

Lotus has financial issues and is unlikely to equal Red Bull’s development ace, particularly as the black/gold outfit has already switched primary focus to its 2014 car and does not have the engineering resources of the team in front.


For the rest – Mercedes Nico Rosberg, despite two victories, is now 101 points behind Vettel; Red Bull’s Mark Webber once again performed one of his trademark poor starts; the hapless Felipe Massa, whose season best of a third place falls well short of Ferrari’s expectations; and McLaren’s duo of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who have failed to sniff a podium – it’s all over.

It was not only the apparent effortlessness of Vettel’s 17-second win from the front row of Spa’s Greenpeace-blighted grid that demoralised the opposition, but the ease with which he sprinted past Hamilton in the first sector of the opening lap, then played on his advantage throughout the race’s 44 laps – all held, against most predictions, under dry but cloudy, 20C skies.

He nursed car and tyres – the latter a worry after a spate of issues during Friday practice which saw him and Alonso suffer punctures, put down to having been caused by a rogue strip of ballast, said to have fallen off a Lotus – yet Vettel set the race’s fastest lap for good measure. It was arguably the easiest of the Red Bull ace’s 31 career victories, achieved on one of the world’s most challenging circuits.


Vettel said: “I don’t think we expected to be dominant here, and it surprised all of us actually; it's a great result. I think we knew going into the race that our race pace, compared to Mercedes, maybe gave us a little in hand.”

Then, just to rub it in, he said that the last few laps hadn’t been at all stressful after he had built a cushion lest rain (or a Safety Car) interrupt the race.

Alonso said: “Today’s result shows that the outcome of qualifying bears little relation to the result on Sunday, although I think that even if I’d started from pole I would still have finished second, because Vettel was quicker.”

“That makes us optimistic for the coming races, because our goal still remains the same, namely to fight for the title right to the end.”


However, the backstory is that Alonso’s management team is desperately seeking to transfer him to Red Bull where Webber’s cockpit is soon to be vacated. Alonso and Raikkonen are both believed to be in the frame, with team boss Christian Horner post-race dismissing as “rubbish” rumours that Red Bull Junior Daniel Ricciardo had been given the nod to replace his compatriot.

This talk has had unsettling effects on Ferrari and Lotus at a time when both should be gearing up for their respective champion challenges, and Horner is playing the game to perfection.

Hamilton’s third place keeps him in the hunt, but he admitted to being left powerless to defend as Vettel “glided” past on the opening run up the hill – and that spoke volumes, for his Mercedes V8 is said to hold an appreciable advantage over Vettel’s Renault unit.

Rosberg was the grey man of the weekend, and not only due to the hue of the his race suit, for he started and finished fourth, yet almost anonymously yo-yoed up and down the field.

With Pirelli having reverted to their 2012 construction and supplied the same compound choice (Medium and Hard), most teams ran two-stoppers as per the 2012 race but obviously ran varying stint lengths.

The top four started on Mediums, electing to run the second stint on the same before switching to Hards for the run to the flag. Of the top seven, only Webber, who placed fifth, went for M/H/M, while Button raced to sixth on a M/H/H strategy. Romain Grosjean, driver of 2012 Spa’s first-lap infamy, was the sole top-ten one-stopper, taking the surviving Lotus to eighth behind Massa’s Ferrari (M/M/H) on a M/H choice.

Adrian Sutil (Force India) placed ninth on M/H/H after an eventful race, with Ricciardo (H/M/M) picking up the remaining point for Toro Rosso from 19th on the grid after the team botched its Q1 runs.


Following F1’s summer break there were great expectations for the race as the sport decamped in the majestic Ardennes forests, but the record shows that almost 30 seconds covered the podium trio after arguably the least dramatic Spa grand prix in over a decade.

Nothing should detract from Vettel’s dominant performance in a peerless Red Bull, for it is hardly their fault that the rest failed to come up to scratch for whatever reason.

Two Spa victories in three years surely point to a driver who has mastered this demanding circuit, point to a champion who left the opposition very much in the shade of the ancient trees which endow Spa with so much of its character, point to a worthy successor to King of the Green Hills Michael Schumacher.

That Alonso has failed to win here in 13 times of trying is baffling in the extreme, but serves to make Vettel’s achievement all the more meritorious.

A classic race it was not, but a memorable victory it most certainly was, for from here it is likely to be all downhill for Vettel and Red Bull’s fourth set of consecutive championships. With Monza and its high speed nature looming, the rest should be worried. Very worried.


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