Belgian GP-Back to School Edition
Formula 1 returned from its summer break to take on one of the last remaining classic tracks, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. If anyone thought the break would shake things up, they were wrong, as Mercedes would again claim a race victory. The story heading into to the race was the grid penalty(ies) received by Hamilton which would force him to start the race from the back of the grid. A decade ago starting from the rear of the grid would be considered a game-over event, but now, its almost a given that a top driver and car can start from the back and compete for a podium (especially if it belongs to Hamilton or Rosberg).
The first lap was a great opportunity to dust off the seldom used Italian curse words as the toddler-in-a-race-car, Max Verstappen, found space on the inside of turn one that wasn't really there. This, combined with Vettel’s bad luck, around the outside maneuver cost both Ferrari drivers a chance at the podium. While initially, it was somewhat unclear whether it was Verstappen’s fault, the rest of his race showed a reckless disregard for other drivers and common sense in general.
Yes, no doubt the young Verstappen has raw speed and talent. We once compared him to a young Kimi Raikkonen, based on his pure speed and balls to the wall style. Its great to have a fire-plug in the series to at least provide an alternative story to the weekly Mercedes dominance, yet his recently found fame and attention raises a larger point. In spite of a dubious attempt at turn 1 and his reckless blocking of Raikkonen later in the race, he would not receive even a reprimand from the stewards. Normally, we would urge stewards to let them race and to withhold any rush to hand out penalties, but in this case, Verstappen needs some reigning in. At a time where the discussion about safety in F1 is taking many forms, it is a massive contradiction to talk safety on one hand, and then allow outright recklessness on the part of a very young driver. Its ironic that the driver he replaced, Daniil Kvyat was sacked after several aggressive moves that led to crashes.
Mercedes has already won
The F1 world champion will either be Hamilton or Rosberg this season. Yes, mathematically it's still possible for a few other drivers to challenge, but in reality the season is beyond over. The rest of the 2016 F1 season has been relegates to a intra-team battle period. Hamilton’s performance in Belgium has to worry Rosberg as Hamilton was able to turn a back of the grid start into the third step on the podium.
Vettel finished in 6th place and Raikkonen in 9th after the turn 1 incident almost ended their day before it began. Both drivers fought through the field and showed signs that the Ferrari had some pace, but as has been the story with Ferrari this season they were undone by their own blunders. Vettel doesn't look like a former world champion. His turn 1 move around the outside of his teammate was as bold as it was unlikely to be successful. Raikkonen has looked like the better driver. The Fernando Alonso years at Ferrari were a sad drama of a bad car being heroically lifted up by its driver who pushed for every tenth. The Vettel/Raikkonen years have so far seemed like a Keystone Cops skit, as even then, things are working with the car, the team strategy or the drivers hobble themselves.
Renault driver Kevin Magnussen suffered a massive crash just after the famed Eau Rouge corner. He was traveling at around 180mph when he lost the car on the curbs and crashed into the barriers. In another testament to the safety of modern F1 cars he hobbled away and suffered some minor injuries and expects to be back for the Italian Grand Prix this weekend.
Fernando Alonso remains one of the more exciting racers to watch on Sunday. Alonso consistently wrestles more from his car than would be possible in the hands of mere mortals. In Belgium, he brought the McLaren Honda home to a 7th place finish, a massive accomplishment for a team that began the season fighting for the last spot on the grid.
Ricciardo came home in second place and made a solid case that Red Bull is now the best of the rest with a clear advantage over Ferrari.