The Circuit Spa Francorchamps has been around since 1924 and the first grand prix was held there in 1925—won by none other than Ascari but not legendary Alberto. No, it was his father who claimed victory. At 4.4 miles in length, what makes Spa arguably the best track on the Formula 1 calendar is the perfection in its imperfections. It is not a homogenized track with formulaic features that are so prevalent these days. You have a real sense of actually going somewhere on this track. A driver favorite to be sure.
Eau Rogue, Pouhon, Blanchimont and La Source all make for one the world’s most exciting circuits. Sir Jackie Stewart may feel that the Nurburgring—the Green Hell—was the most dangerous but when I interviewed sports car legend, Brian Redman, it was hands down Spa that got his nod as the scariest circuit back in the halcyon days. But that’s all ancient F1 history.
This weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix had not experienced a Mercedes one, two finish in sixty years but that streak ended on Sunday with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg to a comprehensive master class on sheer domination.
Finishing nearly 40-seconds ahead of the rest of the field, Mercedes was proving, once again, that their power unit is far superior and when the competition—with their own Mercedes power units—tried to compete, the Silver Arrows proved their chassis was equally as good as the lump attached to it.
Lewis drove a champion’s race managing his gaps, tires and fuel. He was not hampered by the new starting procedure that bans any team coaching or assistance with clutch bite points or release settings for the launch but the same cannot be said of his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who suffered a poor start.
Rosberg’s poor start didn’t prevent him from throwing qualifying-style laps at Hamilton as he chased the 2014 champion down but in the end, Lewis had an answer for each challenge. Rosberg finished 2-seconds behind Hamilton at the chequered flag. Rosberg had closed the gap but Hamilton extended the Driver’s Championship gap to 28 points which is crucial as it represents more than a single victory (25) in points.
Ferrari had no answer for Mercedes but then this high-power circuit was always going to expose the weakness of anyone’s engine. Sebastian Vettel fought off a charging Lotus of Romain Grosjean only to have his tire blow on the penultimate lap sending the Ferrari driver into an expletive-laced rant in post-race interviews. Pirelli had told teams that the tires were good for 40 laps leaving Ferrari wondering why the Italian tire maker was suggesting they had gone too far with their one-stop strategy as it was only 29 laps. This was compounded by the fact that Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg had experienced a similar incident during Friday’s practice session leaving both drivers very shaken and vocal about the Pirelli tires on offer this year.
The podium was replete with Mercedes-powered cars as Romain Grosjean brought his Lotus home to secure 3rd in what was described as the drive of his career and very few would argue with that assessment. Romain wasn’t the only driver setting the paddock abuzz as Russian Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) and 17-year-old Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) delivered terrific performances in their budding careers. The results and performances from both this season lend great credibility to just how effective Red Bull’s young driver program is in the hands of Dr. Helmut Marko.
McLaren brought a new upgraded Honda engine however swapping the old ones out, twice, garnered a ridiculous 105 grid place penalty for the team…they started from the back and nearly finished there which was a great disappointment for McLaren fans who heard Honda brag that their new engine would provide Ferrari-like performance. Clearly not the case in Belgium.
Williams may have had a shot at the podium but the historic team made a rookie mistake by fitting three option tires and one prime to Valtteri Bottas’s car. It is a rule that a driver must use both compounds during the race but not at the same time—that actually is against the rules and the Finnish driver was handed a drive-through penalty for the mistake. Not something you would expect from a veteran team such as Williams.
If Spa was punishing enough for the rest of the field, they should get set for another lashing as the next race, September 6th, will be at another iconic high-power circuit called Monza…the Italian Grand Prix. Beating Ferrari on their home turf will be the complete focus of the Silver Arrows and they have a very good chance of doing so.