Following the changeable conditions of yesterday’s qualifying session, it was almost a disappointment to hear that no rain was forecast over the Spa Francorchamps track today ¬– at least until after the race was due to finish.
While the majority of the drivers were sure to be breathing a sigh of relief that they’d get a dry race, those watching from the grandstands and at home would certainly welcome some divine intervention to spice things up and make the afternoon a little bit more interesting.
As it turned out, the race could definitely have done with an injection of excitement. Hamilton was on pole, which was reason to be hopeful. After his masterful win in Hungary last time out, he had been tipped as Vettel’s nearest championship rival. So if he could convert his front row start into a race win, and close down the points-gap to Vettel, the championship would be thrown wide open.
Lewis got a good start. He led Vettel off the line, much to the delight of the crowd. But within a matter of corners, Vettel was all over the back of Hamilton’s car. He passed him easily for the lead, which was where he was to stay for more or less the entirety of the race.
You could almost sense F1 fans around the globe letting out a collective sigh of disappointment. Here we go again. Everyone knows what happens when Vettel snatches the lead on the first lap of the race. We all knew it was pretty much game over for his nearest rivals at that point.
Thankfully, there was plenty of exciting racing to be had further back down the field. Button and Alonso had both made blistering starts, promoting them up to fourth and fifth from sixth and ninth respectively by the end of the first lap.
That wasn’t good enough for Alonso though. He was soon challenging Button for that fourth spot. Although he failed his first attempt at an overtake – the Ferrari proving no match for the McLaren’s straight-line speed – he wasn’t about to give up.
Alonso tried the move again on lap four, and this time made it stick. Job done. And soon he was on his merry way down the road, with third placed Rosberg next in his sights.
The Prancing Horse made quick work of passing the Mercedes. It was clear that Alonso was on a roll, which begs the question: just how well would the Ferraris have done if yesterday’s qualifying session had been dry?
The first of the front runners came in to pit around lap 10. Both Mercedes, closely followed by Alonso in the Ferrari. It was earlier than predicted, and as it turned out a good move for the Spaniard. He came back out on the track behind Hamilton, but soon dispatched his former teammate to take an effective second place on the track.
Vettel was still flying, of course. He came in for his first pit stop on lap 15, and sped comfortably back out into a net first place – albeit behind Button, who’d yet to make a pit stop.
Button himself was having an interesting race. All weekend he’d been saying that his McLaren felt good, and told the press that he was targeting a podium finish. It may have sounded like a bold claim for a team who’d been struggling at the bottom end of the points for most of this season. But given that Button loves this track, and won here in his McLaren last year, we got the sense that he might just be able to do it.
His ace card was a one-stop strategy. We all know how easy Button is on his tyres, so if he could make it to the end of the race with just one change of rubber, there was every chance he could be standing up there on the podium for the first time this season.
Sadly, though, McLaren made the mistake of bringing him in for his stop too early. He came in on lap 18, and later admitted that his medium tyres still had a few laps of life left in them.
Has he stayed out for an extra couple of laps, he could have made the strategy work. As it was, his hard compound tyres hit the cliff towards the end of the race, and he was forced into the pits for an unscheduled stop on lap 35. This brought him back out onto track in sixth place, where he would eventually finish the race.
It may have been a disappointment for Button, but he can at least take heart from the fact that his race wasn’t as dismal as his team mate’s. Perez had forced Grosjean off the track during an overtake on lap eight, a move that would later earn him a drive-through penalty from the stewards.
Although he came in to serve his punishment, Perez clearly thought he’d been treated unfairly. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” he fumed over the radio to his race engineer. It was a typical driver response, although team boss Martin Whitmarsh later backed up the claim that his young charge had been harshly punished.
It was also a bad day at the office for Kimi Raikkonen. Although the Finn hadn’t exactly been flying over the weekend, he was at least running in the top 10 come the halfway point of the race. But disaster struck on lap 26, following an ongoing battle with Massa in front.
Raikkonen would usually make quick work of overtaking the Brazilian, but the fact that it just wasn’t happening for him indicated that there could be something wrong with his car. Sure enough, he ran wide while trying to make the move stick, and quickly ducked into the pits to retire from the race.
Kimi later attributed his retirement to a brake failure, bringing to an end his staggering 38-race run of finishes.
Two laps later, and Di Resta’s race was also brought to a premature end – sadly through no fault of his own. There was a four-way tussle going on between him, Sutil, Gutierrez and Maldonado. A misjudged move on Gutierrez saw Maldonado run wide, tapping Sutil in the process – who then nudged him full-force into the back of Di Resta.
Maldonado later claimed he was on his way into the pits, and simply didn’t see DiResta. It earned him a 10 second stop/go penalty for causing a collision, which he took on lap 40. But that was of little comfort to Di Resta after such a disappointing end to his weekend.
While the marshals worked to recover Di Resta’s stricken car, Alonso dashed into the pits for his final stop – clearly wanting to get it out of the way in case the safety car was deployed. He needn’t have bothered. The car was cleared under waved yellows, and all that was left for Alonso to do was to chase the Red Bull of Vettel to the chequered flag.
There was a flicker of hope that there may be some rain during the final few laps of the race – but sadly for the spectators, it never came.
Try as he might, Alonso just couldn’t make a dent in Vettel’s lead. The German crossed the line to take his 31st career victory, with Alonso almost 17 seconds behind in second place, and Hamilton a disappointing third. by Sarah Ellis
2013 Belgian Grand Prix – Result
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:23:42.196 25
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +16.8 secs 18
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +27.7 secs 15
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +29.8 secs 12
5. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing +33.8 secs 10
6. Jenson Button McLaren +40.7 secs 8
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari +53.9 secs 6
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus +55.8 secs 4
9. Adrian Sutil Force India +69.5 secs 2
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +73.4 secs 1
11. Sergio Perez McLaren +81.9 secs
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +86.7 secs
13. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +88.2 secs
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber + secs
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams + secs
16. Giedo van der Garde Caterham +1 Lap
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 Lap
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia +1 Lap
19. Max Chilton Marussia 42 +2 Laps
Ret Paul di Resta Force India +18 Laps
Ret Kimi Räikkönen Lotus +19 Laps
Ret Charles Pic Caterham +36 Laps