Sebastian Vettel cruised to the 31st win of his Formula One career as not even Greenpeace protestors could throw a spanner in the works of the German's Belgian Grand Prix triumph.
Any thoughts that Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso had of reducing Sebastian Vettel’s advantage in the race for the world championship lasted less than 30 seconds here at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday.
That was roughly the time it took for Hamilton to lead the field down to the famed Eau Rouge corner. But on the exit Vettel simply drove past him as if the Mercedes was nailed to the fence.
“I was able to get the move done quickly, and after that it was just a matter of being able to control the race and, later, worrying a little about rain that never came,” Vettel said, after completing a 31st grand prix victory that crushed his rivals and brought him within one win of Alonso’s career tally.
“I made a decent start and led into the first corner,” Hamilton responded, “but Seb was just massively quick through Eau Rouge and I just had to watch him glide by. Later Fernando came by on the straight too…”
The build-up to the start of the race was hijacked by Greenpeace protestors who scaled the main grandstand opposite the pits half an hour before the start and unfurled a manner which declared: ‘Artic oil? Shell no!’ in protest against race sponsor Shell’s drilling activities. While the organisers and the police left them hanging on their abseiling ropes, Hamilton seemed to be caught by surprise as Vettel picked his moment to perfection.
The Mercedes did manage to hold on to second place, just ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, until his first pit stop on the 11th lap. Alonso stopped two laps later, and then swept ahead of Hamilton on the 15th. Thereafter the Mercedes driver’s focus switched to battling his old team-mate Jenson Button – who was on a slightly different strategy in a revived McLaren – and keeping ahead of Rosberg and Mark Webber in the second Red Bull.
The Australian made another poor start, fell from third to sixth, and spent the rest of his afternoon battling back into contention. In the end Button fell back to a respectable sixth, leaving Hamilton to head Rosberg home by 2.1sec to claim the final podium slot, with Webber 3.9s adrift of the German.
Alonso, who has yet to win at Spa and had to start from only ninth on the grid, tried to sound upbeat after losing by 16.9s to his title nemesis. “We had to recover some places because we were not OK [on Saturday],” he said, “but everything went OK after the start and we had the speed in the dry to overtake. It was boring after that, nowhere near Seb but with no big threat from behind.”
Hamilton, too, put a brave face on it, though both he and Alonso knew that if they were to have any realistic chance of preventing Vettel from securing a fourth consecutive title they would have to beat him here.
“I was taking absolutely everything from the car,” he said. “But I said yesterday that I didn’t think we had the same race pace as the Red Bull or maybe even the Ferrari, and they were too fast for us today. The weather helped us to get the pole [on Saturday], and at the end of the day we just need to work a little bit harder.”
“It was decent race for us,” Button said. “I really enjoyed driving the car today. There’s been a small but definite improvement.”
One of the main incidents came at the end of the 27th lap as the two Force Indias batted in the final corner with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams and Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber. Adrian Sutil’s Force India clipped the front of Maldonado’s car, but the Venezuelan compounded the German’s error by then attempting to turn right into the pits even though he was way behind the entry. He collided heavily with Di Resta’s Force India, putting it out of the race and earning himself a 10 second drive-through penalty which many pundits believed to be derisory.
“Pastor went in deep and missed the apex so I was going around the outside of him,” Di Resta said. “He then decided to try and enter the pit lane, which was impossible given his track position, and took the rear corner off my car. There was definitely a point or two up for grabs.”
“That was a fantastic race, and we had incredible pace. The car was much better than we expected, and I really enjoyed that,” Vettel told former racer David Coulthard on the podium as they became increasingly aware of jeers from the spectators.
Vettel has become used to being booed, but this time the derision was reserved for fresh Greenpeace actions as a remote-controlled banner that had been concealed in the structure weeks before unfurled down the front of the drivers, bearing the message “Save the Arctic”. That was quickly ripped down by Alex Molina of Allsport Management, who manage podium ceremonies in F1, only for a second to pop up on the other side. As he dealt with that a female protester abseiled down behind the drivers with another banner which read: “Congratulations, now support us”.
Apart from the Maldonado/Di Resta incident it was quite possibly the most exciting thing many spectators in that area saw in an untypically dull race.
The protesters’ ingenuity and planning was impressive, but they failed to make much of a global splash on television as F1’s burghers ensured that the only photographers’ still images appeared. The last time political protests interrupted a grand prix was in Turkey in 2006; in the aftermath the organising club were hit with a huge fine by the FIA.
Belgian Grand Prix: results and standings
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull1hr 23mins 42.196secs
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari1:23:59.065
3 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP1:24:09.930
4 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP1:24:12.068
5 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull1:24:16.041
6 J Button (GB) McLaren1:24:22.990
7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari1:24:36.118
8 Romain Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team1:24:38.042
9 A Sutil (Ger) Force India1:24:51.743
10 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso1:24:55.666
11 S Perez (Mex) McLaren 1:25:04.132;
12 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:25:08.936;
13 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:25:10.454;
14 E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:25:22.632;
15 V Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:25:29.652;
16 G van der Garde (Neth) Caterham at 1 Lap;
17 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 1 Lap;
18 J Bianchi (Fr) Marussia at 1 Lap;
19 M Chilton (GB) Marussia at 2 Laps.
Not Classified: 20 P di Resta (GB) Force India 26 Laps completed; 21 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 25 Laps completed; 22 C Pic (Fr) Caterham 8 Laps completed.
World Championship Standings: Drivers
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull197pts
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari151
3 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP139
4 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team134
5 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull115
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP96
7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari67
8 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team53
9 J Button (GB) McLaren47
10 P di Resta (GB) Force India36
1 Red Bull 312pts;
2 Mercedes GP 235;
3 Ferrari 218;
4 Lotus F1 Team 187;
5 McLaren 65;
6 Force India 61;
7 Scuderia Toro Rosso 25;
8 Sauber-Ferrari 7;
9 Williams 1;
10 Marussia 0;
11 Caterham 0.