They are still pinching themselves in Milton Keynes, home of the Red Bull Racing team. They have been used to winning races and world championships over the past three seasons – no other team or driver has had a look-in in the drivers’ and constructors’ series since Sebastian Vettel was first crowned in 2010 – but even they were astonished at the ease with which he destroyed opposition from Ferrari and Mercedes at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday.
Elated to learn that he has now led more than 2000 laps in his F1 career, and that his points lead is the biggest it has ever been, Vettel smiled. “It was a very good afternoon for us and obviously looking forward to Monza where we don’t expect, maybe, to be that strong. But let’s see.”
Red Bull didn’t expect to be so strong in Belgium, either.
Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton knew they needed to stop the German winning again if their own world title aspirations were not to be compromised even further. But the Spaniard was 16.8s behind, the Englishman a further 10.8s.
Both made optimistic noises after the race, pointing out that the low downforce nature of Spa suited the Red Bull (though traditionally it is accused of being so uber-successful because it has so much aerodynamic downforce), but it smacked of whistling to keep up battered spirits. Alonso is now 46 points behind, Hamilton, 58. But each believes that their chances remain intact. With eight races left in the calendar, a maximum of 200 points is available.
“When the weekend started I felt that we perhaps didn’t have as good a package as these two here,” Hamilton said, nodding at Vettel and Alonso on Sunday evening. “Now we’ll try and see if we can improve for Monza. But definitely when we get to Singapore, I think we’ll have a much better chance there. But as far as the championship is concerned it’s going to be very, very tough, undoubtedly.
“Seb has had a phenomenal car for such a long time, and it is still phenomenally quick. He does the job, so it is the perfect package. We have had some really strong races and been there or thereabouts competing, and finished ahead of him in the past. So that doesn't mean we can't do that, but we’ll soon need to finish ahead of him each and every time.”
Hamilton added that from Singapore onwards, Mercedes will be able to revert to the high downforce configuration with which he was so successful in Hungary where he beat Vettel fair and square. “Hopefully it will be improved again,” he said.
Mercedes’ focus ahead of Monza will be on why their car lacked straightline speed, while Ferrari believe they have to take another step forward from one they made in practice at Spa, if they are to remain in the hunt.
“We need another improvement in the performance of the car,” team chief Stefano Domenicali said.
By contrast, Jenson Button and McLaren were boosted by qualifying and finishing sixth, after briefly leading the race while out of sync with others on pit stops on the 15th lap, and Max Chilton took his best qualifying position with 16th place for Marussia. There was also good news for Britain’s next F1 driver, James Calado. The Racing Steps Foundation-supported racer from Oxford scored a timely success in the GP2 race on Sunday. After a highly impressive test with the Force India team at the recent Young Driver Test at Silverstone, rumours continue to suggest he will drive one of their cars alongside Paul di Resta in Friday practice at Monza.