Just when it seemed the tide had turned against Red Bull, devoid of victory since Valencia last month, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber scored an emphatic one-two in a Belgian Grand Prix here yesterday that started off sensationally until their sheer pace rendered it another demonstration run.
Slow starts by Webber and sixth-fastest Jaime Alguersuari, scattered cars in all directions at the first corner, triggering what Jenson Button described as "mayhem." Vettel arrived there behind Nico Rosberg, who sprinted his Mercedes into the lead for two laps until the world champion found a way by. But the Red Bull driver, along with many others, had gone to the startline concerned about the state of their Pirelli tyres, which had already taken a beating in qualifying. There had been pre-race moves for the Italian company to supply more than the regulation number of fresh front tyres, but the FIA would not allow that.
The delayed Webber sought to offset his disadvantage of dropping from third on the grid to eighth by stopping as early as lap three for replacements, and Vettel did likewise two laps later. That put Rosberg ahead again until Fernando Alonso led for two laps before pitting on lap eight, where Lewis Hamilton moved ahead after a slow start until his McLaren needed fresh rubber by lap 10.
These early stops shook up the order and generated umpteen overtaking moves. Alonso and Hamilton had a brilliant scrap with the Spaniard's team-mate Felipe Massa on the fifth lap as they raced wheel-to-wheel, the Englishman particularly making a breathtakingly brave manoeuvre on the Brazilian on the run to Pouhon corner. But on the ninth lap Webber pulled off the move of the race with a spectacular pass on a startled Alonso on the downhill run to Eau Rouge. A lap later, Vettel went round the outside of Rosberg at Blanchimont.
"We're both experienced and had a great battle, but it takes two guys doing a good job and it's more rewarding when you can do it with a guy like Fernando who knows when enough is enough," Webber said. "With someone else I might not have done it."
It was all too good to last, and the shake-up came on lap 13. Hamilton had been pushing back up after his stop and had climbed to fifth, chasing Vettel, Rosberg, Webber and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi who had yet to make a pit call. "We were massively, massively slow on the straight," Hamilton said. "Everyone was just pulling away from me and I was only able to keep up on the infield. I think we probably had a little bit too much downforce."
As he moved left he caught his left rear wheel on Kobayashi's right front and the resultant contact spun the McLaren anti-clockwise into a very heavy shunt with the barriers, triggering a safety car intervention.
Hamilton later tweeted: “After watching the replay, I realize it was my fault today 100%. I didn’t give Kobayashi enough room though I thought in was past. Apologies to Kamui and to my team. The team deserves better from me.”
By the time it resumed the order on lap 18 was Vettel from Alonso then Webber, Rosberg and Massa. And now the race really turned in Red Bull's favour as Vettel steadily pulled away from the Ferrari. The Australian ran on the harder Pirelli tyre from the third lap, and slashed a four-second deficit to Alonso until he overtook him on 37th lap.
By this stage Button's race had finally started to come alive. He'd been on the softer option tyres since lap three and started picking people off until he was Alonso's next big threat. After making up 6.8 seconds he passed the Ferrari on the 42nd lap.
"The first lap was pretty messy," Button said. "There was mayhem as the guys around sixth place got together and a Force India hit my rear wing and tore off an endplate. Then at Eau Rouge somebody's front wing flew through mine and also took a wing mirror off.
"I radioed in that I was struggling but they told me I had to go to lap three before I could pit to change the front wing and switch to the softer tyres. After that I really enjoyed today. It's good to finish after Seb drove into me here last year, and passing Sutil on the outside in the chicane was a lot of fun.
"You tend to think of what might have been. We had very good pace all weekend and the car was very strong, the best it's been all year."
But not quite as good as Vettel and Webber's. "We had a lot of concerns going into race after the damage to tyres in qualifying and we took quite a lot of risk," Vettel admitted. "The main target was to see how the tyres felt after a couple of laps and go from there. It was more about management than usual, but the car worked brilliantly."
His second straight world title looks even more likely after a superbly judged afternoon's work.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Final Positions after 44 Laps
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 26min 44.893sec
2 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:26:48.634
3 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:26:54.562
4 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:26:58.115
5 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:27:32.357
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:27:33.567
7 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:27:44.606
8 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:27:50.969
9 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:27:56.810
10 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:28:02.508
11 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:28:08.887; 12 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:28:16.869; 13 B Senna (Br) Renault 1:28:17.878; 14 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 1 Lap; 15 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 at 1 Lap; 16 R Barrichello (Br) Williams at 1 Lap; 17 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing at 1 Lap; 18 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 1 Lap; 19 V Liuzzi (It) HRT-F1 at 1 Lap. Not Classified: 20 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 27 Laps completed; 21 D Ricciardo (Aus) HRT-F1 13 Laps completed; 22 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 12 Laps completed; 23 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 6 Laps completed; 24 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 0 Laps completed.
Drivers' Championship standings
1 S Vettel 259pts
2 M Webber 167
3 F Alonso 157
4 J Button 149
5 L Hamilton 146
6 F Massa 74
7 N Rosberg 56
8 M Schumacher 42
9 V Petrov 34
10 N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 34
11 K Kobayashi 27; 12 A Sutil 24; 13 S Buemi 12; 14 J Alguersuari 10; 15 S Perez 8; 16 P di Resta 8; 17 R Barrichello 4; 18 P Maldonado 1; 19 P de la Rosa (Sp) Sauber-Ferrari 0; 20 J Trulli 0; 21 V Liuzzi 0; 22 B Senna 0; 23 J D'Ambrosio 0; 24 H Kovalainen 0; 25 T Glock 0; 26 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 0; 27 D Ricciardo 0; 28 K Chandhok (India) Lotus F1 0.
1 Red Bull 426pts, 2 McLaren 295, 3 Ferrari 231, 4 Mercedes GP 98, 5 Renault 68, 6 Sauber-Ferrari 35; 7 Force India 32; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 22; 9 Williams 5; 10 Lotus F1 0; 11 HRT-F1 0; 12 Virgin Racing 0.Reuse content