After a month’s holiday, the F1 circus resumed on Sunday with the Belgium Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton had incurred so many grid penalties for taking on extra engine parts, he should have started the race in Holland. Thankfully, irrespective of the number of penalties accumulated, the furthest back he could start was in 21st place. In what was surely the most exalted last row on the grid in F1, he was joined in 22nd and last place by former team mate and two time world champion Fernando Alonso. All of Hamilton’s difficulties had left Nico Rosberg with an unexacting front spot on the grid and a shoe in for a win. It was simply a question of how effective Hamilton’s salvage operation was going to be.
The fun-most part of F1 is always the start. At Spa, it was like a demolition derby. Roseberg got away brilliantly, but behind him carnage ensued. Young buck Max Verstappen, who had started in 2nd place, ended up in a three way collision with the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikonen and Sebastian Vettel, leaving them all with extensive damage, and sliding down the order, with Max and Kimi being forced to pit. The mayhem continued with Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein crashing into Jenson Button’s rear and taking him out. Then, the Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz’s back tyre exploded, leading to the virtual safety car being deployed. Who said F1 was a dull procession?
With all the chaos going on in between, if you couldn’t be clear in first place like Rosberg, the next best place to be, ironically, was at the back. Both Alonso and Hamilton benefited so much from the whacky races going in front of them that they were in 12th and 15th place by the end of the first lap! By the time the virtual safety car was deactivated, Hamilton was 12th. More drama followed as Kevin Magnussen then spun his Renault backwards into a tyre wall. We were only on lap 6! Out came the actual safety car, and with several of the drivers on softs choosing to come into the pits, Alonso and Hamilton, who had started on mediums, now found themselves, amazingly, in 4th and 5th place. And then, as if there wasn’t enough going on, the red flag came out. The race was stopped. The tyre wall needed a proper rebuild job and the rest of us could take a breath and lie down for a moment.
A much needed 10 minute breather later and the cars were back out again. Hamilton was now only four places behind Rosberg. Soon it would be three as he had little trouble passing the under powered McLaren-Honda of Alonso. He had Nico Hulkenberg of Force India in his sights. By lap 18 he was past him and gunning for second placed Daniel Riccardo. And that was where any hopes of a miraculous challenge for top spot ended. Hamilton had complained on radio of losing grip so the team brought him in on lap 22 of 44, which meant he would be on a 3 lap strategy while Riccardo and Rosberg would only pit twice. A stuck jack meant Hamilton had a slightly longer pit stop than necessary, though it didn’t affect his position. He would finish in a comfortable third place behind Riccardo and Rosberg, who could have stopped for tea and cake and still won the race.
In fact, Rosberg’s most disconcerting moments of the day came after the race. First, he discovered Lewis had managed to finish third, so the deficit between them in the driver’s championship had only narrowed by 10 points, with the Brit still 9 points ahead overall. Then, when he jumped onto the podium, he was greeted by a chorus of mild boos. No, this wasn’t an outtake from the Rio Olympics, but perhaps the gaggle of Dutch fans who had come from over the border to follow Max had been unduly influenced by the naughty antics of the Brazilian crowd. Or maybe most F1 fans just don’t like Rosberg. Maybe if he did more crowd surfing like Hamilton or drank champagne out of his shoe like Riccardo (yep, Aussies are weird), he might be more kindly regarded. Perhaps he likes being the pantomime villain, though it’s rather unusual (actually unheard of) for them to come in handsome, blond haired, blue eyed silver spooned packages. Rosberg won’t care so long as he wins that coveted driver’s title. But with Hamilton’s penchant for making miraculous comebacks it’s not only in the popularity stakes that Rosberg might struggle to come out on top.