2010 Belgian Grand Prix report


Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton came to Spa 1-2 in the World Championship, and although Hamilton superbly won the race, and regained the points lead, Webber wasn’t too upset, for he finished second – and none of the three other title contenders scored at all.


It was a typically capricious Grand Prix at this greatest of all contemporary circuits, and – as is often the case at Spa – the weather had a hand in it. Fundamentally the afternoon was dry, which was a surprise after the practice and qualifying days, but a couple of brief showers caused many an incident. “On a day like this,” Hamilton said, “the race can be a lottery, so it’s always good to come out of it well.”

He was right. Accidents accounted for Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, while Sebastian Vettel trailed in 15th after yet another chaotic afternoon. Is Vettel quick enough to be World Champion? Absolutely. Is he mature enough? Absolutely not.


Given that straightline speed is not their strongest suit, the Renault-powered Red Bulls were expected – relatively – to struggle to Spa, but if Webber and Vettel were vulnerable on the long climb from Eau Rouge to Les Combes, their cars’ astonishing superiority through fast corners – and Spa, as we know, is essentially all fast corners – guaranteed that over the lap they were right there. Vettel, rather surprisingly, qualified only fourth, but Webber was able to beat Hamilton to pole position.

At the start, though, Mark’s car hesitated. “There was a small problem with the clutch on the formation lap,” he said. “We tried to make an adjustment to it, and hoped that would cure the problem, but it didn’t…”

Before the first corner, La Source, Webber was therefore engulfed, and at the end of the opening lap he was back in sixth place, behind Hamilton, Kubica, Vettel, Massa and Button.

By the end of the lap, a little rain had come down, and at the ‘Bus Stop’ chicane the first few cars all ran wide, but survived; behind them, though, Alonso and Barrichello had a coming-together, and while Fernando headed straight for the pits, to get a new nose, Rubens – on the occasion of his 300th Grand Prix – was out on the spot.

“I was closing the door on Rosberg,” he said, “but although I braked quite early, it wasn’t sufficient to stop the car, and I went straight into Alonso, for which I’m sorry…”

Fernando, already the long shot in the five-man fight for the championship, had a bad weekend in Belgium. After being fastest in both the Friday practice sessions, he qualified a disappointing 10th, made his early pit stop for repairs, spent the afternoon climbing back into the points, then – in a heavy rain shower – spun into the barrier, bringing out the safety car for the second time. It had been out first, for just one lap, after the original incident with Barrichello.


Even though conditions were uncertain – imminent rain was rumoured every five minutes or so – and even though he was the leader, and therefore going to find a suddenly slippery corner before those chasing him – still there was something quite inexorable about Hamilton’s victory at Spa. Before the race started Button remarked that the McLaren seemed to have a surprising amount of grip – on slicks – when the track was a little damp, and his team mate’s final qualifying lap seemed to bear that out. With spots of rain coming down at various points on the circuit, Lewis put in a stupefying lap – streets quicker than anyone else at the time – to join Webber on the front row. That being so, it wasn’t a surprise to see his faultless display the following day.

Almost faultless, anyway. On lap 33 a proper shower of rain (the one that accounted for Alonso) began, but for the first four – Hamilton, Kubica, Webber, Massa – it wasn’t yet coming down as they completed the lap, so off they set on another, while everyone else, some way behind, dashed in to change either to intermediate tyres or, in some cases, ‘full wets’. Still out there on slicks, Hamilton skated off…

“I was,” he said, “extremely lucky. It was incredibly slippery, and I was really tiptoeing, but the thing just didn’t want to stop – I just barely skimmed a barrier, but thankfully didn’t do any damage.”

When the top four made their stops, a lap later than the rest, Webber succeeded finally in getting ahead of Kubica, and into second place. Robert, having driven beautifully in the Renault (which ran with an F-duct for the first time, and gained significant straightline speed), stopped askew in his pit box, which necessarily delayed his mechanics.

“My fault,” he said. “The conditions were changing, and I needed to make various changes on the steering-wheel – I couldn’t do it on the track, because it was so treacherous, so I had to do it in the pit lane, got distracted, locked up, and didn’t stop in the right place…”

Over the last four laps, following the safety car period for Alonso’s accident, Hamilton concentrated on maintaining a safe gap, and this he was able to do without problem, taking the flag a second and a half to the good, with Kubica third, and Massa – Ferrari’s main man this weekend – fourth.

Force India, with their immense straightline speed, always show well at Spa – remember Giancarlo Fisichella’s second place in 2009 – and Adrian Sutil did a fine job to claim fifth place, ahead of the still disappointing Mercedes of Rosberg and Schumacher. Both the Mercs started way back on the grid, mind you, Nico losing five grid places after needing a gearbox change on Saturday, and Michael losing 10 for his lunatic driving (against Barrichello) at the last race, in Hungary.

So what of Vettel and Button, the two other championship contenders? Well, the one accounted for the other. In the early laps of the race, Jenson and Sebastian ran second and third, behind Hamilton, but on lap 16, on the approach to the ‘Bus Stop’, the Red Bull braked too late, and slammed into the McLaren. Button retired immediately, while Vettel headed for the pits to get a new nose.

“Not,” remarked Martin Whitmarsh, “what you’d expect to see in Formula 1 – more like the junior formulae… A ‘drive through’ seemed a pretty light punishment to me.”

And to many others. Vettel’s Belgian Grand Prix was no less chaotic than many of his races have been this year. Later in the afternoon, he had a coming-together with Liuzzi, which shattered the Force India’s nose, and punctured the Red Bull’s left rear tyre. Vettel really does need to sit down and have a talk with himself: he has had bad luck this season, yes, but many a good result he has tossed away.

At the press conference Hamilton and Webber talked about the balance of the season. With six races to go, both are now quite significantly clear of their team mates in the World Championship: were we getting to the point that McLaren and Red Bull – like Ferrari, with Alonso – would begin to put more ‘emphasis’ on one driver? One cannot, of course, use a phrase like ‘team orders’, because they’re banned, as we all know…

Hamilton said that, in the case of McLaren, he didn’t think so. “Jenson was very unfortunate today – he’d done a fantastic job to get from fifth to second. I get the same treatment as Jenson, and that enables us both to score the maximum points we can. I don’t feel there should be any preferential treatment – the team do the best they can possibly do for each of us. There’s no more they can do…”

Webber was more enigmatic. “McLaren,” he said, “have won many championships, and they have a very good trophy cabinet. Red Bull have a good trophy cabinet, too – but not one like McLaren’s, so… it depends on how hungry we are to try and do that. I think it’s too early at the moment, but not far away. Having said that, maybe there’s a different strategy, compared with McLaren, I’m not sure…”

Given the way Vettel is clowning around at the moment, Red Bull people must surely – however, in some cases, reluctantly – accept that their most likely 2010 World Champion is 34, not 23, and from Australia, not Germany. Sebastian may be sublimely talented, but, as Jackie Stewart would say, his ‘mind management’ is all over the place, and that’s not how titles are won.

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