Sebastian Vettel has rediscovered his winning form to kick start the second half of 2011 with a win in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
The German traded position at the top of the field on numerous occasions throughout the race, but allowed strategy to have him exit the pits after his final stop in the lead, from where he controlled the remainder of the Grand Prix.
‘We had a lot of concerns going into the race after the damage we had on the tyres from qualifying,’ commented the German. He was referring the unusually high tyre degradation Red Bull experience during qualifying due to excessive tyre camber.
‘We had reason to be confident it should be fine, but… there’s no guarantee.
‘The pace was very good in the race, I was very comfortable in the car. I have to say the car worked brilliantly, and compared to previous years we were very competitive.
‘Iím very happy with the result and very happy with the race.’
He led home teammate Mark Webber who recovered from his now trademark pedestrian starts, dropping from third on the grid down to eighth at the end of the first lap.
‘Yeah, the start was shocking,’ admitted Webber. ‘I dropped the level and anti-stall kicked in immediately. That was a disappointing way to start the Grand Prix.
‘Wouldíve loved to have had a normal Grand Prix, but still an enjoyable race, I got a good result.’
Jenson Button completed the podium after qualifying a lowly 13th yesterday afternoon. His grid place was compounded by an early forced pit stop to change his front wing, but played his tyre strategy well to charge towards the podium in the closing laps.
‘I think if Iíd stayed in 13th after the start it wouldíve been a lot easier to challenge [Red Bull],’ said Button.
‘At turn one di Resta hit my rear wing. Then driving off turn one somebody’s front wing flew off an went through my front wing.’
The Briton switched to the option tyre at this point, slicing through the field after a number of gutsy overtaking maneuvers to bring home the sole remaining McLaren after his compatriot Hamilton crashed out of the race on lap 13.
‘Itís good to finish here after Seb drove into me last year,’ continued Button jokingly.
‘A fun race, lots of good overtaking, I enjoyed it.’
I think if Iíd stayed in 13th after the start it wouldíve been a lot easier to challenge these guys
Fernando Alonso managed to hold on to his fifth place finish after Ferrari struggled to keep heat in their tyres. His race faded in the closing laps, losing places to Webber and eventually Button.
Celebrating his 20th anniversary since his Formula One debut, Michael Schumacher brought home his Mercedes in fifth despite starting last after one of his rear wheels fell off during qualifying yesterday. He led home teammate Rosberg in sixth.
Sutil brought home his Force India in P7, ahead of an unlucky Massa in eighth. Rounding out the top ten were Vitaly Petrov and pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan in particular driving a measured race to improve his qualifying position by 11 places.
The buildup to the race was mared by controversy, with some of the teams to have qualified in the top ten asking the FIA for concession to change their front tyres.
The new Pirelli rubber, untested around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, had trouble handling the high speeds in combination with the extreme cambering set on some of the cars.
Rumours erupted in the paddock that dispensation had been provided for some of the cars but not all before the FIA clarified that any team would be free to adjust their camber and change tyres, but would have to start from the pit lane. None took up that option.
The race got off to an unexpected start, with Rosberg finding the most grip off the line to rocket into the lead halfway through the first lap.
Schumacher, too, in the sister Mercedes jumped nine place up to 15th, continuing his showing of impressive starts throughout the season.
A tangle in the middle of the La Source hairpin between Senna, Alonso and Alguersuari saw the latter retire early from the Grand Prix, leaving Senna to pit at the end of the first lap. Alonso used the runoff area to escape unscathed.
The first round of pit stops saw Red Bull split their strategies, with Mark Webber opting for the prime, medium compound while Sebastian Vettel chose the softer options.
Strategists would have their work cut out for them, however, after a clash between Hamilton and Kobayashi forced a safety car on lap 13.
The pair were racing side-by-side on the way into Les Combes. Kobayshi was holding the outside line when Hamilton, apparently unaware of the Sauber to his left, pulled across, making heavy contact before ending in the barriers.
Webber and Button found themselves running at the top of the order after the third round of pit stops, but their tyre strategies would prove too ambitious, with Vettel on fresher rubber passing both of them on his final outlap to reclaim the lead.
Webber opted to stay out with a second set of prime tyres, while Button was forced to pit for more option in hope of a final-stint dash for the podium.
McLaren’s gamble would pay off, with the Briton passing Alonso before bearing down on Webber within the final nine laps.
He would fall just short, however, after Webber picked up his pace to keep the daring McLaren at arms length.
Formula One heads to Monza in a fortnight for the Italian Grand Prix.