Rosberg Dominates Belgian Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg secured his sixth win of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix, while his team-mate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton secured an unlikely podium after starting at the back of the grid. Rosberg’s win never looked in doubt after Hamilton racked up several grid penalties due to fitting several new parts to his car prior to qualifying on Saturday. This was a calculated move on Mercedes part – early season unreliability for Hamilton meant he was about to run over his allocation for gearboxes and engines for the season. Mercedes fitted several new components during the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix in order to build up a surplus of new parts to see him to the end of the season, and avoid costly penalties being applied over several races. The result was that Hamilton was demoted to the back row of the grid, and this weekend was nothing more than an exercise in damage limitation for the reigning world champion. Hamilton did a single lap in Q1 before heading into the garage – leaving Rosberg to secure pole ahead of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.
Rosberg got off the line cleanly at the start, but Verstappen did not have such a good start. He found himself behind the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen heading into the La Source hairpin. Vettel had approached the first corner from the outside line before swooping in to hit the apex. Raikkonen had a much tighter line fending off Verstappen. The Dutchman lunged down the inside in an attempt to regain one of his lost positions, at one point having his entire car mount the inside kerb. Vettel was unaware of this manoeuvre and was squeezing Raikkonen on the outside of the corner. Raikkonen, sandwiched between the two, was powerless to prevent contact with both cars. Vettel was sent sideways and dropped down the field, while Raikkonen suffered minor damage. Verstappen suffered damage to his front wing and the floor of his car, which severely impacted his pace throughout the race.
As the Ferraris and Verstappen limped up the road they were engulfed by Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull. Raikkonen, Vettel and Verstappen pitted on the end of lap 1, leaving Nico Rosberg out in front, free from his closest rivals. As the field headed into Les Combes on the first lap Pascal Wherlein was caught out under braking, and smashed into the rear of Jenson Button’s Mclaren-Honda. Both retired on the spot. At the end of lap two the Virtual Safety Car was briefly deployed in order to clear the debris left from Carlos Sainz after his Toro Rosso suffered a puncture. On lap 5 the actual Safety Car was deployed after Kevin Magnussen suffered a massive shunt in his Renault, losing the car at the top of Eau Rouge and slamming the rear of his car into the tyre barrier. Thankfully, Magnussen emerged shaken and with nothing more than a sore ankle. It was a relief to see Magnussen walk away from such a massive accident. Several cars took advantage of the safety car to pit for new tyres, while others – most notably Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – remained out, and gained track position. The race was red-flagged to allow the marshals repair the barrier that Magnussen had hit. This meant that those who had opted not to pit during the safety car benefitted, as they were able to change tyres before the restart, in effect gaining a free pit stop.
The race was re-started on lap 11, with Rosberg out in front followed by Ricciardo, Hulkenberg,Alonso and Hamilton. Hamilton quickly got by Alonso thanks to the significant power advantage the Mercedes engine has over the Honda. Meanwhile, further down the field Max Verstappen enraged Raikkonen due to his defensive tactics as the pair fought over the lower positions. Raikkonen attempted a move down the outside, only for Verstappen to go deep under braking into Les Combes, leaving Raikkonen with no option but to go off the track. A lap later Raikkonen attempted a pass down the Kemmel Straight, only for Verstappen to suddenly jerk his car immediately in front of the Ferrari as Raikkonen was attempting an overtake. A massive crash was avoided due to the Finnish driver’s quick reactions. Raikkonen was furious and let his feelings known over the team radio. Inexplicably, the stewards failed to even investigate either move, even though penalties have been handed out earlier this season for forcing drivers wide (such as the penalty given to Rosberg at the German Grand Prix). Sergio Perez also experienced first-hand Verstappens ‘robust’ defending tactics, but managed his way past the Red Bull with a swooping move on the outside of Les Combes.
Hamilton passed Nico Hulkenberg after pitting for medium compound tyres. The top three was therefore Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton and that was how the podium places remained until the flag. Nico Hulkenberg was gutted to have been passed in the latter stages of the race and missing out on his maiden podium, but came home an equal career best fourth, with his team-mate Perez following behind in fifth. After a scrappy race Vettel battled back to take sixth. Fernando Alonso finished a superb seventh for McLaren-Honda. Bottas was eighth in the Williams, Raikkonen ninth and Felipe Massa tenth in the second Williams.
Rosberg Wins His First Italian Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg won the Italian Grand Prix from second on the grid, followed home by his team-mate and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in front of the adoring, passionate Tifosi.
Lewis Hamilton had looked to be in complete control of the weekend after dominating qualifying, out-pacing his team-mate by almost half a second. Such an impressive margin did not translate into dominance on Sunday, as when the lights went out Hamilton bogged his car down with wheelspin and was overtaken by five cars before reaching the first corner. At the end of lap 1 Rosberg led, followed by the Ferrari pair of Vettel and Raikkonen, Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton quickly passed Ricciardo due to the speed advantage the Mercedes has over the Red Bull in a straight line. Further back the field Felipe Nasr carelessly collided with Jolyon Palmer after failing to give the Renault driver enough space coming out of the first chicane. He was handed a ten second penalty for the incident. Jenson Button had made a terrible start, and found himself behind the collision between Nasr and Palmer, finishing lap one in 19th position.
Meanwhile, Hamilton had closed up to the rear of Bottas, but found it far more difficult to pass the Williams, as the speed differential was not as apparent. Bottas was calm under pressure, and defended against Hamilton well into Turn 1. However, on the eleventh lap Hamilton got a great run coming out of Parabolica and out-dragged the Williams driver down the main straight and into fourth position. Rosberg had now created a six- second gap to second place Vettel, with Hamilton a further six seconds down the road. Hamilton failed to reel in the Ferraris significantly, instead opting to extend the length of his first stint. The Ferraris pitted for new supersoft tyres far earlier than the Mercedes pair, who pitted for Mediums roughly halfway through the race.
This meant that Ferrari were committed to a two stop race, and any chance they had of keeping Hamilton at bay or challenging Rosberg was gone. While Hamilton emerged from his stop behind Vettel and Raikkonen, he only had to bide his time and wait for them to pit to inherit second place. In truth, such was the massive pace advantage of Mercedes over the rest of the field at Monza, Ferrari simply had no answer to the Mercedes pair regardless of tyre strategy.
Valterri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo battled it out for fifth place for much of the race. Bottas found himself in fifth with less than ten laps to go, with Ricciardo chasing hard on the faster supersoft tyres. The Williams strategists were quick to reassure Bottas that he was on the correct tyre for that stage in the race – and stated that Ricciardo’s would quickly degrade and would be unable to take fifth. What they hadn’t forseen was Ricciardo pulling a stunning overtaking manoeuvre into Turn 1. Ricciardo came from a long way back, and braked hard down the inside of Bottas into the first corner. Ricciardo managed not to lock a wheel, make contact with Bottas or run wide – it was a supremely judged bit of late breaking. Ricciardo was visibly delighted with the move, gesturing with his left hand as he rounded Curva Grande.
It was a day to forget for Mclaren-Honda, the Monza track exposing may of the car’s weaknesses. Alonso was overtaken in the latter stages of the race by his hard charging team-mate. Alonso, clearly frustrated by his lack of pace, was told to remain focused and that he may yet catch the Haas of Grosjean for 11th. Alonso’s reply was a derisive laugh. The Spanish double world champion did get one bit of fun, as he pitted very late for a set of supersoft tyres and then duly set the fastest lap of the race. Small consolation for a driver and team that desperately wish to be battling at the sharp end of the grid.
Rosberg crossed the line over ten seconds ahead of his team-mate to claim his second win in succession, his seventh of the season, the 21st win and 50th podium of his career. The result now brings him to within two points of the championship lead. He was visibly jubilant by the result, and led the Tifosi that had packed the main straight under the iconic Monza podium with a rousing sing-along. The crowd had previously given both Mercedes drivers a hostile reception, but Rosberg certainly won them over by addressing them in Italian and belting out the tune of ‘seven nation army’.
There was no need for third place Vettel to win the tifosi over, and the home crowd were delighted to see a Ferrari man on the podium, however they and their beloved team have now gone six years without a home win, and have yet to win a race this season. While Vettel’s first podium in five races is a welcome relief for the team, Ferrari have been stung by yet another season they have considered a failure, without a win to their name as of yet.
Monza marked the end of the ‘European season’ for the 2016 championship, with the teams now heading to Singapore and the start of the final portion of the championship. Rosberg and Hamilton are separated by only two points. While Hamilton must surely remain the favourite for the championship, Rosberg has had his best season to date. The final races promise to be enthralling – can Rosberg continue his good run of form and claim the ultimate prize, or will Hamilton begin to dominate again as he had done prior to the summer break? Will Ferrari or Red Bull be capable of overhauling Mercedes at Singapore? The answer to these questions will begin to become apparent in two weeks’ time, at the Singapore Grand Prix on the 18th September 2016.