Sunday, 24 August 2014

Belgium: post-race analysis

Well, the bet didn’t come off. Very unusually, Alonso’s engineers didn’t clear the car in time for the formation lap (he needed a new battery at the last minute) leading to a 5 second penalty at a pit stop (which sounds mild and might otherwise be, but it had a substantial impact on his race result). So, the bet was red and the hedge unmatched. Would he have had a podium but for that? Possibly. Raikkonen was very close, but it’s worth mentioning Alonso also suffered a slowdown on the last few laps (he may just have been conserving the car after ending up 8th after a very tight battle for 5-8th places). Anyway, disappointing, but lucks always plays a role and it doesn’t always go well.

There was drama off the start. Rosberg started poorly, Hamilton well. Alonso, lacking the opportunity to go through the usual routine to optimise the start procedure due to the aforementioned battery problem and dysfunctional formation lap, was a bit lacklustre and both Red Bulls had a good start.

On lap 1 the Mercedes, Hamilton leading, were battling tightly. Hamilton cut across Rosberg, on the racing line. The German lost a substantial portion of his front wing, and the Briton ended up with a punctured rear tyre at the worst part of the lap.

Rosberg got the lead, Hamilton spent about 3 miles trundling back to the pit, the shredded rubber flaying his floor and further damaging the car. In effect, Hamilton’s race ended there (despite his continuous calls to retire, the team kept him out until lap 39 of 44).

It was a racing incident. No man was to blame, though one suspects it will not engender warm and fuzzy feelings between the two drivers.
Added extra bit: was just watching the BBC livefeed after the race. Apparently Mercedes blames Rosberg, publicly. If so, that’s both foolish and wrong. If a driver cuts across a car in front of him that can lead to the position being defended, the lead car suffering a puncture, or the following car losing part of the front wing. It was a racing incident.

Rosberg did not escape scot-free. The damage to his front wing was substantially hampering his performance, eventually leading to an early stop (meaning he had to switch to a three stop strategy) which was 7s or so longer than usual due to a nose change. In essence, it cost him victory. But he made up 18 points on Hamilton, so I don’t think he’ll be too upset.

Early on, the top 6 were all within 1s of the driver ahead.

Rosberg’s woes, Hamilton’s retirement and Alonso’s long stop putting him into traffic meant we had the two Red Bulls at the sharp end. Vettel made a small mistake enabling Ricciardo to pass, and from there the grinning assassin did not look back. Vettel ended up in traffic after pit stops, and, like Alonso, struggled to make much headway.

Weirdly, Hamilton couldn’t get much above 16th. One can only assume his floor was wrecked (and he was about 60-70s off the leader for most of the time).

Raikkonen had stopped very early, but unlike others this worked to his advantage. For a long time the Finn was in a podium position, but, late on, fell victim to the mighty straight line speed of the Williams as Bottas claimed his fourth podium position of the year.

Because Rosberg pitted so early when he eventually clambered into 2nd, behind Ricciardo, he could not make the tyres last. So, he pitted and went on a charge. Although he cut down the lead the Aussie had from about 20s to just a few, he was never close enough to challenge. He’ll be disappointed, but extending his lead over Hamilton by 18 points will probably lighten his mood rather a lot.

For the last few laps positions 5-8th were all within a second of one another, and there were fantastic scenes on-screen as we saw the McLarens, Alonso and Vettel dice with one another. Ultimately the order was Vettel, Magnussen, Button and Alonso [thanks to Ally from Twitterland: it turns out the Spaniard lost part of his front wing, hence slowness]. Perez and Kvyat rounded out the top 10.

So, it was a rather eventful race, with quite a lot of on-track action. Surprised the Mercedes wasn’t more dominant. Worth noting, however, that the Red Bull’s rear wing was skinnier than a supermodel on a diet, whereas Mercedes and Williams (due partly to the wet qualifying) both had fuller wings. That means more potential to strip downforce for Monza, boosting top speed. I expect the Italian race to be between Mercedes and Williams.

Force India were the worst of the Mercedes-powered cars today, by quite a long way. Hulkenberg didn’t even score, and McLaren have bolstered their advantage over Force India in the Constructors’. Massa was very off-colour, an anonymous 13th compared to his team mate’s podium. Illness? Car trouble? Not sure, but it means Ferrari retain 3rd in the Constructors’ despite Bottas’ excellent showing.

Both Lotuses retired again. Hell of a comedown from last season (they’re like the Anti-Williams). I hope for Grosjean’s sake they can get pace, or reliability (or even both) for next season, because right now it’s a shade embarrassing. One of them touched Bianchi’s car on the opening lap, which caused a puncture. The talented Frenchman retired, though I’m not sure whether or not it was as a direct result of the contact.

Rosberg 220
Hamilton 191
Ricciardo 156

Is Ricciardo now a contender?

No. Why not? He’s had three wins, but all three had large elements of luck. That’s not to say he didn’t deserve them (he was in the position to take advantage) but it is to say he won’t have huge slices of fortune at enough races and the Red Bull is too far behind (perhaps excepting Singapore) to consistently challenge the Mercedes on pace. Twenty-nine points is a tasty lead, but because of the double-points idiocy 50 is the magic number. I would be surprised if Rosberg accrues such an advantage by Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes 411
Red Bull 254
Ferrari 158
Williams 150
McLaren 111
Force India 100

Short of a miracle the title is Mercedes’. I do think Red Bull are almost nailed on for 2nd. Ferrari should lose 3rd to Williams, but Raikkonen drove his best race of the season by a mile at Spa and if he maintains that form Williams might find themselves struggling for bronze position. To be honest, I think Williams will overtake the prancing horse, as their car is simply better (but it will need Massa to pull his weight).

Force India’s lack of upgrades is hurting them now. The McLaren is a better car and Force India, having been one of the best teams earlier, are now looking like finishing 6th, despite a strong driver pairing.

The murmuring I read on the BBC livefeed after the race suggests bad blood from Hamilton towards Rosberg, and that the Mercedes bosses blame the German driver. Maybe on replay it’ll look different, but at the time my feeling was 100% that it was a racing incident. Hamilton cut across Rosberg multiple times defending in Bahrain. Sometimes, an accident happens and it can hurt neither, one, or both drivers.

Monza is next, in a fortnight. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the odds on Williams top scoring.

Morris Dancer

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