With the much anticipated second half of the F1 season resuming this weekend at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, there was opportunity and disappointment in store from the outset of the weekend.
Starting with the torrential rain on Friday, reminiscent of the British Grand Prix, and the mixed up grid following qualifying on Saturday, it was a weekend to forget for many of the drivers and teams.
After a 5 week break, spectators expected to see significant improvements and upgrades from all teams, but that certainly wasn’t evident from everyone in qualifying, and provided a great platform for mid-field teams to out-qualify many of the big name drivers.
With Rosberg, Massa, Schumacher and Vettel all failing to make it through to the final phase of qualifying, that left the door open for Kobayashi to secure the front row with team mate Perez in 5th, and Maldonado in 3rd for William’s best qualifying of the season. So where did it all go so wrong for the big teams ?
Hamilton had a thoroughly miserable weekend, which he decided to provide a running commentary on via a series of bizarre postings on Twitter (which were quickly removed), venting his frustration around the performance of the his car and ultimately posting a picture of a telemetry trace of not only his car but that of his team mate and providing sensitive technical information for the World to see.
Unable to get the rear wing upgrade to work, Hamilton had to resort back to the old specification and, as a result, was nearly one second a lap slower than team mate Button, who secured pole position and who ultimately brought the car home for a resounding victory. Hamilton had a slightly slow get away from the line on Sunday and was forced into a collision with Grosjean who caused a massive crash into the first corner, taking out Hamilton, Alonso and Perez. Hamilton instantly blamed Grosjean, who has since been handed a one race ban for causing his seventh first lap incident in twelve races.
There were some winners from the mele in the first corner, however - Schumacher climbed from 11th on the grid to 5th, barged his way to 2nd and tried to switch to a one stop race, but ultimately couldn’t make the strategy work and finished 7th. And team mate Rosberg jumped from 23rd to 7th by lap 15 but then spent the rest of the afternoon going backwards to finish out of the points in 11th place. On lap 36 he was aggressively fighting off one Torro Rosso and ended up losing two places in one corner to both Torro Rosso’s.
The two Force India’s climbed from 10th and 12th on the grid to run 3rd and 4th after the first corner, with Hulkenberg holding onto an impressive 4th for the chequered flag and bringing home a great haul of points for the team. Di Resta dropped back to 10th with his DRS failing, to bring home a solitary point.
The Red Bull’s made hard work of the afternoon with their top gear settings limiting their progress on the high speed straights, evidenced by their lack of progress in passing Williams’ Senna. They did, however, provide a masterclass in how to race your team mate on Lap 9.
There were some great moments of entertainment, however - the breathtaking overtake round the outside of Eau Rouge at 185mph as Raikkonen barged past Schumacher for the last time. And the radio comedy provided by Kobayashi and his race engineer – 'Kamui are you saving tyres ?', “No’, 'Can you go faster ? 'No'.
The race stewards had a busy day piecing through the events of Spa – Maldonado’s jump start, Caterham’s unsafe release of Kovalainen into a collision with the Marussia, Di Resta’s front wing rattling overtake on Senna on lap 24, Webber’s marginal release from the pits into the path of Massa, and Schumacher’s aggressive pit entry across the path of Vettel all requiring investigations, in addition to the carnage of the first corner.
The most intriguing event of the weekend was Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One ring master, commenting that Michael Schumacher, participating in his 300th Grand Prix, will be missed in Formula One and that it’s sad he will leave without a victory in his ‘second’ F1 career. This is a clear indication that he believes this will be Schumacher’s last season in the sport which has since been denied by Schumacher himself.
With the second half of the season is underway it has raised even more questions about the future of the sport – will McLaren re-sign Hamilton after his Twitter faux pas ? Will Schumacher drive for another year ? Who will replace him if he leaves ? Can any of the teams find reliability for both of their cars? Who is favourite for the Title ? With 8 races in the next 12 weeks, including three tracks which the teams have never raced before, there are still more questions than answers.
image: © Matthead