After a thrilling Belgian Grand Prix DAVID HOOPER reviews the action from Spa.
FORMULA 1 returned to the track at the legendary Spa circuit in Belgium at the weekend after taking its traditional summer break – and what a thrilling race it was.
A higgledy-piggledy qualifying session was dominated by British star Jenson Button who topped the time sheets in each of the three sessions, claiming only his first pole for McLaren. He was joined on the front row by Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber, while many of the top drivers were out of position further down the grid.
When the lights went out to start the second half of the 2012 season, Pastor Maldonado was more anxious than the rest of the field to get things underway, but was judged to have made a jump start by the officials, but to me, it looked as though he got his timing perfect, launching his car out of its box the instant the lights went out.
We only had to wait a few seconds for the race to turn into a demolition derby, thanks to Roman Grosjean pushing Lewis Hamilton to the edge of the circuit after moving across the track. Hamilton had nowhere to go and there was contact between the two cars. The McLaren jumped onto the back of Grosjean’s Lotus and the pair collected an innocent Fernando Alonso who likened the impact to being “hit by a train”, taking several of the front-runners, including the championship leader, out of the grand prix. Sergio Perez’s Sauber was also rendered undriveable and had to retire.
As the cars tangled, and Grosjean flew over the top of the Ferrari, it was fortunate a nasty crash didn’t have more serious consequences, as the Lotus missed Alonso’s head by inches. It’s a while since we’ve witnessed such carnage at the start of a grand prix, but it served as a timely reminder of just how dangerous this sport can be.
The surviving cars picked their way through the wreckage as the safety car took to the track while the expensive debris was cleared away.
At the restart, Button replicated the form he had shown in qualifying, dominating the field and pulling away, opening up an invincible lead. McLaren’s pit-stop troubles seem to have been sorted as well, with Jenson’s only stop of the race being completed in a record-matching 2.6 seconds.
The Mercedes team were off the pace, but after the first lap shenanigans, Michael Schumacher, who claimed his first victory at Spa, was sitting in fifth place and proved to be one of the stars of the race, running in second for a while.
Some thrilling driving saw he and Sebastian Vettel, who was working hard to make up some positions after starting in 11th, going head-to-head at the Bus Stop chicane, while a later incident with Kimi Raikkonen at Eau Rouge had me on the edge of my seat as the Fin tried to replicate Alonso’s move on Webber at last year’s event. Thankfully Schumacher, who was clearly taken by surprise, lifted off the throttle to let the Fin through, only to retake the place before the next corner, helped by a better aero set-up which made the German ace very fast in a straight line, but slower in the corners.
There were some enthralling battles up and down the field, but it was the 2009 world champion Jenson Button who took the chequered flag, reigniting his title challenge which some were beginning to think was slipping beyond his reach. He was joined on the podium by Vettel who battled up through the field to finish second, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who finished third in his Lotus – yet still looked miserable!
He is now back on terms with his team-mate, just a few points behind, while at the top of the table, Vettel, who finished second in his Red Bull is now 24 points adrift of Alonso.
It wasn’t such a good day for the Belgian driver who caused the crash at the start of the race – Grosjean has been banned from competing at the next grand prix in Monza this weekend – the first driver to be banned from a race since Michael Schumacher in 1994.