8 things we learnt from the Belgian Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg’s sixth victory of the season & Hamilton’s charge through the field. Here are eight talking points from the Belgian Grand Prix.

It started with chaos as the Ferrari’s collided with Verstappen, Magnussen ate the tyre barrier at Eau Rouge and Rosberg eased to victory. But while Nico edged away unchallenged, his team-mate faced a mountain to climb as Mercedes utilised the rules to allow Hamilton to bank power units for the remainder of the season.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix race start. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team

2016 Belgian Grand Prix race start. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

1) Different driver, same result?

Back in China, while Kvyat still raced for the Red Bull team, a first corner collision left Ferrari fuming and the Red Bull on the defensive. And now, coming out of Belgium, it’s happened again. Only, this time, Verstappen’s the man with Ferrari’s fingers pointed at him.

The incident in Spa, like in Shanghai, occurred on the opening lap, at the first corner, with the Red Bull darting down the inside of a Ferrari. This time, the man on the inside was Verstappen and the man to his left was Raikkonen – with Vettel far to the left on the outside line. Rather than in China, where Kvyat darted into the space vacated by Vettel – who then flicked into the path of his Finnish team-mate.

But, like in China when Kvyat was not to blame given the space he attacked was open when the Ferrari’s ran wide, was Verstappen’s move the cause of the collision?

In part, Verstappen was to blame. As, following his poor start when he bogged down and the Ferrari’s moved ahead, Max sought to regain at least one lost position by attacking the apex. Unfortunately for all, La Source was once again the scene of a collision as the space Verstappen looked for was no longer there.

On the other hand, however, Verstappen was not completely to blame. For Verstappen was all the way to the right and riding the kerb once the trio arrived at the first corner. While Raikkonen, in the middle, could have diverted to his left had Vettel not chopped down from the outside.

With Vettel chopping down from the outside of the corner, Raikkonen was pinched towards the apex – where Verstappen sat – and the collision occurred.

Vettel possibly could not have seen Verstappen, and therefore not have foreseen the collision. But Verstappen on the apex was no more, or less, to blame than Vettel. Hence why no investigation was made by the race stewards regarding the collision.

Kimi Raikkonen - Jen_Ross84

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari. Photo Credit: Jen_Ross83.

2) Raikkonen rants at Verstappen

Following the turn one collision, tempers had already risen between Verstappen and the Ferrari drivers. And following Hungary, where Raikkonen showed clear displeasure with how Verstappen defended, a precedent was set for how other drivers deemed Max’s moves.

Then, during the Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen’s defensive moves were back in Raikkonen’s headlights. With Kimi forced to back off down the Kemmel straight after contact was already made at Les Combes.

The contact at Les Combes came as Verstappen sought not to lose the position to his more experienced rival. But diving back down the inside of the Ferrari forced Raikkonen to take to the run off. Much to Kimi’s annoyance.

Raikkonen via radio: “His [Verstappen’s] only interest is pushing me off the track. This is just f****** ridiculous.”

Then, to build on Kimi’s frustrations, Max attempted a very late move to block Raikkonen off as he sought to utilise DRS and slipstream to propel ahead.

Raikkonen via radio: “Come on this is f****** ridiculous now! He’s [Verstappen’s] f****** moving all over the road!”

Following the race, Raikkonen was questioned about the Verstappen incidents. Claiming: “I’m all up for fair battles and close racing.
“But when I have to back off after Eau Rouge on the straight when I made my move – I had to brake not to hit him, because he turns after I make my move the first time – that, I think, is not correct.
“We were fortunate there wasn’t a big accident because of that.”

Max Verstappen - Jen_Ross83

Max Verstappen, Red Bull. Photo Credit: Jen_Ross83.

3) Ferrari racers should be ‘ashamed’

While Vettel blamed Verstappen for causing the turn one incident, claiming his “bold” move would never pay off due to there not being space for three cars in the corner, Verstappen holds rather different beliefs.

Following the race, Max went on the aggressive in his defence – claiming the Ferrari’s should be “ashamed” to have caused the crash.

“I think they should be ashamed to cause a crash like that with their amount of experience and then complain about me.
“Then they don’t have to make a drama about what happened afterwards. They have to understand I’m not happy with them screwing up my entire race.
“There was room for three cars. When I got alongside Kimi, he started squeezing me. If Vettel hadn’t turned in and left one more metre of room, we would have all gotten through.”

Then, after the contact, Max sought not to make the race easy for the Ferrari’s.

“If they screw up my race, I’m not going to make it easy for them,” he said. “I think they should understand that.
“I’m not going to say: ‘come on through’. But all that happened after turn one. If turn one hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been so aggressive and pushed Raikkonen out like that.”

Magnussen - Renault

Kevin Magnussen, Belgian GP 2016. Copyright: Renault Sport F1.

4) F1 safety saves Magnussen from major injuries

There has already been one horror crash this season when Alonso rolled his McLaren through the gravel in Australia. Thankfully then, as his car deformed while the energy escaped in the roll, he was able to walk away freely. Although further medical checks showed damage to his ribs, leading to Fernando missing a race.

And last time out, at Spa-Francorchamps, another horror crash unfolded as Magnussen’s Renault spun coming out of Eau Rouge. Sending him, at high speeds, crashing into the tyre barrier.

Thankfully again, as his car hit the barrier, the energy escaped and the safety systems on board did their jobs to protect Magnussen from any serious injuries.

However, while Kevin was able to walk away unaided, he did suffer a small cut to his left ankle – which saw Magnussen escorted to a nearby hospital for further routine checks.

Along with the small cut, and more worryingly, the headrest surrounding Magnussen flung away from the Renault during the incident. Leading the FIA to investigate the damage caused in order to understand and learn from what happened.

Despite the short turnaround between the Belgian and Italian Grand Prix’s, Magnussen is expected to compete in the back-to-back event. Tweeting a short message describing his injuries following the race.

Mercedes-Benz power unit

The Mercedes-Benz AMG Formula One Hybrid power unit.

5) Hamilton banks three power units

Early season misfortunes meant Hamilton was always facing the prospect of a lengthy grid penalty at some point in the season, due to having already reached the five power units allowed.

With this in mind, Mercedes came to Belgium with the intention to bring three more units into Hamilton’s pool and only take the one penalty – as allowed by F1 rules and demonstrated by McLaren at last year’s Austrian GP.

By changing unit for each of the three practice sessions across the weekend, Hamilton amassed a 55-place grid penalty – which stretched to 60 following a gearbox seal being broken.

In addition, Lewis has three brand new engines for the remaining races. As well as his latest batch of power units being the upgraded Mercedes engines.

Lewis Hamilton during FP2 at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton during FP2 at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

6) Podium charge showed the strength of the field

Despite being able to reach the podium from the back row of the grid, Hamilton’s podium charge did show the strength the field has gained over the past two years.

Back in the hybrid power unit’s inaugural season, Hamilton suffered from two failures that saw him start from the rear of the field. And at both, the 2014 German Grand Prix (when a brake failure span him out in Q1) and the Hungarian Grand Prix (when a fuel leak caused a fire), Hamilton managed to reach the podium with relative ease – as did Rosberg in that year’s Russian Grand Prix when a first corner lock up sent him to the pits.

Whereas at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton’s back of the grid start was only expected to amount to a low points finish. It was not until the Safety Car/red flag that Hamilton’s podium potential truly presented itself.

Even Hamilton admitted to the struggles he faced following qualifying amidst the high temperatures: “The others look like they have some pace, and because of the temperature it was probably the worst time to take the penalties, but it is what it is.”

Hamilton’s podium charge also set a new record at Spa, for the lowest grid spot to the podium – breaking Michael Schumacher’s long-held record from 1995, where he won the race from 16th place on the grid – even though Lewis only actually overtook four healthy competitors in Kvyat, Ocon, Alonso and Hulkenberg.

In the process of gaining places early on, Hamilton gained massively from the incidents between Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel, along with the Wehrlein/Button incident and Sainz’s tyre explosion. Added to that, other drivers pitted before the Safety Car and red flag which moved Hamilton further through the order – and into fifth, behind Alonso having given the place back after overtaking Fernando as the Safety Car came out.

Nico Hulkenberg, running in third place during the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Force India.

Nico Hulkenberg, running in third place during the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Force India.

7) Red flag hampered Hulkenberg’s maiden podium charge

After starting Sunday’s Grand Prix in seventh place, Hulkenberg found himself running in third when Magnussen crashed out of the race after gaining from the misfortunes of Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel.

But while he had a great opening few laps, Hulkenberg’s chances of a maiden podium finish fell by the sides when the red flag fell. As Ricciardo ahead could freely change his damaged front wing without a penalty, and Hamilton in fifth could take a free tyre change following an early charge as others pitted.

In the end, Hulkenberg would go on to score his joint best finish in Formula One – taking his third, fourth place finish at the same circuit as his first back in 2012. But, up until the red flag, Hulkenberg had a shot at scoring his first podium finish during his 107 Formula One Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez, in the VJM09, making a pit stop. Copyright: Force India.

Sergio Perez, in the VJM09, making a pit stop. Copyright: Force India.

8) Williams’ slip is Force India’s gain

Although Hulkenberg was forced to settle for fourth, Sergio Perez joining him in fifth meant the team amassed enough points to snatch fourth place in the constructor’s championship away from Williams.

Williams came into the season on the back of back-to-back third places in the constructor’s championship after Ferrari, then Red Bull, had an off year.

But as others developed their cars, Williams have fallen off the pace and struggled for results in 2016. Allowing the developed Force India to move ahead by two points.

Speaking on the achievement, Hulkenberg noted: “We’re very happy. But we want to be fourth on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi. There are still eight races to go and a long way.”