Belgian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Mercedes should have walked this one. Nico Rosberg had qualified on pole and Lewis Hamilton gridded second. They were a massive two seconds a lap quicker than their closest competition which was the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Mercedes was going to finish an easy one/two at the end of the 44 lap race, and the only question was would it be Hamilton or Rosberg who won.
The answer was neither as the duo had a controversial collision which allowed Ricciardo to move to the front and go on to win his third grand prix of his career.
"You know everyone was saying we didn't really have a chance around here," Ricciardo said, "but I think we had some really good pace today and surprised ourselves. It feels a bit surreal, but another win is very cool, very cool."
As for the controversial clash between Hamilton and Rosberg, it happened on lap two and spilled over into acrimony after the race.
Hamilton took the lead at the start and led lap one. Rosberg tried to pass him on lap two, but Rosberg's right front wing sliced into Hamilton's left rear tire. A furious Hamilton pitted for new tires. His race was over and the team eventually withdrew his car.
Rosberg stayed in front until his first pit stop at the start of lap 7 when he came in for new tires and a new nose. Ricciardo, who had started fifth, had passed Alonso and Vettel and took the lead on lap 8. He pitted three laps later, which allowed Valtteri Bottas to lead a lap in his Williams, and then Ricciardo was back in front from lap 13 to the checkered flag.
Rosberg climbed back to second place. He pitted for new soft compound tires with 10 laps to go. Ricciardo had stopped on lap 27 for a set of the medium compound Pirellis. Rosberg was 21 seconds behind and closed in on Ricciardo at the rate of three seconds a lap.
"It was difficult staying out at the end of the race," Ricciardo said. "When you're the leader as well you always feel like you're the most vulnerable when it comes to a pit stop or not, but Simon my engineer came on the radio and said I think it's 11 laps left, can these tires get to the end? And I said I think I can keep more or less this pace, and we were able to, and then on the last lap I found a couple more tenths, so I was having a bit of fun then!"
Rosberg finished second, 3.383 of a second behind the Red Bull.
"That was a tough race," he said. "We had the pace to win today but the incident cost us a top result, so I'm really disappointed because for the team it was a bad day."
Team bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda were furious at Rosberg and blamed him for the crash that cost the team the win. Hamilton was seething as well.
"It looked quite clear to me but we just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose," Hamilton said after the race. "He said he did it on purpose, he said he could have avoided it. He said 'I did it to prove a point', he basically said 'I did it to prove a point'. And you don't have to just rely on me, go and ask Toto (Wolff), Paddy (Lowe) and all those guys who are not happy with him as well. I was gobsmacked when I was listening to the meeting. You need to ask him what point he was trying to make."
Wolff later clarified what Rosberg had said.
"Nico felt he needed to hold his line (in the corner)," Wolff said. "He needed to make a point, and for Lewis, it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico. He (Rosberg) didn't give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space, and that Lewis didn't leave him space.
"So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion amongst ourselves, but it wasn't deliberately crashing. That is nonsense. It was deliberately taking into account that if Lewis moves or would open then it could end up in a crash. What we saw there was that Nico was not prepared to take the exit, and that caused the collision. That is not something we want to happen."
Rosberg then gave his view of the controversial clash.
"As drivers, we are here to entertain and to show the fans a good time," he said, "so our duels are always on the limit. I regret that Lewis and myself touched, but I see it as a racing incident - just as the stewards did. I was quicker down the straight and went to the outside as the inside line was blocked.
"I gave it a go and, after we touched, I realized that my front wing was damaged and thought that was it. In the next second I saw that Lewis also had a problem, which was very unfortunate for him and for the team. We sat down quickly after the race but there will be some more meetings to be held in to avoid races like today."
Lost in all the drama at the front was that Bottas had finished third. It was his fourth podium in five races.
"Obviously yesterday the weather played a role in the qualifying," he said, "and we knew that in the dry we would have better pace than in the wet, so we were really hopeful for today. I have to say that we are little bit surprised by the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes. They were quite a bit far away.
"Of course our race was a bit compromised after the poor start. I was quite a long time stuck behind some other cars and couldn't really go at the pace we had. But yeah, had some good overtakes. We had good pit stops and good strategy by the team and that allowed us to come up a few places and again to the podium."
Kimi Raikkonen, who had battles with Bottas and other drivers, wound up fourth in his Ferrari.
"We had decided to tackle this race more aggressively, making an early stop to get ahead of the cars that had yet to pit and that meant I was able to stay with the leaders for much of the race," Raikkonen said. "When Bottas in the Williams began to close on me, I knew I didn't have the speed to defend on the straight and with a few laps to go, he managed to pass me.
"In general, I'm happy with how this weekend ended. We knew it would not be easy on this circuit, but we did our utmost and for the first time, we managed to have a clean race without any problems. The car has improved and today the pace was good."
There were some intense fights between Raikkonen, Bottas, Alonso, Vettel and McLaren teammates Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.
Vettel and Alonso collided on the last lap.
"Towards the end of the race was good," said Vettel who finished fifth. "I was in a rush to get through because the laps were going down and obviously Alonso and Magnussen didn't have fresh tires, so Jenson and I caught them fairly quickly. In the end it was good not to lose a position compared to when we decided to pit, which was probably a little bit late, but in the end we maintained the position.
"The battle was fairly interesting, it was a bit all over the place with people pushing each other off on the track, but we race hard, although sometimes maybe a bit too hard!"
Magnussen finished sixth but officials bumped him down to 12th because he had pushed Alonso off the track.
"Despite being penalized after the race, I have to say I enjoyed the weekend," Magnussen said. "I had great fun out there this afternoon - I was involved in exciting racing on an awesome circuit. It was a tough challenge, because everyone around me had slightly fresher tires than I did, and they're all great drivers: they're not the easiest guys to keep behind. So I just tried my best to defend my position as well as I could."
Button was awarded sixth place.
"We played the long game today - most people were making their pit-stops early - and I felt I kept the tires in good condition," Button said. "I also had a lot of fun out there, especially racing Kevin (Magnussen), Sebastian (Vettel) and Fernando (Alonso) at the end.
"In the final laps Kevin and I didn't touch, although I had to back off a bit at Turn Eight, when Fernando ran off as he and Kevin were dicing. I lost a place to Fernando there, which was a bit of a shame, and in turn a place to Sebastian after that, but as I say I really enjoyed it out there. It's such a fantastic circuit; driving here always feels so good."
Alonso rounded out the top eight. He had to serve a 5 second stop and go penalty because his mechanics were still trying to start his car with less than 15 seconds to go before the final formation lap.
"Today my race started on the back foot as the car did not fire up and we had to use another battery," he said. "It's a shame because we had a strong pace all weekend and, starting fourth, we could have finished on the podium. With a penalty to take and on a circuit where top speed is our weak point, we knew we didn't stand much of a chance, but all the same we did our best.
"Unfortunately, towards the end there was some rather questionable driving and after my front wing was damaged in a coming together with Vettel, the important thing was to get to the checkered flag. I know the Stewards acted on what happened, but I don't think it's that important when you are fighting for sixth and seventh places."
After the race, Ricciardo was all smiles. But nobody was smiling at Mercedes after the controversial clash between Rosberg and Hamilton.
"Today we saw our worst case scenario when the drivers made contact on lap two," Mercedes Motorsport Director Toto Wolff, said. "That ultimately cost us a one/two finish today, because we saw that our car had that kind of performance in it. It has been our clear policy to let the drivers race this year but rule number one is: don't hit each other. To see that kind of contact, so early in the race, is an unacceptable level of risk to be taking out on track. It cannot - and will not - happen again."
Will it happen again? What will be the fallout from all this? We will find out in two weeks time at the Italian Grand Prix.