Belgian GP 2018
AUGUST 26, 2018
Race Analysis - Clawback
By Dan Knutson
Sebastian Vettel arrived in Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix trailing Lewis Hamilton by 24 points in the drivers' championship. But by soundly defeating Hamilton at Spa, Vettel clawed back seven of those points. This is how that victory came to be.
Ferrari and Vettel had had the upper hand in the previous two rounds - in Germany and Hungary - but Mercedes and Hamilton slid by to win both races. So Hamilton had the momentum coming into Belgium after Formula 1's midseason break.
Both Mercedes and Ferrari had upgraded engines in Belgium.
FAST, FAST & FAST
Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were very fast in all three practice sessions and the first two segments of qualifying at Spa.
But rain in the third and final segment of qualifying turned things into a lottery. Hamilton timed things perfectly to grab the pole. Vettel lined up second.
11 TO 3
Hamilton and Vettel have 11 pole positions between them this season, but this was only the third time in 13 races that they had shared the front row.
The top of the grid was unusual indeed thanks to the rain. Force India teammates Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez filled row two. Romain Grosjean (Haas) and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) were on row three. Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo took row four.
FIRST TO FIRST
Hamilton converted his first place on the grid into first place in the race as he took the lead in the 44-lap race ahead of Vettel.
THE SOURCE OF CHAOS
Further back there was chaos in the La Source Hairpin. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) misjudged his braking and slammed into the back of Fernando Alonso's McLaren. That launched the McLaren over the top of Charles Leclerc's Sauber.
Alonso: "Obviously it was bad. At the start I saw in the mirror Hulkenberg with all four tires locked and he was coming at very high speed. There is no way you can avoid that."
Hulkenberg: "When I hit the brakes I instantly locked up the front wheels, and just sliding into Fernando. Probably a misjudgment from my side, a bit too late on the brakes."
Leclerc: "I felt the impact but the impact was not that big. The image was quite spectacular but it was not that big in the car."
There were more collisions as well. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) hit Sergey Sirotkin (Williams). And Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) hit Raikkonen who had to slow because he was boxed in.
On the long run down the hill to Eau Rouge and then up the hill on the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes, Vettel drafting up behind Hamilton. Perez and Ocon also got a tow.
The result was that the four drivers arrived at the Les Combes corners at the top of the hill nearly four abreast. Ocon and Perez eased off to avoid accidents, and Vettel slipped ahead of Hamilton.
But then the safety car came out because of the accidents. Vettel and Hamilton would have another shot at the lead on the restart that came at the end of lap 4.
This time Vettel got the jump on Hamilton.
"I had a very good restart," Vettel said. "I had a very good exit out of the first corner, kept it clean; it was tricky with the tail wind braking for the first turn."
THAT WAS IT
That was it. Hamilton would not get close enough to challenge Vettel for the rest of the race.
"It's just power," Hamilton said. "They (Ferrari) are able to deploy more, somehow, than us, from Turn 1 to Eau Rouge, and then it carries on down the straight. And it's the same down the back straight. I'm not really sure how but that's how they are."
This was a one stop race, so Hamilton and Mercedes could not deploy any sort of pit strategy to get ahead of Vettel's Ferrari.
Hamilton eased off to consolidate second place in the latter stages of the race.
"I could see he wasn't really pushing the last 15 laps," Vettel said, "so I could relax a little bit more. It was quite tricky. I really enjoyed the race. To get a lot of time on this track is always very nice, in a great car even better."
The grandstands and hillsides were filled with Dutch fans, wearing orange, who had come to cheer for their hero Max Verstappen. He delivered delight to the orange-clad fans as he worked his way from sixth to third and a podium finish albeit a long way behind the front two.
"I had to get past a few cars," Verstappen said. "But we stayed out of trouble and after that we just did our own race and of course very happy to be on the podium here."
INTO THE RECORD BOOKS
Vettel had been tied with Alain Prost for third on the all-time win list with 51 victories each. Michael Schumacher has 91 wins and Hamilton has 67. Win 52 for Vettel puts him in sole third place.
"More wins than Alain, wow!" Vettel said.
HOME RACE CLAWBACK
The next event is Ferrari's home Grand Prix of Italy at Monza. It's another horsepower circuit, and therefore should be another track where Ferrari can beat Mercedes. And that should allow Vettel to claw back some more points on Hamilton.
But then Ferrari was supposed to be on top in Germany and Hungary and Mercedes won both races...