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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Alonso storms through the field // Fernando scores unlikely points as McLaren’s redemption continues

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Stopping on his out lap at the top of Eau Rouge was still far from ideal preparation
Credit: McLaren Honda

While it may not be endurance racing, the Belgian GP really did feel like a sprint, with drivers desperate to hit the front early. As it happened, the chaotic first six laps led to a stalemate for the rest of the race, as everyone attempted to stretch out their stints beyond their optimum and few daring to risk an aggressive strategy. That said, with so many drivers out of place, there were still some good performances in Belgium.

Brilliant Alonso secures miraculous points

Fernando Alonso, McLaren Honda: Started 22nd, Finished 7th

While Lewis Hamilton’s drive through the field took all the plaudits, it was Alonso’s that was perhaps more impressive. Alonso said before the race that he planned to follow a Mercedes through to the front of the field, but in fact he was the police escort for Hamilton as the pair climbed up through the pack, avoiding the melee at turn one and then profiting from the safety car and red flag to gain a pit stop on those ahead.

Alonso said before the race that he planned to follow a Mercedes through to the front of the field
Credit: McLaren Honda

With several grid penalties to take, qualifying was a write off on the Spaniard’s side of the garage, although stopping on his out lap at the top of Eau Rouge was still far from ideal preparation. Despite the issue and additional penalties, Alonso made a fantastic start to the race and by the end of lap one he was up to 12th and in with a great chance of points. The concern for McLaren was the circuit wasn’t best suited to their car, with the long straights exposing Honda’s remaining deficiencies. Regardless, Alonso was up another two places to 10th by the end of lap three.

Then came a vital decision. Kevin Magnussen’s huge crash at Radillion on lap 6 brought out the safety car, allowing anyone who hadn’t already pitted to repair damage to dump their supersoft tyres. Would McLaren lose out by not taking the free stop? Or were they better utilising the longer strategy length of the medium tyres? In the end Alonso hit the jackpot as just as it looked like it wouldn’t be needed the red flag was called, gifting Alonso a free stop, along with Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo.

By the time of the stoppage, Alonso was fourth and now in a great position for a good haul of points for McLaren, even with faster cars behind. Hamilton passed the Spaniard on lap 12 before Alonso set to holding off the Force Indias. McLaren had decided to take their degradation pain early, changing to the soft tyres under the red flag, before changing back to mediums on lap 23 to go to the end of the race.

Seventh place from the back row on a track that McLaren were dreading should cheer the Spaniard up

By the time of his only real stop, Alonso had dropped behind Hülkenberg, with Pérez on fresher rubber behind. The Mexican used the five-lap fresh tyres to his advantage, getting by on lap 30. Now in sixth, it was a game of survival. The Ferraris and Williams were closing in and the Ferraris were on softer tyres. However, it was only Vettel that caught and passed Alonso, with a relatively easy DRS move on the Kemel Straight, as Alonso held off the Williams and Räikkönen over the last ten laps.

Clearly it isn’t what two-time world champion Fernando Alonso rejoined McLaren for but seventh place from the back row on a track that McLaren were dreading should cheer the Spaniard up.

Great drive comes up just short once again

Nico Hülkenberg, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 7th, Finished 4th

The Hulk couldn’t quite break his podium duck but he still put on a show and beat his teammate as Force India were the primary team to profit from the mixed up race when other midfield teams got involved in the chaos and couldn’t hold off the Ferraris and Williams'.

Hülkenberg was just over a tenth behind his teammate in qualifying as Force India delivered on one of their favourite circuits. Even starting on the fourth row Hülkenberg was somehow second by the end of lap one as the Ferraris and Verstappen came to blows. Force India will be kicking themselves that Alonso profited. Like most, Hülkenberg and Pérez entered a crowded pitlane on lap six, looking to ditch the supersoft rubber with minimal time loss. The strategy may well have worked had the race not been suspended, but instead of being second and fifth, they were third and seventh, with all those ahead changing tyres without losing positions.

Hülkenberg ran third, craving a maiden podium
Credit: Sahara Force India

Still it looked a good opportunity to eat into Williams lead in the Constructors’ championship. Hülkenberg ran third, craving a maiden podium, until lap 18 when Hamilton got past. By lap 21, he was back ahead as Hamilton himself pitted before Hülkenberg on lap 23. With Hamilton stopping one more time, there was an outside shot of a podium if he could stay within range. The German did so, just, and when the World Championship leader rejoined after his final stop he was between the Force Indias. Unfortunately, with a faster car and seven lap fresher tyres, Hamilton was past by the end of the lap, ruining Hülkenberg’s hopes of a first podium but fourth was a great result, and with Pérez following him home, it was enough to jump the team up to fourth place in the championship.

Vettel recovers from spin to spare Ferrari’s blushes

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 3rd, Finished 6th

Ferrari may not have capitalised on a wounded Mercedes team in Spa but both Ferraris did a decent job of recovering from a first corner calamity. Despite Sergio Marchionne’s latest threat, sixth was a low expectation for Ferrari at Spa. To achieve that with both cars heavily wounded at the first corner shows the strong performance in the car. However, it does lead to more of a discussion about what might have been with a chaotic start and a Mercedes at the back.

With fresh tyres and a fixed Ferrari, Vettel smelt blood

Having been two tenths off his teammate (and considered a Spa specialist) Räikkönen in qualifying. Between Vettel pinching in and Verstappen’s desperate lunge into the first corner, the Ferraris and the Red Bull collided at turn one, leaving Vettel pointing the wrong way and the other two with damaged front wings. By the end of lap one, Vettel was 19th and Räikkönen 21st. By lap five, Vettel had recovered to 15th.

Starting on soft tyres, the German stayed out under the safety car, moving up to the edge of the points in 11th and cashing in to change tyres during the red flag. With fresh tyres and a fixed Ferrari, Vettel smelt blood and climbed past Palmer, Grosjean and Kvyat before he stopped. He rejoined from his only true pitstop in tenth on lap 24. He was soon past Verstappen as the Dutchman struggled to make his tyres last before passing his predecessor Massa on lap 34 and then Alonso a lap later to finish sixth and overtake Räikkönen in the standings, as well as keeping Ferrari just about in touch with Red Bull.

With fresh tyres and a fixed Ferrari, Vettel smelt blood
Credit: Ferrari Media