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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.

F1's midfield cash in // Financial woes eased with good results but Grosjean is the star

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As ever the Belgian GP provided the F1 world with plenty of intrigue. And while we weren’t treated to a classic GP in the Ardennes Forest, partly due to the weirdly sunny weather, there were still plenty of battles throughout the field. As expected, the long straights and flat out nature of the circuit provided the four Mercedes teams with a real edge but the twisty high speed sector two also offered a little something for everyone else, so long as they had a decent chassis.

F1’s forgotten man back on podium

Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team: Started 9th, Finished 3rd

The Frenchman was racing under incredibly difficult circumstances
Credit: Lotus F1 Team

The man of the hour has got to be Romain Grosjean. Much like Felipe Nasr in Australia, the Frenchman was racing under incredibly difficult circumstances with the threat of bailiffs hanging over the team. Despite that he was on it as soon as he stepped into the car at one of the tracks viewed as one of his worst, largely due to a foolish squeeze on Lewis Hamilton into turn one three years ago.

The Lotus was showing pace all weekend, with Grosjean 7th in FP2 having missed FP1 with Jolyon Palmer taking over the Frenchman’s duties. To be fair, Pastor Maldonado was quick all weekend too, despite a crash in first practice. Grosjean was comfortably through to Q2, beating the cut-off time by six tenths in a very tight first session where tyre choice was everything. Q2 was slightly tighter as Grosjean beat 11th placed Nico Hülkenberg’s time by two tenths of a second as both Lotuses made it through to the final part of qualifying for the first time since Canada.

While Maldonado put in a strong lap for eighth, it was Romain Grosjean who stole the show, qualifying fourth only two hundredths behind Valtteri Bottas. What made Grosjean’s performance even better was that it was done in the knowledge that he would have to take a five place grid drop for a gearbox change, relegating him to an ordinary ninth place.

Grosjean got past Massa at the start and when his teammate’s bad luck continued with an early retirement, the Frenchman was up to 7th in the lead pack behind Lewis Hamilton. Grosjean chose not to react to the early stoppers ahead of him, pitting at the end of lap nine, jumping Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel in the process. When Daniel Ricciardo lost power exiting the Bus Stop, it looked like a straight fight between Grosjean and Pérez for an unlikely spot on the podium.

It looked like a straight fight between Grosjean and Pérez for an unlikely spot on the podium

Pitting a lap later than the Mexican elevated Grosjean up to fourth as Pérez got stuck in traffic. But suddenly Grosjean’s miracle podium looked in doubt as Ferrari had a trick up their sleeve. After running long in the first stint, they thought Vettel could survive 29 laps to get to the end on a one stop strategy. Grosjean harried the German desperate for third place but just when it looked like his tyres were gone, Vettel’s really were. He suffered a blowout on the Kemel straight a lap and a half from home as Ferrari expected too much from the medium tyres. Grosjean had his podium and just had to coast home.

It was clear how much it meant to Romain Grosjean, crying on the radio and running over to the team in Parc Ferme. This from a man who had been on the podium nine times before. He may be a forgotten man in terms of the top teams but he showed Ferrari in Belgium that when the chips are down, he has true pace and performs in the trickiest circumstances, securing vital prize money for the cash-strapped Lotus team.

A point well-earned for Ericsson

Marcus Ericsson, Sauber F1 Team: Started 13th, Finished 10th

It’s been a rough few months for Sauber with only one point since Monaco in May. Without Mercedes power and with an underdeveloped car, their prospects at Spa were bleak. The pace wasn’t showing in practice, fighting the McLarens ahead of the Marussias. The potential was shown in second practice where Marcus Ericsson set the eighth best time ahead of teammate Nasr before going off at Pouhon.

Qualifying brought Sauber back down to earth with Felipe Nasr falling at the first hurdle while Ericsson got everything out of the car to progress by three tenths. Ericsson was then able to profit for the car failures of Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen, ending up 13th on the grid.

Ericsson made a fantastic start to jump up to ninth
Credit: Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson made a fantastic start to jump up to ninth but the pace of the car meant that he couldn’t hold Kvyat, Verstappen or Räikkönen behind for long. Ericsson pitted on lap nine with most of the pack going on an alternate strategy on the medium tyres. On the slower tyre, Ericsson was just able to maintain the gap to Verstappen ahead and raced with Bottas too following his penalty.

His efforts were rewarded with a couple of laps to go, being promoted to tenth when Sebastian Vettel’s tyre blew, earning a well-deserved point. The truth is that Sauber are in a bit of a chasm as the eighth fastest team, with a gap to McLaren and then Marussia but with a mountain to climb to catch Lotus, Toro Rosso and Force India. Ericsson got the absolute maximum out of the car to finish tenth, 10 seconds ahead of his teammate as Ericsson managed his tyre life better.

Perfect Pérez comes up with big result

Sergio Pérez, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 4th, Finished 5th

Force India have always gone well at Spa. I remember standing at Pouhon as Giancarlo Fisichella put his car on pole (I had jokingly predicted it at the start of Q3) and then took the fight to Kimi Räikkönen in the race. If you trace their pedigree back further, they won their first race at Spa as Jordan with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher securing a 1-2.

Pérez just about held on for fifth and 10 big points for Force India

Sergio Pérez was left to carry the flag for the Silverstone team in Spa as Nico Hülkenberg lost power in qualifying and then couldn’t even take the start. Having qualified a marvellous fifth on the back of the car’s blistering top speed, Pérez jumped from fourth on the grid up to second ahead of Bottas and Rosberg. It even allowed Sergio to have a run at Hamilton on the outside of Les Combes but the Mexican decided against risking a good chance of points with a 50/50 move. With a weaker chassis than Mercedes, that was his chance of competing for the lead gone, unable to keep up in sector two.

Pérez stayed in second until Red Bull forced their hand with an early stop. Force India reacted but he lost out to the undercut and had to pass Ricciardo three laps later but by then Nico Rosberg was already through into second. A slow second stop allowed Vettel and Grosjean past and then Force India’s aggressive strategy (option-option-prime with a long 23 lap stint on prime) left Pérez struggling for grip at the end of the race, unable to hold back Kvyat. But Pérez just about held on for fifth and 10 big points for Force India - their best result since Canada last year.

Force India have always gone well at Spa
Credit: Sahara Force India

Red Bull Run Continues

Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, Infiniti Red Bull Racing: Started 5th & 12th, Finished DNF & 4th respectively

Despite all the protestations that the Renault engine lacks power as well as reliability, Red Bull continued their good form in Belgium, a track that was likely to highlight their weakness. The car’s true pace was clear, securing sixth and twelfth in qualifying, with Ricciardo the fastest non-Mercedes-powered driver. The good performance on Saturday put Ricciardo in with a great chance of a podium, running third early on. The Aussie was in fourth, chasing Grosjean for the final podium place when he suffered a hydraulic failure.

By then though Daniil Kvyat was in a position for some good points, running seventh. When he came out from his final stop on the soft tyres, the Russian was tenth, 25 seconds behind the fight for the podium but the fresher, softer rubber put him in position to work his way through the field, despite a power deficit going up to Les Combes. He got past Bottas, then Verstappen and was then in the queue behind Massa and Räikkönen in seventh with six laps to go. He passed Kimi with ease before Massa put up a fight and then got very excited as he overtook Pérez on lap 40, putting him fifth and then fourth as Vettel limped home for Kvyat’s third point’s finish in a row.

While Ricciardo was robbed of a good points finish himself, don’t look now but his younger teammate moved ahead of him to seventh in the standings despite a rough start to the season that put pressure on the Russian starlet.