Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

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.

Finns show how it should be done // Spa shows how eventful it is, even in the dry

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While the traditional war between England and Germany (well, a lone German) was reignited, there was actually some sense provided on the track by others. I'll get to the impending doom at Mercedes but let's first credit the Scandinavians and the faultless Daniel Ricciardo (who won with extreme maturity) for their spectacular drives to pick up big results as the big names faltered and tripped over one another. 

Räikkönen's renaissance?

Kimi Räikkönen, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 8th, Finished 4th

Kimi has always had little trouble extracting the maximum around the long Spa-Francorchamps track and this year was no different, scoring his best result of the season in Belgium, combining a new turn of speed and tactical expertise to jump up the field at the first round of stops.

The turn four incident between the two Mercedes on lap two made Nico Rosberg vulnerable to attack from behind throughout the first stint. The Red Bulls, Ferraris, McLarens and Valtteri Bottas's Williams were all following with interest as Rosberg struggled with horrendous understeer with the right side of his front wing missing. The two second gap that Mercedes had in qualifying was now a deficit to the cars behind and Mercedes knew that they would have to compromise Rosberg's strategy to stay in the hunt for the victory. Ferrari then pulled a masterstroke with Kimi Räikkönen, hauling him in on lap eight, the same lap as Rosberg, allowing him to pass the Mercedes in the pits, as they repaired the damage, as well as Vettel, Bottas and Alonso by using the undercut to great effect.

Räikkönen's love of Spa was shining through
Räikkönen's love of Spa was shining throughCredit: Foto Studio

Suddenly Räikkönen was second and in a battle for the race win. Räikkönen's love of Spa was shining through as he was fighting at the sharp end in a Ferrari for the first time in five years. The car didn't have the raw speed of the Red Bull, lacking the aerodynamic prowess of Newey's chassis, highlighting once again why Ferrari tried to poach the man from Stratford-upon-Avon. The Ferrari couldn't match them in the corners and the low downforce setup of the Red Bull left the Ferrari lacking top speed on the straight.

The flipside of Räikkönen's aggressive strategy came at the end when he had to run a long third stint, 23 laps on the prime tyres, to make his two stop strategy work. Räikkönen had fallen behind Rosberg after being undercut at the second stops and was now in a Finn on Finn battle for the final spot on the podium. Bottas' tyres were seven laps younger giving him a huge advantage and he was able to easily breeze past the Ferrari on the Kemmel Straight.

Nevertheless it was an impressive showing from Räikkönen. He was fifth in Q3 but couldn't get a lap together right at the end of qualifying on an improving track, leaving him stuck in eighth as others improved around him. In the race, even if he didn't secure a first podium back at Ferrari, he had his spark back. You have to hope that his form is here to stay rather than just Räikkönen's love of Spa shining through. If it is the latter, Monza will be a public referendum on his second Ferrari career, with Jules Bianchi waiting in the wings.

Valtteri's missed opportunity?

Valtteri Bottas, Williams Martini Racing: Started 6th, Finished 3rd

Valtteri Bottas once again showed why he will be a future world champion. Bottas qualified sixth, struggling in the wet as the Williams always has in its current guise due to its aero deficiencies.

Bottas maintained sixth through the opening lap and then profited from Mercedes' catastrophic incident to move up to fifth and stick with the front runners as Rosberg held the pack up. Alonso's grid problems elevated Bottas further and put him in fourth. The repair of Rosberg's car put Bottas in the hunt for the race win, though he lost out to Räikkönen. After the first round of stops, I was backing Bottas to win with the power advantage of the Williams on the straights giving Bottas the platform to attack the Red Bulls and Räikkönen ahead.

Williams made no secret that they had this race circled as a chance of victory
Williams made no secret that they had this race circled as a chance of victoryCredit: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

Unfortunately, Sebastian Vettel had other ideas, running slower than Ricciardo, either through genuine pace or team strategy. More to the point, it backed Bottas into Rosberg and the German took advantage, though he was unable to get past Vettel.

Bottas is a smart guy though and knew that he wasn't going to be fighting Rosberg when it all shook out and instead he focused his attention on beating his compatriot to the flag. He tracked Räikkönen down and got past with just five laps to go to secure a fourth podium. It's a great result for Bottas, though Williams made no secret that they had this race circled as a chance of victory. But they never really had the raw speed to beat the Red Bulls, and definitely didn't when they qualified behind them in the wet. Had they qualified ahead of the Red Bulls, it may have been a different story.

Excellence leads to petulance?

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren Mercedes: Started 7th, Finished 12th

The young Dane showed his potential on a real drivers track in Belgium. Magnussen outperformed experienced teammate Jenson Button once again in qualifying to line up an impressive seventh on the grid, which was probably as much as you could expect in a McLaren despite the far from ideal conditions.

Magnussen did well to stay with the front pack, which was admittedly eased by Rosberg's damage. He maintained position, having lost out to Räikkönen at the start, and was attacking the Ferraris throughout the stint with the power advantage of his Mercedes power unit.

It's better to be fast with errors than perfect but slow
Credit: McLaren Mercedes

Magnussen passed Alonso as he served his penalty which would lead to drama late in the race. Having been impressive holding off the experienced Alonso late in the race, he blotted his copybook rather by squeezing Alonso onto the grass going up to Les Combes in a very dangerous move that resembled something you'd see on a kart track and then cued a scene from wacky races as Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button got interested. Button jumped the non-McLaren men but got squeezed at Rivage and lost out to Vettel and Alonso, a move that would not impress the top brass at Woking.

Magnussen showed great class in the race but equally this race highlighted some flaws that need to be addressed and the likes of Bottas and Ricciardo have already matured further having had more F1 experience. But it's better to be fast with errors than perfect but slow at Magnussen's age.

Mercedes mess

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team: Started 1st and 2nd, Finished 2nd and DNF

Well it does seem a real shame that the World Championship could be decided by a petulant move by Nico Rosberg, not so much because of the points differential, though 29 points is a big gap, more because of the team orders that could really hamper Lewis Hamilton if he doesn't lead into turn one.

It was a real flashpoint in the season, and it got bigger after the race

It was a real flashpoint in the season, and it got bigger after the race during the Mercedes debriefing. Though by the way that Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda spoke after the race, they may offer Lewis Hamilton some priority in the next few races to level the playing field. But with senior Mercedes personnel present at the Belgium GP, the directors were made to look like chumps and they will act to ensure that it won't happen again. 

Finally, I was nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket challenge (or Motor neurone disease to the UK). Four bags of ice later and I’m still here, though cold. I urge everyone to donate to a very worthy cause, helping support those with the terrible disease.