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Belgium 2012 - Hit and miss for McLaren in Spa // Button takes victory where Hamilton gets caught up in a storm

Published by Christine

Celebrations at McLaren
Credit: VMM

We always anticipated the Belgian GP giving us something to talk about, but this year’s race delivered more than expected.

Where there is often discussion around the return of racing from the summer break, and the changeable weather over Spa, this weekend was all about the speed of a certain team, and the first lap collision caused by a certain driver.

McLaren

The McLaren team split the difference with their drivers this past weekend, trying out a different rear wing on each. Jenson Button complained of some oversteer during qualifying, but there was nothing really for him to be concerned about - the Brit led all three sessions and posted the fastest time quite comfortably.

On the flip side, Lewis Hamilton was so incensed at the car beneath him that he went rogue and posted his telemetry online for the world to see. The idea was to prove that he was as fast as Button all around the lap except for the places where the rear wing made a difference. The result was a slightly miffed team, and a baffled audience.

For Lewis, it didn’t make much difference. His race was over before it began when a careering Romain Grosjean caused first corner carnage. For Button, the spoils were there for the taking. His major rivals were out of the race, leaving only Kimi Räikkönen and a surprisingly fast Sebastian Vettel to chase him. It was a relatively straightforward race, troubled only by a safety car period. Even the McLaren pit crew managed to get it right and help Button on the way to victory.

8/10

Red Bull

Gradually, as the weekend progressed, it became clear that Red Bull were going to have a difficult weekend. Sebastian Vettel couldn’t seem to find the pace, particularly in qualifying, and he missed out on the top ten shoot-out, having to settle for 11th on Saturday. He was promoted a grid slot the following day, but only because teammate Mark Webber had a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Webber qualifying seventh, so five places from there made his afternoon a real challenge.

It’s only a couple of races ago that Webber was changing his gearbox and receiving a similar five place penalty in Hockenheim, so this is a worrying trend for the team. Although Vettel started ahead of Webber, he dropped backwards to avoid the chaos at the first corner, and gave himself the task of passing his teammate for position on track.

It was some surprisingly respectful driving from the pair as Sebastian moved ahead, ultimately going on to finish second on the podium. Webber crossed the finish line sixth - a perfectly respectable result but not what he would have wanted from the race. I did think it spoke volumes of the new-found grudging respect between the drivers now, presumably only working at the moment because neither are fighting for the championship.

7/10

Lotus

If you’re looking for the prime example of a team having one driver do well and the other not, then Lotus are it. Kimi Räikkönen was expected to do well at Spa, and perhaps he was hoping for more than what he came away with. However, a third place grid slot turning into a podium finish is more than enough for a team who had plenty to deal with on the other side of the garage.

Romain Grosjean qualified in ninth, complaining of feeling less than confident in the car. Fast forward a day, and the Frenchman lined up on the grid alongside Lewis Hamilton. Fast forward just a few minutes, and the Frenchman was being strongly chastised by the same Lewis Hamilton after he knocked three other cars out of the Grand Prix. Enough has been said about the incident itself, and the one-race ban that has since been handed to Grosjean, but the team will have to keep themselves focused despite the upheaval.

For Grosjean’s side of the garage, there is a new driver in town for the coming race, whilst Räikkönen will, obliviously as always, have a different benchmark to drive against. Where the momentum was keeping them going ever so slowly upwards, they’ll need to ensure this bump doesn’t knock them off course.

5/10

Force India

With a hint of money troubles still plaguing Force India, the team returned from their summer holidays in dire need of some results. For the majority of the first half of the season, the outfit has been almost invisible, racking up the odd points result here and there but barely making a name for itself.

It only takes the Belgian Grand Prix to change all that. Qualifying didn’t look all that different to normal with Paul di Resta 10th and Nico Hülkenberg 12th. Both had to avoid the accident that happened ahead of them, and both steered clear of the debris successfully. With a bit of clear air and less pressure from those retirements, Nico Hülkenberg made his way to finish in fourth place - his best result in Formula One to date. Di Resta was also doing a good job, but battling with KERS failure that slowed him down.

The team finished with both cars in the points, and the knowledge that they could had had more if it weren’t for mechanical failures. They’ve jumped Williams in the constructor’s standings, and are hoping to keep on moving forward to close the gap to Sauber. This is the progress Mallya has been talking about, and what they want (and need) to see to stay in the sport.

7/10

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso’s lead in the championship was reduced somewhat this week as his consistent points-scoring run of finishes came to an abrupt end. Through no fault of his own, the Spaniard was knocked out of the Belgian Grand Prix at the first corner, narrowly avoiding serious injury.

Quotes have emerged from Stefano Domenicali urging the team to put their disappointment behind them, that there are plenty more points up for grabs and all could be well again at Monza.

Lest they forget, however, there was another Ferrari branded driver in Spa, and Felipe Massa put in a fine performance to finish fifth. He never looked strong enough to challenge for the win, or even for the podium, but from 14th on the grid, he kept his head down and got on with the job in hand to pick up a great collection of points. Given the chance to race without his beloved teammate breathing down his neck worked well for Massa, but it’s not something he can bank on happening very often.

6/10

Mercedes

Nico Rosberg suffered from both a lack of running in the damp conditions on Friday, plus a gearbox problem ahead of qualifying, so that he not only qualified down in 18th place but he also took a five place penalty pushing him to the very back of the grid. He made a little progress forward in the race, but really his 11th place finish was down to the retirements behind him and the slower “new” teams that don’t put up too much of a challenge as yet.

The hopes of the team were on Michael Schumacher, then, who also found the car not happy around the sweeping corners of Spa. He managed to qualify 13th, which both he and Ross Brawn admitted was disappointingly slow.

Michael was also helped in the race by the disappearance of some of the cars ahead of him, and at one point found himself up into second. When the pit stops all shook out, though, and the chequered flag was waved, it was seventh for the German driver. A points finish at a track that didn’t suit the car at all is not too bad, but the entire team know they can deliver more.

5/10

Toro Rosso

Another team that benefitted from the first corner crash was Toro Rosso. They managed to get both drivers into the points, which in turn doubled their championship standings. For a team who were beginning to lose patience with this season, the race turned things around quite considerably.

Even qualifying was looking marginally better than at previous races, particularly for Jean-Éric Vergne. Not only did he get through to Q2, but he managed to qualify ahead of his teammate and Bruno Senna as well. In the race, they stayed at a similar pace to each other, following one another around the track and through the cars as they made their way through the field.

A top ten finish was on the cards almost immediately the first lap crash occurred, but it was still a well-executed, if fortuitous, race for the team.

5/10

Williams

The qualifying performance of the respective Williams drivers showed a marked difference. Pastor Maldonado was in the top three - later to be handed a penalty for impeding others - but one of only three drivers to post a lap in the 1:47s. By contrast, Bruno Senna qualifed 17th, lucky to have made it through to the second session at all.

In the race, Senna’s bad run of form continued with a slow car, a slow puncture, and a finish lacking in points. It wasn’t as bad as Maldonado’s day, though. The Venezuelan driver jumped the start by so much that even Charlie Whiting was caught on camera shaking his head in disbelief.

He was pushed down the order trying to avoid the incident around him, but then crashed into Timo Glock as the safety car period drew to a close. His race weekend ended in retirement, and he’s racked up two penalties for Monza before the team have even arrived there.

2/10

Sauber

There were tears on the pit wall on Saturday, as Kamui Kobayashi posted a superb lap time to qualify second on the grid - lining up alongside Jenson Button on the front row. Not to be forgotten, Sergio Pérez also did a great job, qualifying in a fifth place that was later promoted to fourth with Maldonado’s penalty.

From there, and with the knowledge that the Sauber team can do intriguing things with their strategy, we were all looking forward to a result on Sunday. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t a good result.

There must have been more tears on the pit wall, as both drivers were caught up in the Grosjean crash. Sergio Pérez was an early casualty, out of the race immediately. Kamui Kobayashi took several hits around the first corner and made his way back to the pits.

There had been worrying scenes as the cars were waiting on the start line, as Kobayashi’s brakes had begun to smoke. That was soon forgotten, as from the front of the grid, the driver ended up at the rear - an extra pitstop under his belt by the time the Safety Car came out.

It’s testament to a driver’s determination that he didn’t give up there and then, but continued on to finish 13th. It could have been an amazing weekend for Sauber, instead it was littered with the disappointment that comes when things happen outside of your control.

3/10

Caterham

Although there were several cars struggling to find pace during qualifying on Saturday, it never seemed as though this would be an occasion for Caterham to capitalise on it. Even with the chaos that emerged on Sunday, the drivers could do nothing to build on the opportunity and grab an unexpected result.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the team performed a spectacular unsafe release in the pitlane. The crew could only watch aghast as their driver barrelled straight into the back of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT. Already on his way, Kovalainen sailed off with a damaged nose, circled the track and came straight back in again for repairs.

It’s disappointing as Heikki had been sitting in tenth position, and could have fought for those last few points places if the team could have kept their heads. As it was, it was another 17th place for Kovalainen, whilst Petrov managed 14th.

3/10

Marussia

Despite a difficult race for both drivers, the entire team seems to be happy with how the weekend panned out, and the progress that has been made on the car. They’ve sacrificed some qualifying speed that means they are faster in the races, but these are both things that are hard to see because of their positions on track.

What we did manage to see was a great inter-team battle between the two Marussia drivers, that was caught on camera and given several minutes airtime. Whether it’s because there was little else going on at the time, or if the team really have started making the step up to be newsworthy is up for debate, but for now, ending 15th and 16th leaves the drivers feeling positive.

3/10

HRT

With all the other teams making their presence felt as best they could in the gaps provided by Grosjean-gate, there still had to be one who fell beyond our gaze. HRT had an exceptionally quiet weekend, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t busy.

Pedro de la Rosa described his qualifying lap as “impeccable”, finishing as he did ahead of Charles Pic. Sunday was harder, with both drivers caught up in accidents - De la Rosa at the first corner, and Karthikeyan in the pitlane. Narain ended up retiring from the race, whilst Pedro finished 18th. All are looking forward to this weekend’s action in Monza, where they continue the ongoing battle with Marussia and Caterham.

2/10

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