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Significant show of strength from Red Bull at Spa - Belgium 2013 // Vettel takes another dominant victory as Red Bull increase their lead

Published by Christine

Vettel talks to the media in Spa
Credit: Mason/Getty

The Belgian Grand Prix didn't deliver the corker of a race that we were hoping for, and it saw one team dominant above the rest, but even so, there was a lot to come out of the weekend's action at Spa-Francorchamps.

From backmarker teams making a fine display in qualifying, to yet more penalty problems on Sunday, there was a lot going on.

Here we'll look at how each of the teams performed on the first weekend after the summer break, starting with the winners.

Red Bull

Driver positions - Red Bull
DriverQualifyingRace
S Vettel2nd1st
M Webber3rd5th

Sebastian Vettel had a dream of a car throughout the entire Belgian GP weekend, so long as the conditions stayed dry. He led two of the three practice sessions (missing out on the top spot for the first, slightly damper, session). He was pipped to pole position by a flying Lewis Hamilton, but was right up there fighting for P1 as the track started to dry on Saturday. In the race, it was the work of a moment to dispatch the Mercedes driver, and from there he was in control until the chequered flag. On the radio, post-race, he thanked his team for delivering a beautiful machine to drive, and in return he gave them as solid a performance as possible.

Mark Webber was also fast in the same car, but suffered the inevitable bogged down start that lost him paces. It’s finally got to the point where the team are sitting up and taking notice, as Christian Horner has said: “We particularly need to address the start issue with Mark, and have to get on top of that. It has cost us too many points so far.” The blame seems to be firmly on the clutch at the moment.

The unexpected difficulty in overtaking around Spa this weekend meant Webber could only claw his way back to fifth, dropping two places from his grid position. Nevertheless, the performance showed just how strong Red Bull are, and how much work it would take for anyone to challenge them for the championships this year.

Ferrari

Driver positions - Ferrari
DriverQualifyingRace
F Alonso9th2nd
F Massa10th7th

After qualifying on Saturday, both the Ferrari drivers were vocally disappointed. Fernando Alonso risked the wrath of his boss again by saying "When you end up ninth and tenth, clearly something has gone wrong." He does take some of the blame himself, however, by admitting to a spin during one of his flying laps that didn't help. Felipe Massa, meanwhile, blamed his tenth place grid slot on the tyre decision and not being on the right rubber at the right time - a story that was true for much of the field.

Massa had a bad start to the race, after dropping back into the first corner to avoid a collision with Romain Grosjean - likely a wise move! It left him fighting to recover, and the Brazilian put in some good overtaking moves to make his way back up to seventh, but he blames the pace of the car for not being able to get any further.

Alonso stormed forward into the first corner, making his way up into the podium positions very quickly. He didn't have the speed to challenge Vettel for victory, (and let's face it, who did?) but the second place trophy has cheered him up. Recovering from both the performance in qualifying and some of the recent race results, Fernando thanked the team for their hard work. The team were quite happy in return and still not writing off the championship yet, although they're aware it's going to be a huge ask.

The performance level we saw in today's race is what we were unable to demonstrate yesterday in qualifying and it was certainly worthy of a front row. We knew that with a competitive car on this track, we would be in the game.

- Pat Fry, Chassis Technical Director, Ferrari

Mercedes

Driver positions - Mercedes
DriverQualifyingRace
N Rosberg4th4th
L Hamilton1st3rd

Lewis Hamilton secured his fourth consecutive pole position, but it felt like another surprise for the team, as he put in a storming lap just when it counted and saw off the challenge from Vettel. Rosberg was briefly in the P1 position, but track placing meant that those drivers behind him benefited from the better track and it was only moments before his teammate posted the fastest lap instead.

It was a consistent race for Rosberg, a "reasonable" one, as he says. He finished in the exact same position he started, after tweaking the strategy as they went along to try and cover other drivers. When you are busy protecting your position rather than fighting, it can be difficult to make any headway.

Hamilton lost his pole position to Vettel almost immediately, and as we've already mentioned, it was very difficult to get close to the flying Red Bull. Unfortunately for him, Alonso was also able to dispatch the Mercedes quickly too, which left Hamilton in a podium position but not exactly where he wanted. The team overall got what they were expecting, though, as the dry conditions weren't as well suited to them as the mixed atmosphere on Saturday.

McLaren

Driver positions - McLaren
DriverQualifyingRace
J Button6th6th
S Pérez13th11th

It’s only taken six months, but Jenson Button finally seemed satisfied with the pace of the McLaren after qualifying. He said that sixth on the grid was “an okay outcome” and that it was simply a matter of timing that allowed those finishing their laps after them to get ahead. Jenson felt he went out too early, Pérez bemoaned going out too late to get a time strong enough to go through to Q3. You can’t please everyone!

In the race, Pérez was penalised after an overtaking move on Romain Grosjean. The interesting comments came afterwards, with team principal Martin Whitmarsh suggesting the drivers gang up on Sergio in the briefing room, and this feeds back to the stewards who take it on board. Once you’ve got a name for yourself, a penalty is far more likely.

Despite the drive-through, Pérez still managed to finish 11th – although he just missed out on a points-paying position, it’s still two places up on where he started. Button ran a long first stint, convincing those around him that he was going to one-stop to the end of the race. He dived in for a late second stop, however, and that meant he finished where he started in sixth. A good points haul allowed McLaren to finally make the jump over Force India in the championship standings, and the team are looking for more improvements as the rest of the season unfolds.

We're a bit disappointed, overall, of course we are, but equally we're pleased to see firm evidence of underlying improvement in terms of pace. We're still not where we want to be, but the trend is clearly in the right direction.

- Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal, McLaren

Lotus

Driver positions - Lotus
DriverQualifyingRace
K Räikkönen8thDNF
R Grosjean7th8th

With plenty of conversation being aired over whether Kimi Räikkönen will stay at Lotus after this season, what the Finn really could have done without was a retirement. Race day saw Kimi fighting to stay in the points, and gather as much as possible from a difficult weekend, until he abruptly dived into the pit lane after running straight on at the preceding corner. He immediately retired from the race, bringing to an end that epic run of points finishes – with this being his first DNF since his comeback last year.

The team have investigated further and think a tear-off from the visor may have blocked the brake cooling ducts, causing some overheating. Although we saw plenty of brake dust flying off both cars prior to the retirement, so it may just have been the wrong conditions for the brakes.

On the other side of the garage, Romain Grosjean had the glare of last year’s first corner crash beaming down on him, but he managed to keep his nose clean.

He qualified one place ahead of his teammate, lost a few positions off the start and then even more when fighting with the subsequently-penalised Sergio Pérez. Grosjean was the only driver to opt for a one-stop strategy, and although it didn’t pay off completely, it allowed him to recover to eighth place, picking up a couple of points.

Force India

Driver positions - Force India
DriverQualifyingRace
P Di Resta5thDNF
A Sutil12th9th

Paul di Resta is taking full credit for the decision to bolt on intermediate tyres in the final session of qualifying. It’s hardly surprising, given that the team have screwed up his strategy in qualifying more times than not. In Belgium, it finally worked out. Although not quite pole position, Di Resta is still confident that fifth is better than what they could have scored without taking the risk. Sutil’s twelfth place is more representative of the car’s pace.

Di Resta was running well in the race too, despite a bad start. He could have been on for a healthy points finish, but found himself the passenger in a crash – whacked in the side by Maldonado in a race-ending incident. Disappointment for the Brit, but at least the better performance was on display before things came crashing to a halt.

Sutil, meanwhile, managed to make his way up into the points. He executed a decent two-stop strategy to jump three places and crossed the line ninth. Force India are starting to look like they are on the up again, so it’s a matter of keeping the consistency going this time as well.

Toro Rosso

Driver positions - Toro Rosso
DriverQualifyingRace
JE Vergne18th12th
D Ricciardo19th10th

With three of the usual Q1 finishers making significant progress on Saturday, there was room for plenty more names to drop out in the first session. Both Toro Rosso drivers found themselves out of qualifying after just ten minutes of driving, with Vergne managing to get himself a grid slot ahead of his teammate. They blame it mostly on timing, as well as the fortuitous strategy call by others.

Both drivers also managed to make up a number of positions during the race, and were lingering around the points for a lot of the afternoon. They never seemed to have the pace to challenge too much, though. Vergne developed a slow puncture which meant he was out of sorts for the rest of the race, finishing two places behind Ricciardo.

Daniel scooped a solitary point by finishing in tenth place, but didn’t manage to impress as he has done on previous weekends. With the pressure of speculation still on him for the Red Bull seat, plus a possible confirmation from Webber, the Australian could have done with a stand-out weekend. Nevertheless, the team pulled a decent finish from a terrible qualifying, and managed to avoid any major incident – this is as much as you can ask from a weekend at Spa.

It was always going to be a difficult Sunday, especially as the rain which could have helped us never arrived. But both cars were fast enough to work their way through a large part of the mid field and Daniel and Jean-Éric produced some exciting passing moves to get back in the points zone.

- Franz Tost, Team Principal, Toro Rosso

Sauber

Driver positions - Sauber
DriverQualifyingRace
N Hülkenberg11th13th
E Gutiérrez21st14th

The two Sauber drivers couldn’t have looked more different on Saturday, with Hülkenberg just missing out on the top ten by the smallest of margins, whilst Gutiérrez dropped out in the first session. Esteban said he was feeling much more comfortable in the car after some difficult practice sessions, but it was being on the wrong tyres at the wrong time that forced his qualifying position. Dropping out in Q1 isn’t a new experience for Gutiérrez but being on the last row of the grid can’t be a lot of fun.

In the race, the pair continued to have complete opposite experiences, but the roles were reversed. Hülkenberg found the car difficult to drive and couldn’t put up much of a fight. He dropped a couple of places and finished in the midfield. Gutiérrez, meanwhile, flew forward overtaking the slower cars in front and fighting through the traffic. He received a drive through penalty for overtaking off the circuit, and still managed to finish just one place behind his teammate. A strong weekend for the young Mexican.

Sauber didn’t have the pace they wanted for the weekend, but they may need to have a look at why Nico lost confidence in the car overnight, and how Gutiérrez managed to catch him on Sunday.

Williams

Driver positions - Williams
DriverQualifyingRace
P Maldonado17th17th
V Bottas20th15th

Williams found themselves at the front of the queue for the final laps of the first qualifying session. They were hoping to be able to squeeze more laps in, having more opportunities to push for pace. Unfortunately, as the lap is so long and the track was drying out, the tyres were shot before they could really show what they were made of.

So it was two cars out in the first session, and a lot of work to do on Sunday. Both drivers were hoping for more rain on race day but it never arrived, leaving them lacking pace. Bottas improved a few places on his grid position but remained firmly out of the points. Maldonado had been battling for position and hustling for a place in the top ten, but got caught up amongst a train of four other cars and crashed into Di Resta. As he describes it: “It was a difficult situation because I was fighting hard with the Sauber and I didn’t see Di Resta on the outside as I turned towards the pitlane.”

The Venezuelan was later handed a ten second stop/go penalty for his efforts, which ruined any strategy the team might have been working on. It’s not a weekend to write home about for Williams, and they would have hoped for better to improve morale going into the second half of this difficult season for them.

Caterham

Driver positions - Caterham
DriverQualifyingRace
C Pic22ndDNF
G Van der Garde14th16th

Many times we have looked at the backmarker teams as they make gambles during mixed conditions and shrug, thinking they had nothing to lose. This weekend was exactly one of those circumstances, and for once, in qualifying, the gamble paid off. For Caterham, they had one driver available to put on the slick tyres before everyone else, with Giedo van der Garde pushing for a fast lap time on a drying circuit. Unfortunately for Charles Pic, he had a poorly timed visit to the weighbridge that put pay to his joining in the fun.

Van der Garde finished that first session third, leading to the fittingly eloquent tweet from Caterham: "Er..."

In the end, Giedo participated in Q2 and lined up 14th on the grid – not the best qualifying performance by the team, but a good one nevertheless. The beaming post-session smile from Van der Garde showed just how much it means to a driver to get a bit of the spotlight for a change.

It didn’t take long in the race for the backmarkers to end up in their normal positions once more, but the startling Saturday performance did go some way to add another benchmark for comparison between Caterham and Marussia. Van der Garde finished the race 16th, helped by some retirements from others – including his teammate. Charles Pic was brought in after just nine laps, a partly preventative retirement, to stop further damage to a brand new engine after an oil leak was discovered.

Overall this has been a really good weekend. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if it had rained today, but for what was effectively my first home F1 race I think we got the maximum for the car.

- Giedo van der Garde, F1 driver, Caterham

Marussia

Driver positions - Marussia
DriverQualifyingRace
J Bianchi15th18th
M Chilton16th19th

The Marussia pair were the other duo benefitting from that first session of qualifying’s changeable conditions – and the team managed to get both drivers through to the second session, Marussia's best Saturday performance to date.

Although the cars drifted backwards on Sunday, the team are taking positives from the weekend. Both drivers got to the chequered flag, despite some issues during the race. Bianchi reported a radio problem at the start of the afternoon, so communication was difficult. They were hoping for rain to enable more strategy gambles but the weather held off. Chilton called it a long, tough race that was mostly uneventful – although he’s clearly playing down the drive through penalty he got for ignoring blue flags.

Team principal John Booth admits that whilst it is good to have a positive (and somewhat lucky) day like Saturday, you have to have the pace to back it up, and the car just doesn’t have that at the moment. "Overall," he says, "we simply need to go back and regroup and attempt to extract as much performance out of the current package as possible before the next race in Monza."

All content in the series Belgium 2013