F1 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Race Review

2013-08-25 11:00:00 EDT

It became quite plain from about lap two that Sebastian Vettel was absolutely going to dominate the Belgian Grand Prix. He had managed to do exactly what he needed to do, get past Hamilton, and a bit more by pulling out an astounding lead stretching to just under three seconds.

There was no way back at this point if conditions were to remain dry and bad luck was to stay clear, which is exactly what happened.

After race Hamilton was the first to concede that Vettel and Red Bull had simply been too fast in the race, something they can be accused of for the duration of this season. No one had an answer for the sublime control Vettel exhibited, having visibly taken a conservative approach to the race barely five minutes in.

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Winning is one thing, but winning by over 18 seconds speaks of utter domination that sends shivers down the spines of all the other drivers on the grid. They now know it will be take something special to stop Vettel winning half of the races remaining.

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In championship terms, the German’s lead is now extended to 46 points over Fernando Alonso, whose second place was an equally stunning drive considering his starting platform.

The first six laps from the Ferrari No. 1 was vintage Alonso, calm, calculated but best of all ruthless.

Having made up a staggering four places in the first corner by tucking into the inside of those unsuspecting few ahead, the Spaniard took full advantage of the F 138’s long seventh gear to dispatch Webber before making a move on Rosberg. He then took a few laps to chase down a fast starting Button, by which point it became plain that Ferrari had made a dramatic improvement in their speed from what was on display in Hungary.

It’s still not enough. 46 points is now more than what Vettel had to chase down with eight races left last year, making in increasingly conclusive that year’s title is done and dusted. Although the improvement came in the F 138, there’s an eerie sense that’s it’s the classic case of too little too late.

One of Vettel’s other main title contenders, Kimi Raikkonen, had an absolute shocker of a race. First he couldn’t make any ground in his start, in fact getting stuck behind a relatively slower Sauber, and then encountering a brake problem which meant he left the most thickest of black dust trailing in his wake whenever he applied the brakes on his E21. Having made little progress in the early part of the race, it became abundantly clear that the brake issue was more than just a cosmetic problem, with his retirement having come after a full blown brake failure when he over shot the bus-stop chicane.

It brought an end to the longest run of points finishes in the history of F1, do ironically for Raikkonen, happening at the Spa circuit which has brought him so much success.

Now sitting 63 points behind Vettel with a car that doesn’t look like challenging for wins, his fanciful championship campaign is all but over. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fight for.

With Daniel Ricciardo set to be confirmed as Mark Webber’s replacement at Red Bull, Raikkonen’s options appear limited, with the only potential destination being an unlikely return to Ferrari. It means that Lotus will probably be his home for yet another year, and therefore it’s in Raikkonen’s best interests to make sure hope remains for the team by winning a race or two much like he did at Abu Dhabi last year.

Pole man Hamilton did everything he could possibly have done to extract the maximum from what he had available. He lost the lead less than three corners into the race simply because of the incredible slip stream he had created for Vettel, and from thereon in was always going to struggle to keep a faster Ferrari at bay.

Their lack of pace appeared to be a combination of a few things, firstly that their car perhaps couldn’t cope with the varying nature of the Spa track, and also the tyre degradation that certainly became a factor as the rain everyone expected never came. It points to the realisation that these tyre problems are a race to race issue which can come and go based on the track and the conditions, which makes it possible for Mercedes to bite the bullet and just make the most of the opportunities when they arise.

It was also encouraging to see Jenson Button make the most of a good start and capitalise in this upturn in performance that McLaren have had of late. Although it wasn’t the podium that the Woking team had hoped for, it was a certainly a good result that has put them back in front of Force India, which will definitely be a massive relief.

The championship situation is quite simple now. Save for a downturn in performance, which is unlikely, or a string of bad luck, still unlikely, Vettel will almost definitely cruise to a fourth successive Drivers’ Championship that will put him among the pantheon of greats.

Some still question whether Vettel really deserves all the accolades that he collects. They still remain critics of his driving, claiming he’s a one trick pony, capable of only winning from pole or when he gets into the lead early on.

This is his strength, of that there is no doubt, but Vettel has proven over the last few years that he is not a stranger to overtaking. You’d have to say that he’s not been required to this too often given his consistency in qualifying which has been the backbone to his three championships.

Yet interest remains for the simple reason that momentum is a truly important quantity in F1, and although the cars next year will be quite different, the people building and driving them won’t.

Most of the teams have no understandably shifted their priority to 2014, yet those at the top of the grid are still itching for wins to take some hope into the long winter break in the preparation for testing.

But first for Monza in two weeks’ time. It’s shaping up well with Ferrari’s recent renaissance and Mercedes’ strong form. In recent years Monza has been a bit of Achilles heel for Red Bull who have struggled with the emphasis is the circuit places on straight line speed.

It will be a much closer race than what we saw in Spa, this much is sure. The one thing we did see throughout the Friday practice sessions in Belgium and even in the race was the adoption of more low down force set-ups.

The Monza track is famous for requiring one-off set-ups that are especially proficient at straight line speeds. Red Bull especially seemed to split their set-ups with Vettel going down the Monza style set-up, and Webber the more traditional set-up.

The 2012 Italian GP was a dark race for Red Bull who failed to score any points as both drivers retired. At the moment, it seems like Red Bull might well be on track for a one-two at the famous circuit, such is their current proficiency of performance.

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