Formula One: From Sebastian Vettel surpassing Alain Prost's feat to dream debut for Force India, talking points from Belgian GP
Sebastian Vettel’s tally of career wins in Formula 1 is now 52 - overtaking Alain Prost's record of 51.
The driver silly season and Force India's stories of resurrection hogged the limelight in the paddock for the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. Beyond a point, anyone's guess on who would race where in Monza and in 2019 could be right and the easiest to would be to guess that sooner or later Lance Stroll would be at Force India. After an overdose of guesswork and rumours, it was actually good to have the sporting part of the weekend dawn upon us.
Hamilton - Rain is my friend
We had a mixed-weather qualifying session on Saturday - one that saw Lewis Hamilton reign supreme in the wet as he claimed pole position again. "The rain is always a friend to me!" exclaimed Hamilton after clinching his fifth pole position at Spa, a new record in itself. While it has been a friend for Hamilton — Sebastian Vettel crashed in Germany when the rain came and in Hungary too, rain helped Hamilton qualify ahead of Vettel. Spa was the third Grand Prix that was rain-affected and Hamilton used his skills to great effect to qualify ahead of Vettel's Ferrari yet again. However, one does wonder where could Sebastian Vettel's wet weather driving skills have disappeared? Let's remember, he has always been exceptionally skilled in wet weather conditions too. It is possible that the current design of his Ferrari or the tyres don't offer him much comfort to be closer to the limit in trying conditions.
Come Race Day, Sebastian Vettel did well to overtake Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap to claim the lead of the race. He drove a Vettel-esque race at the front to control the pace and claim his fifth victory of the season. Vettel’s tally of career wins in Formula 1 is now 52 - overtaking Alain Prost's record of 51. Vettel is third behind Hamilton (67) and Schumacher (91) in the 'total wins' table. Today's win helped Vettel reduce his gap to Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship to 17 points.
— Mattzel89 (@Mattzel89) August 26, 2018
Vettel vs Hamilton Apart from following Vettel around for 44 laps from a comfortable distance and hoping for the race leader to make a mistake, Hamilton challenged for Vettel's lead just twice in the entire race. His first attempt was at the Safety Car restart and the second was during the first (and only) round of pit-stops when he tried the undercut. At both these attempts, Vettel seemed comfortably in control of his position. However, this is also where Formula 1's inherent problem lies. Drivers are happy to maintain a 3-4 seconds gap between each other and apply pressure via lap-times with the hope to induce a mistake. Formula 1 needs to fix this so that drivers are able to attack one another without worrying too much about loss in performance or tyre wear. The FIA is confident that the revised front wings for 2019 should make such a difference. Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen drove a sublime race to claim 3rd place (his first podium at Spa), ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and the two Force India cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. The two Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen followed in 7th and 8th places; Pierre Gasly claimed two points in 9th while Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson claimed the last championship point in 10th place.
Hulkenberg's ‘Hulk Smash’ Mode While the result of the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix is good for the World Championship story, there were moments when the race was dull and unexciting. Nico Hulkenberg made a rare driver error when he misjudged his braking point and rammed into Fernando Alonso, launching the Mclaren driver mid-air and over the Sauber of Charles Leclerc. In fact, Alonso's Mclaren damaged Daniel Ricciardo's rear wing while in the air. This would have possibly distracted Ricciardo who then drove into the rear of an unfortunate and unlucky Kimi Raikkonen. All five drivers failed to finish the race - and with Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Ricciardo out of the race, there was a chance for mid-field teams to pick up good chunk of points. For his errant ways, Hulkenberg was awarded a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Monza and also three points on his superlicence. Such a rookie error was possibly the first of Hulkenberg's Formula 1 career, prompting one to wonder why Fernando Alonso hinted that the German driver should have received a race ban. The incident when Alonso's car flew over Leclerc's also brought the halo into focus. Slow-motion replays showed that Alonso's right front tyre deflected off the halo on Leclerc's car, thereby confirming the reasons for the FIA to stick to implementing the halo despite serious resistance from the fans, media and even the drivers.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 26, 2018
The Racing Point Force India F1 Team had a dream debut this weekend. First, their drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez qualified 3rd and 4th respectively. Second, they scored 18 points - a tally that already propelled them to 9th place in the Constructors' Championship, ahead of Williams and only one point behind Sauber. If Force India had retained their earlier 59 points from the season, their tally would have been 76 points - tying with Haas in 5th place and only 6 points off Renault in 4th. However, the 'best of the rest' will now be fought between Renault and Haas and there are only 6 points that separate them. Renault failed to score at Spa.
Apart from the numbers, the Force India drivers added some early race excitement when Ocon used the slipstream of Vettel and Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight to try and overtake the leading duo in to the braking zone of Les Combes. Ocon's opportunistic move saw him lose a place to Perez, however, seeing a Force India challenge for the lead of the race was special, especially given the mess the team has gone through in the last few months.
Also for Force India, one would hope that they are able to maintain their form to score enough points to finish at least 7th in the championship - ahead of Toro Rosso. Mclaren are currently 6th with 52 points and have scored just once in the last three races. If Force India manage to come close to Mclaren's tally by the end of the season, it was certainly embarrass the former World Champion team from Woking! Irrespective of where Force India finishes, their resurrection and recovery in the 2018 Formula 1 Season is going to be one for the history books.
Mercedes vs. Renault Comparison
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas picked up power unit related penalties and started P17. However, he used his Mercedes car well to climb up the grid and finish 4th. He pulled off a few good overtaking moves en route. Hulkenberg's first-corner exit robbed us of seeing two fast cars carve their way through the grid and into the points. In fact, a comparison of recovery by Bottas' Mercedes and Hulkenberg's Renault would have offered insights on the pace differential between the two teams.
In the Ferrari vs Mercedes and Vettel vs Hamilton fight it has long been evident that Ferrari have the faster car and they only made more strides at Spa. However, given how closely contested the 2018 is, having the fastest car might not be enough. This season will also be defined by other finer elements - strategy, precision, team-work and above all else, calmness.
The next few races are crucial for Ferrari-Vettel's championship hopes. We have Monza this weekend followed by Singapore - both venues that are different in nature. Like Spa, Monza is an out-and-out power circuit, while Singapore is a street circuit - both expected to be circuits that might not favour the Mercedes. However, we have seen the difference that Hamilton has made in the Mercedes this year and there's little doubt that he will keep doing so till the end of the season.