Belgian GP: Button victorious after Spa-Francorchamps thriller
By Berthold Bouman
Jenson Button made the most of his pole position at Spa-Francorchamps, the host of the Belgian Grand Prix, round 11 of the FIA Formula One World Championship. While Button was the first to emerge from the La Source hairpin after the lights turned to green, there was a lot going on behind him as others were dicing for positions.
But it went completely wrong for Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez, who crashed at the hairpin. Grosjean was the one who started the chain reaction and he flew over Hamilton after he had almost squeezed the McLaren off the track, while Alonso also flew through the air into La Source, and was in fact lucky to escape injuries as he landed very hard and first the Lotus of Grosjean, and a few milliseconds later, the McLaren of Hamilton landed on top of the nose of the Ferrari. Alonso was a bit confused after the crash and stayed in his car, but after the doctor had spoken with him, he climbed out of his car unaided, without any visible injuries. No one else was injured during the crash, but it was a close call and the FIA Stewards will without a doubt have a meeting to agree on a proper punishment for Grosjean.
The Safety Car came out, meanwhile Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, who both also got caught up in the melee, visited the pit lane for repairs. When Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander steered his Mercedes into the pit lane again, Button was leading, followed by Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Paul di Resta, Michael Schumacher and Daniel Ricciardo.
Maldonado, who had jumped the start had to retire after five laps anyway, he had again damaged his front wing and parked his car in the grass. Schumacher soon took fourth place from di Resta, while Sebastian Vettel was struggling to overtake Felipe Massa in the remaining Ferrari, but at the bus stop chicane the German 2011 and 2010 Champion finally passed him.
Also struggling was Raikkonen, he locked up his front wheels several times and Schumacher came closer and closer. Both Red Bull cars of Mark Webber and Vettel were stuck behind the Williams of Bruno Senna, who was eighth as a result of the crash earlier. No team orders at Red Bull, as Vettel overtook Webber, while at almost the same time Ricciardo took fifth place from di Resta, the latter also started to struggle with his Pirellis and not much later pulled into the pit lane for a change of tyres.
Lots of action at Spa this afternoon, at Les Combes Schumacher took Raikkonen’s third place, while Senna showed his Williams was quicker than the Red Bulls on the long Kemmel straight. Next to stop for tyres were Raikkonen and Webber, but Vettel who was stuck behind Senna, stayed out and almost lost his front wing at La Source when he hit the Williams from behind, but the next lap he finally got past.
Also chaos in the pits, Heikki Kovalainen was sent out after his stop but ran into the HRT of Narain Kartikeyan and the Lotus driver lost his front wing. Vettel and Hulkenberg had already passed Rosberg in the second Mercedes, and Ricciardo and Webber soon followed.
But all eyes were of course on leader Button and second-place man Schumacher, who after 19 laps still hadn’t pitted. Schumacher pitted and rejoined the race in eighth place, while Button pitted one lap later and he was able to keep the lead. After 22 laps the order was: Button, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Webber, Massa, and Vettel was sixth.
Schumacher lost the most during his pit stop, he was then eighth and was challenging Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso for seventh place. Schumacher took seventh place at La Source, while Vettel took over fifth place from Massa.
Button by then had built up a lead of 10 seconds on Raikkonen, but the big question was whether the 2009 World Champion could finish the race on this set of tyres. Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Webber behind him, were on a two-stop strategy. Webber was the first to pit, Raikkonen followed and thus Vettel and Schumacher were second and third with 15 laps still to go.
All Button had to do was to race to the finish, Vettel was 15 seconds behind him, and Schumacher almost 27 seconds behind the leader. Raikkonen not much later passed Schumacher at the chicane, but the German took back his third place at the Kemmel straight.
Thus Schumacher, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Webber were in the race for third place, while Button kept extending his lead and there was not much Vettel in second place could do. Raikkonen this time passed Schumacher at the bottom of Eau Rouge, the Finn bounced over the kerbs of the most famous corner in Grand Prix racing, but did not lose control and stayed ahead of the German, who obviously had problems with his tyres.
Hulkenberg also overtook him, and that was the signal for Mercedes to call Schumacher in for a new set of tyres, and with eight laps still to go Schumacher rejoined the race in seventh place. Webber and Massa were now dicing for fifth place, but Massa was quick and the Australian had no other choice than to stay behind him.
But no problems at all for leader Button, he cruised to the finish line and won the Belgian Grand Prix, his 50th race for McLaren and his 14th Grand Prix win. Vettel was second and Raikkonen third. Hulkenberg was fourth, Massa fifth and Webber sixth.
Alonso is still leading the Drivers’ Championship with 164 points, but Vettel has taken over Webber’s second place with 140 points, while Webber is now third with 132 points.
Driver quotes to follow …
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