It may have been closer than he’d wanted, but Lewis Hamilton was once again at his masterful best on Sunday.
Fastest of all the drivers on the track, Hamilton was nevertheless forced to contend with a Ferrari team who managed to bring Sebastian Vettel well within range of an upset. It was only through the three-time world champion’s own brilliant racecraft that the Ferrari’s were kept behind.
On two separate occasions, the Scuderia had a serious chance to spoil Hamilton’s day. Firstly, after their initial stops on laps 12 and 14 respectively, the next lap saw Hamilton and Vettel behind the yet-to-pit Kimi Raikkonen, suddenly in the perfect position position to hinder the Brit and help his teammate close up. Instead, Hamilton passed the Finn at the first opportunity, and Vettel was only briefly able to reach DRS range.
Secondly at the safety car restart on lap 34, with Hamilton on cold softs to Vettel’s ultras, the Brit was able to completely neutralise his rival’s slipstream down the Kemmel straight by out-braking him into the corner, effectively winning him the race.
That said, Vettel wouldn’t be too disappointed with his second, given the Mercedes’ advantage at Spa, but with only seven points distancing himself from Hamilton, every moment from here-in matters. Even with eight races left, the drama has already reached remarkable heights, and with Monza next week, thankfully we don’t have to wait long for our next dose.
Force India rivalry goes from bad to worse
Forget Mayweather and McGregor, if it’s real, honest-to-goodness beef you’re looking for, look no further than the boys at Force India.
Already off each other’s Christmas card list after their episodes in Montreal and Baku, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s coming-together in Spa can only be described as the product of their intense dislike for one another.
How else do you explain Perez’s decision to squeeze Ocon out in the run-up to Eau Rouge? There was plenty of space for both drivers, and as we’ve seen with Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen in previous years, there’s definitely room there for hard-but-fair racing.
On some level, you can understand that Perez would feel threatened by Ocon. Once the up-and-comer himself, now his teammate is the one everyone is forecasting to a big team, and having earned the right for his own reconsideration after his missed chance with McLaren, that has to sting. Still, that doesn’t excuse such a move, and it’s certainly hurt his standing in Force India, let alone the chances of Ferrari to come calling.
Pastor Maldonado eat your heart out, Max Verstappen now has a 50% DNF-rate in 2017 (albeit for very different reasons). No, he won’t be leaving Red Bull at the end of this season, but that won’t stop the silly-season rumours from flying.
On the flip side, Daniel Ricciardo could almost drive the race backwards and find himself on the podium. In all seriousness, the Aussie seems on a different level when the opportunity presents itself, and his ability to get the best of Raikkonen and Bottas behind is testament to that.
As Martin Brundle noted on the Sky broadcast, for all the defensive brilliance of Hamilton at the restart, it’s still a bit disconcerting that Vettel couldn’t close up again on much faster tyres.
Definitely one of the more sour weekends for Fernando Alonso in recent memory. Having seen some progress in Hungary, perhaps its worse to be given some hope than none at all.