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Monday, September 3, 2012

Jenson Button Dominates Spa - Wins Belgian Grand Prix

Where was Jenson Button? So far ahead of the chasing pack that we hardly saw him during the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday.  With so much close racing going on behind the leader the cameras were busy with the  numerous fights for second all the way to ninth position.  Watching Vettel fight his way through the pack on a one stop strategy, watching the changing fortunes of Michael Schumacher, who pitted late for a second stop and subsequently lost sixth gear with seven laps to go, and of Kimi Raikkonen who had put his faith in a high downforce approach which severely compromised his straight line speed in the DRS zone.

This was where the different approaches in set-up were plainly visible with cars on a high downforce setting bouncing on the rev limiter with the DRS open, but not being able to generate the speed in the zone to overtake those who had opted for the low downforce approach.

Kimi chased Schumacher down through the twists and turns at the back end of the circuit, putting him in prime position to overtake into the final chicane, or onto the start finish straight; but failing that, the run into and through Eau Rouge saw him fighting to stay with the Mercedes and unable to utilise the DRS with any efficacy.  It took a stunning overtake at the bottom of Eau Rouge, enabled by Michael going wide out of Turn 1, to allow him take the position.

The biggest talking point of the race took place at the start, into Turn 1 when Romain Grosjean squeezed Lewis Hamilton towards the barriers, touching rear wheels and setting of a chain of events that left Perez, Lewis, Grosjean, and Fernando Alonso stranded in a sea of carbon fibre.  It also ruined the race Kamui Kobayashi who had a poor start from second on the grid but was making up places on the outside.

Alonso was very lucky to escape injury as Grosjean's Renault flew over the front of the Ferrari at cockpit height; only a metre or so from Alonso's helmet.  Today, as expected, the calls are already being made for the introduction of, the long expected, closed cockpits in the sport.

Out of the chaos Button began to disappear down the road leaving the rest of the field to fight it out for the remaining glory.  It was Vettel who shone in the Belgian sun, climbing from his Q2 position of 11th to take second after a series of passes into the final chicane.  Webber and Schumacher, amongst others, fell at this turn with Ricciardo giving up his position to the sister car with suspicious ease on the start finish straight.

For me this manoeuvre was the one sour moment in Vettel's race.  There is something distasteful in any consideration that the Toro Rosso's might act on wider team orders, and, in my opinion, Daniel Ricciardo had been racing too strongly to allow Vettel such an easy passing move.  It is a given that Vettel would have taken him eventually but, like all of the other non-Toro Rosso cars, he should have had to make a genuine passing move.  Having a second team does appear to provide certain advantages to the detriment of the sport.  This single incident, though I have dwelt on it, does not take anything away from Vettel who wins my joint Driver of the Day award.

Second Place goes to Kimi Raikkonen who overcame the restrictive high downforce settings to take third on the podium.

And not to take anything away from Jenson Button who was fastest in Free Practice 3, qualified for his first ever Pole Position for McLaren, and lead the field from start to finish.  A great drive and a consummate performance, but so dominant that he was completely off the TV radar for the majority of the race.  Never under threat, he took his single pitstop with enough time in his pocket to come back out in first position.  Simply put, he drove the perfect race, consistent, fast and unchallenged. Joint Driver of the Day