Cooler conditions for Sunday in Spa might rewrite the form book for the weekend, but the talk before the start of the race was Lewis Hamilton.
Initially announced that he would start from the pitlane, the wrong penalty was applied after the team changed his gearbox and he would start from the back of the grid. A damage limitation exercise for the British driver, trying to keep his championship lead going to Monza. It was Marcus Ericsson though who would be starting from the pitlane in the Sauber, giving those at the back of the grid one less car to pass.
Those at the front of the field have taken a mixed strategy, the highest placed on the supersoft tyre Max Verstappen, which looked like a risk in the higher temperatures yesterday. Nico Rosberg and those around him would be starting on the soft tyre, although that doesn’t look like the best tyre either. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso would start at the back of the field on the medium tyres.
Grosjean in 11th would start on the soft, along with all of those that qualified outside the top ten, apart from the two out of position.
It was a fast formation lap from Nico Rosberg, leaving Max Verstappen behind, with a gap behind him also to the Ferrari. He brought them all back close behind into the final chicane, backing everyone up to form the grid.
It was a good start from Raikkonen. Vettel was spun in the first corner with Verstappen falling behind. Verstappen had problems with his own with a broken front wing but remaining in second, although then backed the rest of the field up. Hulkenberg overtook Verstappen at Pouhon for second place in the Force India, with Ricciardo in third. Grosjean also had an amazing start to make fifth place. Verstappen pitted at the end of the first lap for a new front wing, with Vettel, Button and Nasr also following.
Carlos Sainz had a huge tyre explosion up the Kemmel Straight, while Raikkonens Ferrari was on fire in the pitlane while they were changing the front wing. It was a slow stop by the Ferrari crew. Sainz later pulled off the racetrack to retire and brought out the Virtual Safety car.
The order was Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Bottas, Grosjean, Perez, Palmer, Magnussen, Gutierrez and Alonso. Button also retired along with Pascal Wehrlein.
The Virtual Safety Car came in on lap 4, the cars back up to racing speed. Kimi Raikkonen was just over a lap down, and he was the fastest car on the circuit early doors, running between the leading two and Ricciardo. Relays showed that Pascal Wehrlein hit the back of Jenson Button on the first lap.
By lap 6 Lewis Hamilton had made his way up to 11th, but was still behind Fernando Alonso how was 10th. Kevin Magnussen had a huge crash at the top of Eau Rouge, hitting the barriers really hard bringing out the Safety Car. He got out of the car, although slightly limping. Replays showed that his head restraint flew off.
A number of cars stopped under the safety car including Perez, Grosjean and Palmer, with Hamilton staying out on the medium tyre. Bottas came in on lap 8 for a pit stop, with Gutierrez also came in for his tyre change.
At the front the order was Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Perez, Kvyat, Palmer and Grosjean rounding out the top ten.
Fernando Alonso said over the radio that he had no data on his steering wheel and therefore didn’t know what speed he was going. Nico Hulkenberg in third was the highest placed driver who had pitted.
The race was red flagged when the tractor was brought on the circuit on lap 9, with the cars heading into the pitalne. The cars now able to change tyres if they so choose, giving a free pitstop. Under the stoppage, Ferrari were seen adding sticky tape to the front of Raikkonen’s car, while a new front wing was brought out for Verstappen.
Fernando Alonso went onto the soft tyre, along with Lewis Hamilton starting the race in fourth and fifth. Nico Rosberg and Perez switched to the medium tyres, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen also at the rear of the field.
Just as the car emerged onto the circuit once again, the safety car came in at the end of the first lap.
At the restart Rosberg got the jump on Ricciardo. Alonso right on the back of Hulkenberg, with Hamilton a little further back and was nearly overtaken by Massa. He got back on terms with the McLaren by the top of the hill though.
Even on the medium tyres, Rosberg was on the pace straight away setting the fastest lap of the race. While the second lap (lap 12) saw Lewis Hamilton get ahead of Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen also got ahead of Verstappen, a move that happened at Les Combes, with the Ferrari straight lining the chicane. He gave the place back, and the Ferrari got blocked on the Kemmel Straight. They were losing touch with the cars in front, while Kimi Raikkonen was complaining about the driving of the Dutchman.
By Lap 14 and Hamilton had got much closer to the back of Hulkenberg, currently in third place, Alonso had fallen back in fifth with Massa behind him. In second, Ricciardo was lapping a similar time to the leader. Dany Kvyat had a train behind him for 8th, Grosjean behind him, with Vettel, Bottas and Guttierez in the pack. Vettel changed that order to start with, making a move for 9th on Grosjean. Palmer just adrift of that group was told that he would need to cool the tyres, lift and coasting.
Verstappen pitted on lap 17, chaing to the soft tyre, while Hamilton made gains on Hulkenberg. Vettel made a move stick on Kvyat for 8th place up the Kemmel Straight using the DRS, an easy pass for the Ferrari driver.
Hamilton was really closing in on Julkenberg’s Force India, bringing the gap down to half a second. It was an easy move for the Mercedes to get around the Force India down the Kemmel Straight once again to take third place, and just eight seconds down on his teammate.
Raikkonen tried to overtake Grosjean for 12th, with the two touching wheels into Les Coombe, although both cars continued, Palmer following the pair of them. Bottas also overtook Kvyat for 9th place, with the Toro Rosso starting to fall down the field. A lap later and Raikkonen did get ahead of the Haas on the Kemmel Straight.
Lewis Hamilton pitted on lap 22, exactly half distance but it was a slow stop from Hamilton coming out just ahead of Gutierrez and Kimi Raikkonen on the road. Kvyat having held that group up pitted behind Hamilton. Raikkonen overtook Gutierrez in the process. Nasr was also given a five second penalty for leaving the track.
A number of other cars pitted a lap later than Hamilton including Gutierrez and Palmer, Massa also changed tyres outside the top ten. Hulkenberg also pitted for another set of tyres, while Verstappen also overtook Romain Grosjean with Massa just ahead of the pair of them, it was a great move on the outside of Pouhon.
Hulkenberg and Alonso were side by side in the pitlane, with the pair touching, both now on the medium tyres. Raikkonen also pitted for the medium tyre. Perez overtook Verstappen for 7th, with Vettel also battling with the Red Bull driver. Ricciardo having yet to stop was losing time hand over fist to Hamilton, and pitted at the end of the lap.
Ricciardo stayed ahead of Hamilton, he stopped o lap 26. Verstappen made a great move on Verstappen out of La Source to take 8th place, although Verstappen had a go at Vettel using the DRS on the Kemmel Straight and took the place back again.
Rosberg pitted on lap 27 for a set of the medium tyres. A straightforward stop for the German meant that he remained in the lead of the race. Another lap gone by and the Ferrari got ahead of the Red Bull, with Bottas right on the back of Verstappen. The Finn made the move into the Bus Stop, but Verstappen made another pitstop, taking a set of the soft tyres with 16 laps remaining.
Perez went around the outside of Massa at Les Coombe on lap 29, the Force India making a spectacular move with the pair touching for the Mexican heading off down the road. Verstappen was making his way through the field again, overtaking Jolyon Palmer on his crusade for points.
At the front and Rosberg had a gap of ten seconds on Ricciardo on lap 31, with Lewis Hamilton another second down on the soft tyre compared to Rosberg and Ricciardo on the medium. Perez was also on a move, Perez also overtaking Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel closing on the back of Felipe Massa for 7th with also only just slightly up the road. Bottas, behind this battle was just ahead of the other Ferrari.
Hamilton pitted for a set of the medium tyres on lap 33, and came out behind Nico Hulkenberg but ahead of Sergio Perez, and the other battle with the two Ferrari’s and two Williams’. Vettel made the move on Massa, with the Ferrari heading wide and then forcing the Williams to the outside of the circuit, but the positions remain the same.
Hamilton quickly got on the back of Hulkenberg and got ahead of his at his first attempt. Vettel made the move second time around on the Williams for 7th, and closed in on the back of Alonso. It was an easy move for the Ferrari to take sixth place. Alonso, Maasa, Bottas and Raikkonen were all together at the lower end of the top ten. Raikkonen couldn’t do anything about those in front of him, with Fernando Alonso pulling away from the Williams slightly.
Lewis Hamilton by lap 40 was fast, setting fastest laps of the race lap by lap, but was only able to make a modest dent into the lead of the Red Bull of Ricciardo. Bottas got ahead of Massa going into Les Combe, the Brazilian struggling with the tyres. Bottas was going for Alonso, with Raikkonen right on the back of the other Williams. Having no DRS, Raikkonen got ahead of Massa dropping down to 10th place.
The places remained the same though to the end of the race, Nico Rosberg keeping his dominant position for the afternoon, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in second and Lewis Hamilton climbing from 21st to 3rd. It was a great afternoon for Force India to come home fourth and fifth with Vettel in 6th and Fernando Alonso in 7th. Valtteri Bottas in 8th, Raikkonen in 9th and Massa in 10th.