F1: Belgian Grand Prix ‘heroes and zeroes’ 2016

Nico Rosberg won the race but all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton’s fightback and whether Kimi Raikkonen would punch Max Verstappen post-race. Here I rate the heroes and zeroes from a thrilling (and at times stomach churning) Belgian Grand Prix 2016.

Belgian Grand Prix 2016 heroes

Heroes – Force India

Whilst McLaren, Toro Rosso and Williams have been claiming to be the 4th best team behind Merc, Red Bull and Ferrari, Force India have been quietly going about the business of making it happen.

Spa was fitting reward for keeping their heads down and getting on with it. Assisted by the first corner Verstappen-Raikkonen-Vettel calamity, both Perez and Hulkenburg were fast and smooth. Without the red flag stoppage for Magnussen’s mega-shunt, Nico Huldenberg in particular could have been on for a podium.

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Judging the best team is not just about speed – its speed, strategy, driver ability, pit stops – the whole lot. On Sunday, forget being the 4th best team. Force India were the 3rd best team by some distance.

Hero – Lewis Hamilton

Both Hamilton and his team were smart in taking advantage of the current (poorly thought out) power unit penalty rules. Piling up a 55-place penalty at a track with monstrous straights was the logical decision.

Both Red Bull and Ferrari looked like they might provide some stiff opposition (for once) to Hamilton’s back-to-front challenge. That of course lasted as far as the first corner, disappointingly for the neutrals among us. Races like Sunday’s make championships and Hamilton is looking good for title number four.

Hero – Fernando AlonsoIMG_8738

The more Alonso outperforms his machinery – from his time with Ferrari to now with McLaren – the more you believe he will never win another world title. The Spaniard seems destined to be one of those sporting greats whose career statistics (and trophy cabinet) do not reflect their talent.

Hamilton’s drive from 21st on the grid to 3rd was impressive. Alonso’s drive from 22nd to 7th (on one of the fastest circuits on the calendar) was awesome. Alonso possesses a sixth sense when it comes to navigating the carnage that typical ensues during the opening laps of every F1 race. His defensive driving to maintain a top 10 finish was masterful in the face of a sustained DRS-assisted onslaught.

Hero – Daniel Ricciardo

Whilst his teammate was busy pissing off most of the F1 paddock, Ricciardo showed why he is team leader at Red Bull. Keeping Hamilton at arms length at the end of the race was only half the story.

Daniel kept Nico Rosberg honest throughout the race and most importantly, avoided the carnage during the opening few laps. Mature and smooth all day. Max should watch the replay and take notes.

Belgian Grand Prix 2016 zeroes

It was not a difficult selection this week.

Zero – Max VerstappenIMG_9036

I fail to understand how ‘mad’ Max’s approach to offensive and defensive driving can continue without censure. The Dutchman’s behavior during his battle with Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday was well over the line between aggressive and dangerous.

Verstappen drives an F1 car like it’s a stock car. Which is bad enough if it was not compounded by his ‘youthful enthusiasm’ being used as an excuse for what is becoming a ‘softly, softly’ approach by the FIA. The old adage states ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ and it played a big part in Verstappen’s rapid elevation to F1. Now he is in F1, there is no reason to treat him any differently because of his age.

Much was made of him being too young for F1. I agreed at the time and still do, not because he cannot handle an F1 car. He clearly can – better than most – however he has not learned the hard way that certain behaviors on track only end in accidents. And that is the real issue behind the trend of fast-tracking immensely talented youngsters straight to the top – they have not learned their race craft.

His dive down the inside in to the first turn – as he tried desperately to recover from a terrible start – was a prime example of a lack of race experience. Admittedly Sebastien Vettel was partially culpable for not giving enough room. But that does not excuse Verstappen who had almost all four wheels on the inside kerb. Had Verstappen spent more time in junior single seaters he would have learned that option rarely comes with a happy ending.

 

Max nearly caused a colossal shunt by chopping across Raikkonen on the Kemmel straight. Were Raikkonen to have lost his front wing at over 200mph, the consequences could have been fatal. Red Bull’s protégé then gave Sergio Perez a fright running the Force India off the road. Manouveres like that have resulted in plenty of penalties already this season yet the 18-year old escapes censure.

Verstappen will cause a massive shunt soon if he is not brought under control. And forget the bullshit about him being ‘refreshing’ or people not wishing to dampen his natural will to win. No one will care about any of that if a driver ends up seriously injured.

As we roll on to the next race at Monza, I shudder to think what could happen there.

Zeroes – race stewards

A hallmark of this season will be the complete inconsistency in decisions regarding driving standards. In previous races the issue has been one of overly harsh application of penalties for driving standards – just ask Nico Rosberg. The failure to penalize Verstappen at the weekend swung things in the other direction.

F1 cannot continue to have different ex-racers stewarding each race. There are too many differing perspectives and opinions to offer any kind of consistency.

Zero – Pascal Wherlein

Wherlein has been in F1 long enough to realize that the opening laps are messy. You need to have your wits about you and at Spa the young German did not, ramming Jenson Button up the gearbox.

Wherlein claimed post race that he had nowhere to go to avoid the collision. That is correct. But he could have lifted and hit the brakes instead. A rapid promotion to one of Mercedes ‘bigger’ teams is still some way off.

Zeroes – power unit penalties

Spa was perhaps the ultimate example of how badly composed the current rules are on power units and replacement components. Designed specifically to keep costs down by ‘preventing’ teams using multiple engines in a race weekend, they were made a laughing stock by Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton racked up a monster 55-place grid penalty for the Belgian Grand Prix. Of course after 22 places keeping tally is pointless since a driver cannot start lower than 22nd place and the penalties do not carry over. The net result was Hamilton adding at least 3 new power units in to his rotation for the rest of the season. Thus greatly reducing the risk of more penalties later in the year.

This made a mockery of the rules. The rules are of course stupid anyway – Martin Brundle’s suggestion of taking constructors points away would be far better. The FIA needs to put more thought in to how such rules are applied and governed. Otherwise they might as well not bother including them and let the big teams blow as much cash as they want.

Belgian Grand Prix 2016 race rating – 4 out of 5

Thrills and spills a plenty. A few moments that left you looking through one eye but some great dicing (Verstappen excluded) through the field. The tussle between Perez and Massa towards the end of the race in particular was excellent.

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