Winners and Losers at the Belgian Grand Prix
26 August 2014 – Spa-Francorchamps played host to a captivating and controversial race as Daniel Ricciardo claimed his third win of the season while the two Mercedes drivers collided. Here, GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the 2014 edition of the Belgian Grand Prix.
On three occasions in 2014, the dominant Mercedes pairing has slipped up. On all three occasions it has been the perennially smiling Daniel Ricciardo who has taken advantage of errors from the Silver Arrows to win the races. Ricciardo's season has been quite extraordinary, considering Red Bull's pre-season nightmare, his unlucky opening few races and the calibre of the man driving the sister car. Despite starting from fifth position following an error at Blanchimont, Ricciardo stayed out of trouble at the start and quickly passed Fernando Alonso, while an error from team-mate Sebastian Vettel at Pouhon gifted him another place – which would later be crucial in the context of the race. Ricciardo consequently lost no time behind Vettel and in getting by so swiftly he was able to close the gap to leader Nico Rosberg, before jumping the German through the first pit stop due to the former's front wing change. Ricciardo pulled away from Kimi Räikkönen across the second stint while in the third he was able to manage his pace sufficiently to fend off a charging Rosberg without ruining his tyres. Whereas before he was the hunter, this time he was the hunted and yet he conducted himself in an equally impressive manner. Despite Red Bull's problems, he's only 64 points off the lead of the championship. He cannot be ruled out.
He got unlucky in Hungary and didn't exactly profit from the conditions in qualifying, but Valtteri Bottas raced in exemplary fashion to collect his fourth podium finish in five races. Bottas was running at the front in Budapest when the timing of the Safety Car scuppered his race and in qualifying at Spa the Williams FW36 wasn't quite up to scratch, meaning that sixth was the best he could manage. But from there his maturity was in evidence as he witnessed Rosberg lock up into Bus Stop and duly profited when the resultant time loss meant the Mercedes driver was slower down the Kemmel Straight than usual. He lost some time behind Sebastian Vettel but later on in the race when presented with an opportunity to get by on the reigning world champion he judged the situation perfectly and placed his car precisely to go around the outside of the Red Bull driver at Les Combes – Nico, take note. From there he cut into Räikkönen's advantage and eased into the podium positions during the final few laps. Bottas naturally has his own ambitions in the championship, but his mature and methodical approach this season may well just net Williams third place in the battle with Ferrari.
It would be fair to say that Kimi Räikkönen's second stint at Ferrari has not so far been the rekindling of a wonderful relationship. Räikkönen has struggled with a recalcitrant F14T, whose front end does not suit Räikkönen's specific driving style. There have also been technical issues, as well as strategic blunders, misfortune and a couple of errors from the driver himself. But at a circuit where the Finn thrives, he put in unarguably his strongest performance of the season so far. Räikkönen made a decent start and was on the back of Alonso and Vettel, persuading Ferrari to adopt an aggressive strategy and stop early. He emerged in a net second place and his pace was good, albeit not rapid enough to prevent Ricciardo from extending his lead. Ultimately there was insufficient speed in the Ferrari for Räikkönen to hold off Rosberg, while he lost third place to Bottas during the closing stages – a drawback of the earlier aggression meant his Prime tyres were seven laps older than those of his compatriot.
It had to happen at some point, although considering their season it's somewhat of a surprise that the collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg didn't happen in more dramatic fashion. However, this was a complete disaster for Mercedes and raises more questions than answers. What went so wrong in Hungary to leave Rosberg with such a sour attitude all weekend? Can the management cope with two drivers whose relationship is surely now beyond repair? How do they sanction their own driver who has a 29 point lead in the championship? Rosberg stuck his nose in to 'prove a point' (although what point he was trying to prove is debatable – trying to show that front wings are sharp?) He did not deliberately eliminate Hamilton from proceedings, but it demonstrated his ruthless streak and adds a different perspective to some previous events of this campaign. This wasn't akin to Prost/Senna in terms of what happened, but was it a move that, if Rosberg wins the title by a small margin, will lead some to claim it's forever tainted? It was simply a racing incident, but Rosberg's alleged admission that it was avoidable will send a shockwave through the Mercedes camp and create an uneasy atmosphere in the garage. Hamilton's post-debrief comments were not said in anger; he was softly and slowly spoken, as if he was stunned by what his team-mate had just revealed. For the Brit, it was another slice of bad luck and one that leaves him again needing to play catch-up.
Fernando Alonso was 'best of the rest' in practice and fourth in qualifying presented the 33-year-old with a prime opportunity to climb up onto the podium. However, while his rivals scampered away on the formation lap, Alonso was still on the jacks due to a battery issue – although Team Principal Marco Mattiacci believed it to be a problem with the starter – and his mechanics were thus still on the grid after the 15 second signal. The indefatigable Alonso nonetheless assumed his original grid slot, although the resultant five second stop/go penalty dropped him into the secondary battle. Alonso consequently spent much of the race batting with McLaren's Kevin Magnussen and the Dane's combative approach was not well received by the Ferrari driver. Eventually Magnussen sustained a penalty for edging Alonso onto the grass on the Kemmel Straight – itself costing the McLaren driver a god haul of points – but the Spaniard cost time and was dragged into a battle with Vettel and Jenson Button; in being edged wide by Magnussen he dropped behind Vettel and then clipped the Red Bull driver, damaging his front wing and losing a spot to Button. Not the best race, but not much of it was his fault.
Whereas one Williams driver raced to another podium finish, the other one was mired down in a woeful 13th position. Felipe Massa has not enjoyed a fruitful season in 2014 despite the inherent pace of the Williams FW36 and some golden opportunities. On occasion, he has been at fault courtesy of his erratic style, but in Belgium he was quite frankly unlucky. He started from a lowly ninth place – a combination of traffic and tyre warm-up issues, although Bottas fared better – and during the initial stages of the race he picked up substantial tyre debris from either Hamilton or Jules Bianchi's car. Unfortunately the debris became lodged in Massa's floor and cost him around two seconds a lap compared to team-mate Bottas. It wasn't removed until his second stop on lap 20, by which time he was mired in the midfield. Rob Smedley believes the debris cost his charger around 40 seconds overall – a deficit eminently possible when you look at Massa's lap times – and that was the difference between fourth position and the 13th place which the Brazilian ultimately collected.