Jenson Button’s dominant victory at Spa could not have come at a better time for the 2009 world champion. His peerless performance through qualifying and Sunday’s race confirmed he can still be a major player in this year’s title race. Whether he has left himself too much work to do after his dip in form earlier in the year remains to be seen. However, his stunning pole position lap in Q3 – some 0.8 seconds quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton – proved vital as he escaped the first-lap carnage that took out his team-mate and championship leader Fernando Alonso. Keeping his cool behind the safety car, he was never in danger of losing the lead to the following pack and cruised away for a second win of the year. A calm and professional victory from a man who fully vindicated his words not to bow to team orders until it is impossible for him to win the title himself.
Romain Grosjean’s one-race ban for causing the first corner pile up that eliminated himself, Hamilton, Alonso and Sergio Perez is pretty much unheard of in Formula 1. It’s been 18 years since such a punishment was handed out – to Michael Schumacher way back in 1994. No doubt his dubious record of involvement in first lap shunts – seven this year – played a part in the stewards’ decision to reprimand the Lotus driver so severely. What is needed now from the FIA is consistency. While Grosjean’s conduct was reckless, he is unlikely to have seen any benefit in ending his own race a few hundred metres after it began. If Grosjean is to be banned for taking out “leading title contenders” as the FIA statement read (which in itself is worrying – would he have received the ban if he’d taken out Kobayashi, Perez and Maldonado?), drivers who endanger thier fellow racers – sometimes intentionally – need to be given race bans too. If it’s going to be nearly 20 years before another driver serves a ban, the Frenchman can rightly feel aggrieved.
In the all-dominant 2011 season, some doubted Sebastian Vettel’s ability to work his way through the field rather than sprinting into the distance for another easy win. Those people are very quiet this year. Spa once again proved the German’s racecraft is in no way lacking, with determined and skilful overtakes on other front runners including Kimi Raikonnen, Schumacher and team-mate Mark Webber – twice. His drive from midfield on the grid to second place was arguably the performance of the day, perhaps even more impressive than Button’s victory. Combined with an effective one-stop strategy, Vettel’s determination to make up for a below-par qualifying performance on Saturday ensured his best result since back in Bahrain, amazingly his only victory so far this season. Despite this, he is second in the title chase having only failed to score points on two occasions so far. Consistency could yet lead him to three successive title wins.
In recent years, very rarely would Sauber, Force India or Williams have been mentioned in the same breath as Mercedes. Yet this season they are reeling in the Silver Arrows – in terms of performance at least – at a rate of knots. The Swiss outfit were desperately unlucky to have both cars knocked out of contention so early in the race following their best ever qualifying performance. That neither Schumacher or team-mate Nico Rosberg – the forgotten man of this year’s championship – could reach Q3 is testament to the smaller teams’ progress this season – suddenly, it seems wrong if at least one of the ‘midfield’ drivers fails to break into the top ten and beyond on Saturday. This weekend, the straight line speed of the Merc helped it in sector one but was hopeless in the middle sector – allowing the likes of Kobayashi and Maldonado to upstage the better-resourced team. Mercedes seem to be falling backwards as quickly as their opponents make up ground.
Lewis Hamilton appeared to put his massively disappointing 2011 season behind him – pole positions, wins, consistent high point scores – and the McLaren man was rapidly laying last season’s ghost to rest. However, his actions following qualifying on Saturday had many shaking their heads in disbelief. Posting a telemetry printout contrasting his and Button’s laps on a freely accessible social network such as Twitter – is incredibly unprofessional and smacks of genuine annoyance that Button was able to produce such a stunning performance. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh may be more annoyed by this confidentiality leak than he is letting on – sadly Hamilton’s actions are reminiscent of a petulant school kid and the team should not be dealing with this sort of behaviour from a man who has won a world title. He was a helpless passenger in the first-corner shunt which took him out of the race, and hopefully he will return to making the headlines for the right reasons in Monza this weekend.
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