The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Spa Francorchamps : Rosberg Sails Through

29-09-2016

Report by Tony Cotton

 

Not long after I wrote the report on Monaco my niece gave me an old photograph she had inherited of “some old drivers” and I “might be interested”.  It was of a GKN Motor Show motorsport lunch, date unknown but I’m guessing around 1970.  It was a “who’s who” of the era’s British and Antipodean  motor racing stars, drivers and engineers. What made it especially poignant is that six of the guests were still with us when I got the picture but just in the last few weeks we’ve lost the two who were closest to Ferrari, Jack Sears and Chris Amon. They were renowned both when competing and now as true gentlemen, courteous, fair, and respected by all.  Ignoring the fact that it would be impossible to get more than a couple of modern F1slebs to such a function, the lack of courtesy, fairness and downright intelligence in the F1 grid was quite apparent at Spa.

Another member of the group, Colin Chapman, was thought at the time to stretch the rules as far as he could, and wasn’t always admired for it.  He would now be criticised as being a bit too straightforward. Sadly, the now highly paid organisers and officials are just as bad at drafting rules as they were in his day. Take for example the engine change rules, which I’ve criticised before because if you have a failure then that’s surely punishment enough. But if the rules say you lose 10 grid places, which in reality is not much different to back of the grid for Hamilton, then surely it’s stupid that you can change 3 engines and lose 55 places but in reality just go to the back of the grid once?  Mercedes took advantage of this loophole, so we knew Hamilton would not be on pole.  Alonso joined him with a 60 place penalty; his car  “stopped” without a qualifying  lap being completed. Manor were happy to get into Q2, while Haas were disappointed to not reach Q3, Grosjean losing out to Massa by 0.7 sec.  Button was almost euphoric to be 9th, if only to prove the Honda is getting somewhere,  while both Williams were reputed to be troubled by software, which is rapidly becoming the least reliable part of all cars, race or road. (Ever tried testing it properly chaps?- Ed).

When it came to the final shoot-out, both Rosberg (an expected pole) and Verstappen (second, on supersofts), relied on early laps rather than the last minute stuff. . Considering that he’s not in a Mercedes, Verstappen’s lap was astounding. Seb and Kimi battled for third and fourth. After an excursion at turn 14 on the first batch of runs,  Kimi, who always seems to love Spa, did a superb run of  smooth aggression for third, Seb fourth, and Ricciardo on different tyres to Vesrtappen, fifth.

Ferrari have had trouble at Spa before. A slow corner after the start means that a bit of intelligence is required.  Several failed the test. When the reds went out,  Rosberg just drove out of harm’s way and switched on Gardener’s Question Time on the radio to while away the afternoon. The Red Bulls’ electronics both made poor starts – I don’t believe the drivers are involved at the starts apart from steering – which allowed Kimi to take a strong second place, while Seb weaved past Verstappen for third.  Verstappen’s plan B was simple: don’t brake. He aimed for the bit inside the white line at La Source, and normally he might have got away with it, but Seb took a slightly tighter line than he should have done, meaning the blameless Kimi,  sandwiched as a rose between two thorns, caught Seb’s right rear, pitching him into a spin. Verstappen lost part of his front wing in the melee, and Kimi suffered a puncture. Which really wrapped it up for Ferrari for the afternoon. The young Dutchman, effectively at his home Grand Prix, had only a slightly reduced run to the pits while Kimi and Seb were delayed severely.

Most times I report on Spa, I rightly eulogise Eau Rouge, but then add that in a modern car it’s quite easy and safe. Which shows how little I know.  More in Raidillon than Eau Rouge Kevin Magnussen got it very, very slightly wrong. The snag is, that  in these cars, once the speed drops, the downforce drops almost exponentially, and the car snapped round hitting the barriers very hard, backwards. Magnusssen got out of the car and was later pronounced ok, but the strength of the impact pulled the horseshoe headrest out, fortunately after it had done its job in the rearwards accident. The race was red flagged.

All of which played right into the hands of Lewis Hamilton, by now in 5th.  By this time Seb was 11th and Kimi last.  Just after the restart Kimi passed Verstappen on Kemmel Straight. He was well clear,  and so Verstappen decided that if using a Ferrari as a brake worked once it should work again. He rammed Kimi off.  “Do  I have to let the bastard past?” asked the undisputed king of the car to pit radio. Dare I say the FIA should have, but wouldn’t,  jump on the adolescent  Max  in front of his home crowd? Remembering how Kimi dealt with a young Perez at Monaco 3 years ago, I would put a bit of extra carbon into Max’s chassis for the next few races if I was Red Bull. Kimi  did give the place back, and again tried to pass Max. This time Max just swerved into Kimi. Fortunately they were only doing around 300kph.  “This is [“extremely”] ridiculous” said Kimi. “He’s just [“extremely”] swerving”. Oh, I love Kimi’s radio.

We’d also had another rather shameful example of driving in the pitlane, where  Alonso was released side by side with Hulkenberg, and effectively raced him – and hit him – in the pitlane. All good knockabout stuff, except that there are mechanics in the pitlane. If it had gone wrong, mechanics don’t have a carbon tub around them. Competitiveness has its place.

Seb, meanwhile, was less spectacular than his team-mate but chipped away. He passed Palmer just after the restart, and then at regular intervals Grosjean, Kyviat, Massa, and Alonso to finish 6th.

At the front, Rosberg cruised to victory, Ricciardio had an unchallenged second and Hamilton after a meritorious fight up the field took third. Hulkenberg held on to 4th, and Perez 5th.  Rosberg may have snatched a few points back from Hamilton, but the latter had, in my view, the psychological upper hand, as third from the back trumps an easy drive from the front in a superior car.  Although if psychology is important, Seb, and even more so Kimi, must enter Monza in a positive frame of mind having salvaged points from an opening disaster.

Finally, to return to my opening 1970’s picture, one of the survivors is of course Jackie Stewart who, after nearly dying at Spa, crusaded for safety. It’s partly thanks to him that F1 is, today, very safe. But the two incidents I’ve raised of crass stupidity from Verstappen and (to my surprise) Alonso do make me concerned that there is a belief of impregnability amongst the divers. Please, let my concerns be unfounded and let the mad drivers be right, and that “nothing can possibly go wrong” no matter how badly they drive.