2015 Belgian Grand Prix Review
The early sessions in Belgium saw Rosberg suffer a massive tyre failure after his right rear suddenly blew itself apart as the Mercedes tore through Blanchimont. Thankfully the car avoided a high-speed crash, but nonetheless it was an ugly moment.
McLaren took two new engines per car for Spa and the rest of the season, taking a total of a 105-place penalty between the two cars. New rules, however, meant they would just start at the back in Belgium and the rest would be written off. Grosjean took a 5-place penalty for changing his gearbox out of sequence, and Verstappen also had a 10-place penalty.
Late engine issues for Verstappen saw him fall behind Button in Q1, although the McLaren penalties made it irrelevant before the Toro Rosso returned to the top 15. Nasr fell 16th, Button 17th [19th] Alonso 18th [20th] Stevens 19th [17th] and Merhi 20th [18th].
In Ferrari's 900th race weekend, Raikkonen stopped at the end of the second sector in Q2, failing to set a time and bringing out a red flag. He would start 14th aside from penalties. Verstappen didn't even leave the garage as his penalty made it futile. He 'qualified' 15th, but dropped behind Nasr and the Manor pair thanks to his penalty. Ericsson fell 13th, Kvyat was dropped to 12th and 11th place went to Hulkenberg.
Hamilton took his 6th consecutive pole – the first such event since Schumacher in 2001 – ahead of Rosberg. Bottas held 3rd from Grosjean [dropping to 9th] with Perez 5th on the road. Ricciardo jumped to a 6th, Massa 7th, Maldonado 8th, Vettel 9th [compounding a poor anniversary weekend for the Scuderia, although he was the last to benefit from Grosjean's penalty] and Sainz 10th.
The big question coming into Sunday, as the storm clouds failed to materialise, was what would happen with the new unaided starts the drivers were forced to make. Would it give some huge advantages over others? Would it become a lottery? Time would tell, although dry runs seemed fairly normal.
Raikkonen's starting position became 16th due to a gearbox change, putting him behind Nasr and Stevens.
Hulkenberg reported a lack of power on the formation lap, despite an oddly fast launch. The team then called the number 27 Force India into the pits before changing their mind. The German driver then had to force an aborted start as the car conked out at the side of the grid.
The second formation lap then saw Sainz make similar complaints to Hulkenberg, joining the Force India in the pits. At the second attempt Hamilton led from Perez and Ricciardo, Bottas and Rosberg fighting for 4th ahead of Vettel and the Lotus pair. Massa and a fast starting Ericsson completed the top 10. Rosberg re-took 4th at the end of the opening lap.
Maldonado suddenly slowed out of Eau Rouge, becoming the third retirement as he reported an engine problem.
Kvyat jumped Ericsson for 10th while Nasr demoted Button from a surprisingly high 14th place. Bottas, meanwhile, had dropped to 6th behind Vettel and Rosberg.
Kvyat and Grosjean were both between the Williams after Kvyat cleared Massa for 8th into Les Combes, suggesting Williams were a bit too slow on the straights.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 7, the first to blink as he switched to the medium tyres. The promised afternoon storms still seemed an unlikely prospect so the usual dry tyre rules were being assumed.
Grosjean jumped Bottas, Kvyat right on the tail of the ailing Finn.
Perez stopped a lap after the Red Bull to cover off Ricciardo's stop, Perez taking another soft set but losing the position.
Grosjean, Massa and Verstappen pitted line astern. Lotus went soft-soft, Kvyat also pitted and rejoined behind the Lotus on mediums, Massa likewise as Grosjean lined up the sister Williams and made the move immediately, the camera showing that Bottas had one medium tyre along with his other three softs.
Verstappen forced his way past Nasr for 11th, fighting around the outside of Blanchimont and slamming the door shut in the Bus Stop chicane.
Perez used DRS to steal back 4th from Ricciardo, while Rosberg was called to pit to cover off the battling cars behind. On rejoining he was comfortably ahead of Perez and Ricciardo, but another lap would likely have cost at least one place for the Mercedes – not that Perez was going to let it go without a fight, as he tried a bold move around the outside of Les Combes. Bottas went under investigation for a blatant, if unintentional, tyre infringement. The result was a drive through penalty for the Williams, while the team resolved to investigate how the mix-up happened, seemingly implying the way Pirelli supplied them was at fault.
Hamilton's stop put him behind Vettel, the Ferrari leading but not having stopped. When he did, he settled in between Grosjean and Kvyat in 6th.
Grosjean decided he was bored of splitting the Red Bulls and overtook Ricciardo, climbing to 4th behind Perez. As Grosjean closed, Perez became squirrelly on the brakes, but no amount of unpredictability could stop the Lotus scything past into Les Combes for the last podium position – just as clouds seemed to start building.
Ricciardo suddenly stopped at the top of the pit straight, disabling DRS and bringing out yellow flags and the VSC. Button took the chance to pit, as did Alonso and Perez.
A lot of cars came in as the VSC ended, Massa ahead of Raikkonen and one of the Toro Rosso cars.
Kvyat jumped Bottas for 9th, Williams' day going from bad to worse thanks to the Red Bull's new soft rubber against Bottas' now complete medium set. Alonso climbed to 11th a little way back.
Mercedes did their last stops with about a dozen laps to go, returning to the soft tyres as they bedded in for the final few laps.
Sainz gave up in the end from 17th and last, the Toro Rosso obviously still not healthy.
Kvyat took 7th from Raikkonen, DRS proving a formidable opponent for anyone not benefiting from it. The Red Bull was subsequently warned for exceeding track limits. Further ahead, Grosjean was reeling in Vettel as they fought for 3rd.
Verstappen jumped Massa, adding another injury to the Williams weekend. Kvyat overtook the Brazilian as well, nearly causing both cars to retire as the Russian took 6th. Perez succumbed a lap later.
Vettel blew a tyre almost 2 laps from the end, literally blowing to pieces his podium chances.
Hamilton won from Rosberg and Grosjean. Kvyat stormed to 4th ahead of Perez, Massa, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Bottas and Ericsson. Outside the points were Nasr, Vettel, then the McLarens and Manors running two by two. Sainz, Ricciardo and Maldonado retired while Hulkenberg failed to start.
Vettel losing out on a points finish against the Mercedes 1-2 cost the Ferrari driver a high price in terms of his championship bid, Hamilton now 28 points ahead of Rosberg and 67 up on Vettel.
Now the race was over, Lotus' cars were technically impounded while contractual issues with former driver Charles Pic were contested.