Sebastian Vettel exerts a total domination at the Belgian Grand Prix, taking the lead in Lap 1 and keeping it steady until the chequered flag. A very unfortunate contact with Daniel Ricciardo at the start, however, dramatically hinders Kimi Raikkonen’s and forces them both to retire, the Finn suffering from substantial floor damage.
Before the race
The Belgian Grand Prix weekend has been extremely unpredictable. Free practice is dominated by the Ferraris, with Kimi Raikkonen topping FP1, Sebastian Vettel doing the same in FP2 (smashing the track record) and a Prancing Horse 1-2 in the third and last session. Qualifying is influenced by heavy rain in Q3 and Lewis Hamilton takes pole, mastering wet conditions as he always does. The starting grid sees Vettel in P2, with Esteban Ocon right behind him, and Kimi Raikkonen in P6, with Daniel Ricciardo on his tail.
Lights out and safety car
When lights go out, Nico Hulkenberg loses control of his Renault and dramatically crashes into Fernando Alonso, causing a dangerous collision which puts both drivers out of the race. Leclerc loses the front wing in the impact (and risks his life, was not the Halo there to protect his head), Ricciardo’s rear wing is destroyed and Raikkonen suffers a puncture, coming slowly into the pits. The safety car prevents him from being lapped, while Vettel takes the lead with a masterful overtake. Safety car comes in at lap 5, Sebastian keeps the lead of the race while his teammate is overtaken by Bottas (starting in P17 after engine penalties were applied) in the very back of the queue. After three pit stops performed in an attempt to save the Red Finn’s race, floor damage causes him to retire on Lap 9.
Pit windows are open
Valtteri Bottas, in the meantime, comes up the ranks in his superior Mercedes. At lap 22, Hamilton goes for the “undercut” and pits for Supers, Vettel following shortly. Despite Lewis’s best efforts in setting record sectors, a very quick and perfectly timed pit stop allows Vettel to rejoin the race in P1. The pit stop carousel gives Bottas the chance to move forward for P4, a position he’s going to hold until the end of the race, eventually winning tha battle with a superlative Sergio Perez. Max Verstappen manages to keep Bottas in P4 with a well-timed pit stop, joining 25.1 seconds behind Hamilton.
The second stint sees Lewis being considerably slower than Sebastian, losing more than 0.3 s at every lap. Bottas finally pits for softs, his first stint being significantly longer than any other in the higher ranks. Daniel Ricciardo retires at lap 31: the Aussie cannot break free of his dry spell, an unfortunate ending to a difficult race and a disastrous weekend.
A solid and steady ending
His tyres being definitely fresher than the other drivers’, Valtteri Bottas sets the lap record at 1:46.286. The overtaking of lapped cars starts at lap 34, blue flags being displayed throughout the track. The last ten laps see a complete Sebastian Vettel domination, prolonging his advantage over Lewis Hamilton at every single lap and eventually closing the race with more than 11 seconds of interval, the podium being completed by Max Verstappen.
Overall, a positive weekend for the Prancing Horse: despite the unsatisfactory results in qualifying and Kimi Raikkonen’s DNF, the SF71H confirms once again his excellent performance and the team has quickly showed great strategy can really make a difference in this year’s Championship.