In F1 it pays to look for subplots.
On one level, this was a good day at Belgium’s classic Spa track for Lewis Hamilton, who won after an unflinching race. True to his 2017 form, Hamilton’s win came after an intense and relentless race-long battle with Sebastian Vettel, where the rest of the competitors were left as specks in the rearview. His title points-deficit to Vettel is down to seven.
It was Hamilton’s 200th Grand Prix start, and he even equalled Michael Schumacher’s all-time record for poles the day before. It gets even better considering that the probability is his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas – 41 adrift – will be used as Hamilton’s aid for the remainder of the year, just as Kimi Raikkonen is for Seb.
You could make the case that it’s Seb and Ferrari who’ll take the most encouragement from this one. This was supposed to be a Mercedes track, yet come race day Ferrari looked quicker, and Vettel ran right with Lewis throughout. Hamilton admitted the Ferrari had the legs of him in this one. His win owed mainly to qualifying, and his resulting track position advantage.
Additionally, in typical 2017 fashion the cars’ designs – for all their merits – don’t allow for easy following.
Few of the remaining circuits this year will ‘suit’ Mercedes so quintessentially; the feeling is dawning that the Ferrari is near a point of being strong on all circuit types. We thought the battle close anyway, and today tilted predictions towards the Scuderia.
Vettel had a couple of chances to pass his rival – first on the opening lap in the long slipstreaming run to Les Combes, but Hamilton handily rebuffed him.
Things settled for a while, but – classic Spa – it later looked like the day may pivot. This time the Force Indias collided (another thing that’s become standard during this campaign) and Sergio Perez’s puncture lined the track with debris. This brought out the safety car, allowing Vettel’s new set of ultrasoft tyres to bolt them on for the sprint to the flag. Hamilton, on soft tyres, looked a sitting duck.
Lewis Uses His Loaf
He looked especially so when the safety car went in as Seb was nailed to his gearbox. Yet Lewis used his loaf, slightly relenting on the throttle pedal before Eau Rouge meaning Seb was too close to get perfect momentum on the subsequent straight. Hamilton, again crucially, therefore kept his place, and this time he kept it to the end. We underestimate him sometimes.
Even with his victory Hamilton afterward stated that Ferrari has the stronger car. It could be aching honesty or a ham-fisted attempt at mind games (he’s been known to practice both). Either way, he had a point.
The ongoing championship fight – as we’ve seen today, is between the two of them – only got closer in this race. But, in a completely different way, it got more intriguing too.