The Bel­gian and Ital­ian GPS

Af­ter match­ing Michael Schu­macher’s pole record, a hard-fought win took Hamil­ton closer to the ti­tle

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Twenty-five years af­ter Michael Schu­macher’s break­through vic­tory at Spa-fran­cor­champs, Lewis Hamil­ton equalled the seven-time cham­pion’s mighty tally of 68 pole po­si­tions, be­fore driv­ing to yet an­other win un­der colos­sal pres­sure from Se­bas­tian Vettel in the fi­nal quar­ter of the race.

Hamil­ton still has some way to go to sur­pass Schu­macher’s 91 vic­to­ries, but he was cer­tainly on im­pres­sive form, beat­ing last year’s pole time by 4.2s, and soak­ing up the pres­sure af­ter a Safe­ty­car pe­riod elim­i­nated the ad­van­tage he’d built over the opening por­tion of the race.

QUAL­I­FY­ING Hamil­ton was peer­less in Q3. Fastest through all three sec­tors, he set a new track record in the process. While Vettel matched him in the fi­nal sec­tor – thanks to a tow from Kimi Räikkönen – he was al­ready just over 0.2s down be­fore en­ter­ing it. That was good enough for P2, though, since Valtteri Bottas left 0.4s on the ta­ble in the mid­dle sec­tor on his fastest lap and was ul­ti­mately half a sec­ond off his team-mate. Bottas missed the front row, but held onto third place on ac­count of Räikkönen mak­ing a mis­take on his fi­nal run and aban­don­ing the lap in favour of giv­ing Vettel a tow.

Red Bull had tried a low-drag setup on Daniel Ric­cia­rdo’s car dur­ing Fri­day prac­tice in an at­tempt to reach a higher top speed, but found it was too greatly off­set by di­min­ished cor­ner­ing per­for­mance – some­thing that Ric­cia­rdo likened to driv­ing a For­mula 3 car. They rowed back on the changes overnight, but Ric­cia­rdo still trailed team-mate Max Ver­stap­pen by just over 0.4s in Q3.

Nico Hülken­berg was best-of-the-rest in sev­enth place be­hind Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo and ahead of the Force In­dias of Ser­gio Pérez and Este­ban Ocon, a com­bustible duo who qual­i­fied a lit­tle over a tenth of a sec­ond apart.

“It’s a special day, def­i­nitely,” said Hamil­ton. “I knew it [equalling Schu­macher’s record] was on the hori­zon and I knew at some stage I’d get that 68th pole, but I re­ally hadn’t thought about it very much. I didn’t ap­ply pres­sure, I was like, ‘It could come soon, it could take a long time,’ but now, be­ing here, it’s an un­usual place to be. I re­mem­ber com­ing here in 1996, my first grand prix, watch­ing Michael come by out of Turn 1 and the en­gine just shook my rib cage – it was in­cred­i­ble. And that was when my love for the sport took an­other step.”

RACE Hamil­ton made a slightly bet­ter getaway than Vettel, but the Fer­rari main­tained sec­ond place into La Source ahead of Bottas, Räikkönen, Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo. Hülken­berg was slow off the line and lost out to both the Force In­dias and Fer­nando Alonso, who rock­eted past all three of them.

An out­side line into La Source en­abled Hülken­berg to claw back the loss to the Force In­dias and get along­side them on the run down to Eau Rouge, but Pérez and Ocon were locked in their own bat­tle. A char­i­ta­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what hap­pened next would be to say that Hülken­berg’s pres­ence on the left forced Pérez to edge right, leav­ing Ocon com­mit­ted to a di­min­ish­ing gap – bang­ing his left-hand wheels with Pérez and rub­bing the right-hand ones against the wall. This sce­nario would be re­vis­ited later on, when it would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the out­come of the race.

Hamil­ton coolly held on to the lead up front from Vettel, Bottas, Räikkönen, Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo. Hülken­berg and Alonso du­elled for sev­enth un­til the Mclaren started to go back­wards and then dropped out en­tirely. Ver­stap­pen lost power and brought his Red Bull to a halt on the Kem­mel Straight on lap 8, bring­ing out dou­ble­waved yel­low flags that Räikkönen was later judged to have ig­nored, earn­ing him­self a ten-

“VETTEL

HAR­RIED HAMIL­TON TO LES COMBES, LEWIS KEEPING AHEAD ONLY BE­CAUSE OF HIS EX­QUIS­ITE FEEL FOR THE BOUND­ARIES OF GRIP UN­DER BRAK­ING

sec­ond stop-go penalty – but only af­ter he be­came the last of the lead­ing group to pit, on lap 15. This dropped him to sev­enth place, but events in the sec­ond half of the race would fall in his favour.

Räikkönen passed Ocon and Hülken­berg to move into fifth, while Ric­cia­rdo, hav­ing in­her­ited fourth from his team-mate but hav­ing also lost touch with the lead­ing trio dur­ing his opening stint on ul­tra­softs, found his sec­ond set of tyres more to his lik­ing and sta­bilised the gap to the lead­ers.

When the two Force In­dias col­lided again on the run down to Eau Rouge on lap 29 – Ocon would later ac­cuse his team-mate of try­ing to kill him – enough de­tri­tus was left on the track for Race Con­trol to de­ploy the Safety Car. Hamil­ton, whose com­fort­able lead was elim­i­nated at a stroke, de­scribed it as “a BS call”.

Most of the field pit­ted, and both Fer­raris took on the new set of ul­tra­softs avail­able to them on ac­count of hav­ing made only one run dur­ing Q2. Hamil­ton and Bottas, on the only tyres avail­able to them (softs) were there­fore vul­ner­a­ble. On the restart, Vettel har­ried Hamil­ton all the way to Les Combes, Lewis keeping ahead only be­cause of his ex­quis­ite feel for the bound­aries of grip un­der brak­ing. Bottas, though, lost out to both Ric­cia­rdo and Räikkönen, who went ei­ther side of him.

Over the re­main­ing tense 11 laps of the race, Vettel gave chase. How­ever, Hamil­ton’s greater con­sis­tency en­abled him to stay out of DRS range, string­ing the gap out to 1.7s on the fi­nal lap, and then cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line 2.3 sec­onds to the good.

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