As always the classic Spa Francorchamps delivered an incredible race with a mixed-up grid, a terrifying first-lap collision, a battle for every corner and a dominant lights-to-flag winner. As we’re likely to see again at the 90 year old Monza, when it comes to tracks, they sure dont make them like they used to.
Mclaren Driver Dilemma
What are McLaren to do with Lewis Hamilton? With those telemetry tweets they are faced with an impossible task, forced on the one hand to discipline their petulant driver, while on the other persuade him to extend his contract with the team. For while he may be a bit of a pain Lewis is still a precious commodity, and there is only a buyers market for a man who is probably the fastest driver on the grid.
Except for when Jenson Button is on form. Because when he is, like in Spa Francorchamps, he’s unbeatable. There were no gimmicks behind Button’s magnanimous victory at Spa, despite Hamilton’s protests over their respective rear wings. While it doesn’t exactly propel him back into the title hunt,in such a judgmental industry breaking his pole position duck for McLaren will be almost as important to him as winning the race. He’ll go into Monza a confident man with the team behind him. Hamilton may be the outright faster of the two but it has started to feel like McLaren have chosen their preferred lead driver.
Grosjean On The Sidelines
Grosjean’s ban for dangerous driving for dangerous driving is somewhat ironc considering his home country Switzerland has had a ban on motor racing since the horrific incident at the 1955 24 hours lemans which took the lives of 80 people.
The Lotus driver has been punished one-race ban and has suffered the ire of the other drivers for his repeat collisions. However Grosjean’s mistakes, and there have been a few, seem to be that of a clumsy, over-excited rookie, someone with natural talent and speed but lacking the maturity to capitalise on it. This is in stark contrast to the wealth of other drivers, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Pastor Maldonado, Lewis Hamilton to name but a few, who have caused avoidable collisions through anger or frustration or in some cases purposefully to gain an advantage.
Whether the ban will work towards cooling the young hot headed drivers, and some of the hot headed older drivers as well, remains to be seen although Iimagine Romain will drive a little more carefully when he returns for Singapore. In the meantime it’ll be interesting to see how reserve driver and Virgin Racing refugee Jerome D’Ambrosio performs in what should be an extremely competitive machine.
When Jackie Stewart won his three world championships the chance of losing your life in a Formula 1 car, for a driver with Sir Jackie’s career length, was 2 in 3. With little-or-no medical infrastructure at circuits and driving cars very liable to burst into flame drivers came to a race weekend fully aware they may never leave the track. Monza itself has claimed over 90 lives since the first race there in 1922.
Those born too late to experience the true brutality of motorsport may discount the opening lap crash at Spa as simply part of the excitement. It has been nearly 2 decades since Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger lost their lives at Imola and so for an entire generation of fans, and even drivers, fatalities in Formula 1 are something of a bygone era. However for Fernando Alonso a potentially fatal collision wasn’t a generation away, it was less than a meter away.
The moment Grosjean sails over the top of the Ferrari should be viewed with fear, not excitement and Alonso himself admitted how lucky he is to be back in the car for Monza in 5 days. In reality Alonso is lucky to be able to do anything in 5 days. Purists may balk at it but until fully covered cockpits are introduced to the sport the drivers will still be at significant risk.
Sauber had an incredible qualifying on Saturday, 2nd for Kobayashi and 4th for Perez, only to have hopes of a win, podium or even points finish dashed by the first corner as Grosjean’s out of control Lotus tagged both of them in quick succession.
Sauber claim to have made few updates which either means the car was uniquely suited to Spa or their young drivers were simply working to their peak ability. The car has looked impressive since the first race but this has been the first time they seemed able to mix with the top teams on raw speed alone. The first lap incident robbed us of the chance to see their comparative race pace.
Kobayashi is keeping his reputation alive with some cracking qualifying this season but without the race results to back it up he’s at risk of becoming a Jarno Trulli style one lap wonder.
A Crash From the Past
Massive first lap collisions are rare in today’s F1 but were common place in the 90s and early to mid 2000s when the first lap was often the only place on track overtaking could occur. One of the first races I ever watched as a child was the 1998 Spa Francorchamps pile up at La Source, a rain soaked race of which only 6 cars finished, implausibly led home by Damon Hill in a Jordan.
Today with KERS and DRS and high tyre wear even at the most unyielding circuits the order can be shaken about during the race leading to less first lap dramas. While today’s Formula 1 may be accused of manufacturing thrills I’m unashamed to say it’s created a truly incredible show.