The 2016 Belgian grand prix may have had a familiar victor at the end of its 44 laps but little else was as predictable as Nico Rosberg on the top step of the podium.
The German Mercedes driver was in prime position after securing pole while teammate Lewis Hamilton was confined to the back of the grid after accruing several dozen penalties for a litany of power unit changes.
Rosberg made the most of his starting position to lead into turn one while chaos erupted behind him. The start was going well for Kimi Raikkonen who started third in the Ferrari enabling him to challenge front row starter Max Verstappen for his second place. But it transformed into a shower of carbon fibre moments later as Sebastian Vettel attempted to drive around the outside of both Verstappen and Raikkonen and made contact with his teammate. It was a daft move from the four-time champion, which utterly devastated Ferrari’s afternoon.
There is an argument that Verstappen was the culprit in this incident as he positioned his car inside of Raikkonen into turn one. But given Raikkonen’s vast experience as exceptional spatial awareness he would’ve recognized the Red Bull on his inside and opened his steering to avoid a coming together. But he was unable to do so with Vettel turning into him from the other side. While Ferrari has experienced several unfortunate and uncontrollable reliability incidents throughout the year their own hand has inexcusably exacerbated it.
The race had just begun to settle down as Renault’s Kevin Magnussen lost control at the top of Eau Rouge and slammed into the barrier with an enormous impact. The Danish driver exited the cockpit of his car only with a slight limp that was later confirmed as a cut to his ankle. The crash displaced the tyre-wall, which prompted race director Charlie Whiting to red flag the race in for repairs to take place.
By this stage, and after the carnage of the first few laps, Hamilton had made his way through the field to fifth behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in fourth. The red flag meant that Raikkonen and Verstappen’s damaged cars could receive much needed attention in the pitlane and all drivers could made adjustments if so inclined. While Verstappen received a new front-wing Raikkonen’s engineers were frantically trying to fix the plank underneath his car by bonding it with duct tape.
The race resumed with Rosberg in the lead and Daniel Ricciardo in second. The Red Bull driver was able to keep the Merc honest for the majority of the race but eventually finished second, 14 seconds adrift. Miraculously, Hamilton had worked his way up to third by the time the flag dropped. While Rosberg may have taken the honours on Sunday Hamilton should be over the moon with his performance. Not only does he still hold a 9-point lead in the standings but the Brit now also has the advantage of three new engines for the remainder of the season.
Nico Hulkenberg completed an impressive day for Force India with fourth while Perez finished fifth ahead of a recovering Sebastian Vettel in sixth. Fernando Alonso ran an impressive race for McLaren to finish seventh ahead of Williams driver Valtteri Bottas in eighth. After being a lap down before the red flag Raikkonen was able to recover to ninth ahead of Felipe Massa in tenth.
The Formula 1 paddock crosses the Belgian border to Northern Italy for one of the most passionate races on the calendar at Monza. Ferrari’s recent form doesn’t provide much hope for their ardent Tifosi but an engine upgrade for the most power-hungry circuit on the calendar could provide a boost.