There was quite a lot of action behind Jenson Button in the Belgian Grand Prix. He drove away serenely, had no issues, and won as he pleased. Without being the fastest car. 2012 has had a habit of producing winners who did not have the fastest race pace. Indeed, Button is the clearest case of this since the Chinese Grand Prix, where Rosberg won comfortably despite the McLarens being significantly quicker.
The fastest cars at Spa? The Red Bulls. Both of them. It is a curious finding, but in underlying pace I have Webber and Vettel equally matched, when Webber went from being four places ahead of Vettel in the safety car period to four places behind by the end. The one stop strategy helped, but the real difference came down to the racing. Vettel gained places on the track (including one from Webber) and Webber lost them.
The other big surprise is the difference between Di Resta and Hulkenburg. OK, Di Resta had no KERS, but when even the best assessment puts him at more than 0.5s slower than Hulkenburg, I think that it was clear that he was the slower of the Force India drivers. This drive from Hulkenburg was every bit as good as it looked.
One other thing – Caterham were slow here. Rather than close, but not that close, to the midfield, they were adrift here. Marussia were within 0.5s on pace. An anomaly, or worrying signs?
Let’s work our way through the finishers, with the pace relative to the fastest pace (the Red Bulls on the medium tyres).
1. Jenson Button (McLaren); +0.4s on mediums, +0.4s on hards. Perfect qualifying lap, and a Red Bull wasn’t second until he had 15s in hand. Made it look easy.
2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull); +0.0s on mediums, +0.3s on hards. Showed great pace once in clear air, and managed to get the tyres to last for a one-stopper. With a two-stop, as long as he went to about lap 17, he would have been able to stop when Raikkonen was held up by Schumacher, and would probably still squeaked second. Just.
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus); traffic on mediums, +0.6s on hards. Didn’t have the pace to trouble the McLaren or Red Bull cars. Had he stayed ahead of Hulkenburg at the beginning, would have been touch-and-go with Vettel for second, but would probably (best guess) still have come third.
4. Nico Hulkenburg (Force India); +0.8s on mediums, +1.0s on hards. Had his first pitstop not been slow, might have avoided being jumped by Raikkonen (who was held up behind Rosberg). Not much more he could have done.
5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari); +0.4s on mediums, +0.5s on hards. About as fast as Button in clear air, though struggled with the racing, losing out in the first stint. Had more pace than it seemed at the time.
6. Mark Webber (Red Bull); +0.0s on mediums, +0.3s on hards. In the little clear air he got, he was as fast as his team mate, but Vettel outfumbled him, and then used a better strategy. Webber was left racing wheel-to-wheel with cars with less drag, and lost out. Evidence for Vettel as a racer?
7. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes); +1.2s 0n mediums, +0.9s on hards. Whilst most one-stoppers found more pace about the time of the first stops, Schumacher did not, yet decided to stay out. Turned out he was faster on the hard tyres, so lost out by not stopping. In fact, had he run the two-stopper of Hulkenburg, he may well have beaten the Force India as it had a bad first stop – despite not being as fast.
8. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso); +1.6s on mediums, +1.1 on hards. Another who seemed to prefer the hard tyres, was comfortably faster than his team mate in the second half of the race, and deservedly won the B team battle.
9. Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso); +1.1s on mediums, +1.5s on hards. Completely different pace on the two tyre compounds from his team mate. Unfortunately was on the slower one for the majority of his race. Middle stint pace was inconsistent.
10. Paul di Resta (Force India); +2.1s on mediums, +1.5s on hards. Now we know he had no KERS, and that sometimes the pace in the first stint can be a little misleading. However, I can’t see why his opening stint was so slow. And he is still 0.5s down on Hulkenburg on the hard tyres for the bulk of the race. There are suggestions that this was a good performance given the KERS issue – I think that the data suggests that he was slow in comparison with Hulkenburg even accounting for it.
11. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes); +1.0s on mediums, +2.0s on hards. Faster than Schumacher on the mediums, but really slow on the hard tyre. The one-stop attempt was worth a gamble as they didn’t really have anything to lose given their poor pace.
12. Bruno Senna (Williams); +1.6s on mediums, +1.7s on hards. Not a lot to say really. Involved in the battles in the first stint, but fell away as he had no pace. Lost more than a pitstop to the Toro Rossos in 15 laps.
13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber); +2.3s on mediums, +2.5s on hards. Soldiered on in a clearly damaged car. It could have been so good…
14. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham); +3.4s on mediums, +3.4s on hards. Further away from the midfield than has been the case of late. And significantly slower than Kovalainen despite finishing ahead.
15. Timo Glock (Marussia); +3.8s on mediums, +3.4s on hards. Finished 30s behind Petrov, but most of that is accounted for by being stuck behind De la Rosa in the first stint, and Pic in the final stint. Quicker than his team mate and much closer to the Caterhams than normal – a little worrying for the green cars perhaps.
16. Charles Pic (Marussia); +3.8s on mediums, +3.8s on hards. May have run out of tyres on his one-stop, but just about got it to work. Didn’t outshine Glock this time.
17. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham); +3.0s on mediums, +3.0s on hards. May have been comfortably fastest of the tail end cars, but was significantly away from the midfield, reversing the recent trend.
18. de la Rosa (HRT); +4.2s on mediums, +4.2s on hards. HRT were slowest again – but at least he was faster than Karthikeyan (again).
Ret. Karthikeyan (HRT); +4.6s on mediums, +4.5s on hards. Slowest.
The other drivers provided no data (Hamilton, Alonso, Grosjean, Perez) or insufficient data (Maldonado) to make any assessment of their race pace.