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Vettel copes with compromises on tyres to win thrilling Belgian Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Aug 2011   |  2:42 pm GMT  |  197 comments

Despite suffering from severe tyre blistering in the early stages, which forced him to pit twice for new tyres by lap 15, Sebastian Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull team mate Mark Webber and Jenson Button, who started 13th on the grid and survived a scare when his front wing was broken early on and he was forced to stop.

Given the problems he faced, problems which basically forced his team mate Mark Webber to run the whole race on the medium tyre, it was one of Vettel’s most impressive wins to date. It was greatly helped by problems for some of his rivals and by the Red Bull being more competitive here in Spa than it has been in recent years, but there was still a lot of work to do for him given the restrictions of the tyres. The Red Bull was set up at a certain camber angle which, combined with the vertical loads in Eau Rouge corner in particular, meant that the inside shoulder of the tyres was blistering on many cars, but especially the Red Bull. This doesn’t necessarily affect lap time, but does raise some safety questions as there is always the chance of a failure.

It was Vettel’s 7th win of the season and the 17th of his career and it makes his grip on the world title even more secure with Lewis Hamilton crashing out of the race. Vettel’s win extended his lead at the top of the championship to 92 points with only seven races to go. At this rate he could wrap his second world title up by the Indian Grand Prix in October. Surprisingly it was only Red Bull’s second one-two finish of the season.

There had been some behind the scenes action on race morning with some teams, including Red Bull, suffering from blistering problems on the front tyres in qualifying and asking the FIA for some dispensation to get new fronts for the start of the race. This did not happen.

“We had a lot of concern going into the race given the damage on the tyre so we took quite a risk,” said Vettel. “We (he and Webber) both stopped early and the target was to see how the tyres and not think too much about the outcome. It was more management than usual, but the car worked brilliantly. I’m very happy with how we managed the tyres.”

There were some fantastic performances throughout the field with Webber recovering from a poor start to finish second, Jenson Button making up 10 places from his grid slot and Michael Schumacher coming through from last place to fifth at the finish.

The track was dry at the start and everyone except Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button started on the soft tyre.

Nico Rosberg made an electric start, up to second on the first corner from fifth on the grid and then into the lead on the Kemmel Straight. Vettel slotted in second, with Hamilton under attack from Alonso who went past the Englishman on lap 2.

There was quite a bit of contact in the first corner, Alguersuari, Senna, Kovalainen all had some damage. Vettel retook the lead on lap four. Senna missed the corner and went straight on into Alguersuari. Senna hadn’t driven a race for a while and he was given a drive through penalty.

Webber and Button both pitted on lap 5, Webber’s tyres suffering already.

Alonso and Massa attacked Rosberg and we had a sequence of fantastic racing, as Alonso passed Massa and as the Brazilian tried to resist, Hamilton went through as well.

Vettel pitted on lap 7, reporting vibrations on his first set. He rejoined in 9th place. This early switch to new tyres was critical to the outcome of the race as he was able to lap very fast and build a margin, while others were still trying to make their qualifying tyres last.

Alonso passed Rosberg for the lead, great progress from his 8th place starting position. Meanwhile Hamilton was starting to see blisters on his front tyres. He still managed to pass Rosberg using DRS on lap 8, for second place.

Hamilton passed Kobayashi but then the pair collided with Hamilton having a big impact with the barriers and going out of the race.

The safety car was deployed on lap 15 and as some cars came into the pits, Webber found himself in second place behind Alonso, the difference being that Webber had got his medium tyre phase out of the way, Alonso had not.

Vettel pitted for the second time under the safety car. Behind the safety car the order of the top ten was Alonso, Webber, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Sutil, Perez, Petrov, Schumacher, Barrichello.

The race restarted on lap 16. Alonso held the lead, but Vettel passed Webber on the straight and set about Alonso, using his fresh tyres. He got ahead into the lead, but Alonso seemed to be managing the tyre wear, apparently planning to make one less stop.

Button was making great progress at this stage, having already got his medium tyre phase out of the way early on. He passed Sutil and Massa in quick succession.

Vettel was trying hard to avoid making an extra stop at the front on his third set of tyres. He managed it and only pitted for the medium tyre when Alonso did so on lap lap 30. He had coped very well with the compromise enforced by the blistering early on, a tough job but one he and the team managed superbly. Understanding and working the tyres just right seems to be one of his strongest traits, as he also showed in the final part of qualifying.

In the closing stages the main interest was Webber trying to catch Alonso, both on the medium tyres. The Red Bull was much faster on them.

Michael Schumacher had a great day to celebrate his 20th anniversary, starting at the back of the grid he used an inverted strategy starting on and running mainly mediums with soft tyres at the end to get into the top six and fight with his team mate Rosberg, who started fifth. Rosberg was told to “save fuel” in the closing stages and Schumacher passed him for fifth place.

Webber passed Alonso on the medium tyre very easily, the Red Bull a lot faster on it than the Ferrari. Meanwhile Button on the soft tyre was catching Alonso at a second a lap with six laps to go. He passed him with four laps to go for the final podium spot.

Webber closed on Vettel in the closing stages at around 7/10ths of a second a lap, but Vettel managed that gap too.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorchamps, 44 laps

1. Vettel Red Bull 1h26.44.893
2. Webber Red Bull + 3.741
3. Button McLaren + 9.669
4. Alonso Ferrari + 13.022
5. Schumacher Mercedes + 47.464
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 48.674
7. Sutil Force India + 59.713
8. Massa Ferrari + 1m06.076
9. Petrov Renault + 1m11.917
10. Maldonado Williams + 1m17.615
11. Di Resta Force India + 1m23.994
12. Kobayashi Sauber + 1m31.976
13. Senna Renault + 1m32.985
14. Trulli Lotus + 1 lap
15. Kovalainen Lotus + 1 lap
16. Barrichello Williams + 1 lap
17. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 1 lap
18. Glock Virgin + 1 lap
19. Liuzzi HRT + 1 lap

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I am surprise that no one coments on Sebastian Vettel start, the guy was left then right then left, what? you can’t do that, I think it is call the “MS start” and there are rules in place so you are to take one move only.


James can you please explain whats going on with the Red Bulls anti-stall. It seems to be a chronic problem. Both cars had an issue with it at Spa though Webber again had it worse. With all their money and engineering expertise how could they not have fixed it by now. Would be more than a little interested to know the inside story.




Don’t know, but aim to find out


wow, Vettel overtook slower cars while he was in a much, much, much superior car.

Big woop.


This is probably a wasted reply as some people will never give Vettel any credit for anything but… he overtook Webber – in the same car. He overtook Alonso who was in a competitive Ferrari (he was only slow on the medium tyre). He overtook Rosberg round the outside of Blanchimont, which was a beautiful move. All three without DRS. You might not support him, but surely you can give him credit for some of these moves?


I’ll give him credit, though in all three cases he was on far fresher tires. He is a very good driver, very fast. He has a stellar car, and that’s helped him immensely, no doubt. He’s destroyed his teammate in points in the same car, and that’s all he can do.

I would love to see him and Lewis go head-to-head in the same car, though I think Vettel wouldn’t be too thrilled. Lewis obviously wouldn’t mind, as shown by his meeting with Christian Horner.

I just hope that the RB8 isn’t as dominant as the RB6 and RB7 were, especially out of the gate. Though it seems to me that McLaren owe more of their downforce to the EBD’s than either Red Bull or Ferrari. Hope I’m wrong on that, but we won’t know until February of next year.


Here’s the one thing that scares me after today; Vettel actually made some beautiful overtakes. None as beautiful as those who overtook in Eau Rouge , but he did some fantastic non-DRS overtakes. He overtook Webber out of La Source and before Eau Rouge (though FOM missed that) after the safety car period, he overtook Alonso without DRS on the Kemmel straight into Les Combes (I think it was without DRS, no?) and, something that smacked beautifully of Alonso in Suzuka. He passed Rosberg around the outside of Blanchimont; which I did not think was possible for any car on any car. Almost a carbon copy of Alonso on Schumacher in 130R corner in Suzuka.

His defensive driver has stepped up a gear too methinks He doesn’t go up the inside to cover the entry to the corner, but he seems to have a way of beautifully reading the cars behind him; and “controls” their corner exits into the key parts. Spain is a case in point. Another is in Monaco. He was going through Portier and Anthony Noghes very slowly each time, and picking his moment to traction out of the corner beautifully, in a “safety car restart” style fashion, catching his pursuers out by sheer human response times.

Absolutely remarkable.

He hasn’t done much overtaking this year when on the same strategy; most of the ones he’s done this year are based on DRS; or on fresh vs old tyres. But this is the first race which really made me in awe of him. Clearly his overtaking skills are beginning to mature.

Abso-fricking-lutely remarkable.

Couple this with his (we know) superb clear-air race pace, and excellent qualifying skills, and… I’ll stop there


James please answer these questions….Is it just me or does it it seem that one of charlie whitings conditions for the deployment of the safety car is ‘will it ruin Alonso’s race?’ But in all seriousness is there any friction between the two since Valencia or possibly earlier? Thanks


It is you! There was debris everywhere. Cut a tyre at 310km/h….nasty.


I think Maldonado deserves some credit for a decent drive. He stuffed up big time on Saturday, but pulling the Williams up to 10th from where he started was a good effort.


Well Senna was definately worth the dollars. Following stats (and we know James likes using stats to justify ‘Renault’s’ decision to dump Heidfeld) we know Nick invariably finishes races ahead of Petrov…

So clearly ‘Renault’ (or Genii if you prefer) lost points so they could pay their bills with a fake Senna in a fake Lotus.


Great race. Pitty about the start was really looking forward to Senna and seeing what he was capable of. I think in qualifying he put a lot of critics to rest.

Ricciardo was going fanstastic until his car expired. My prediction is he will be outdriving the car by years end.

Becoming more obvious Webber main role is to hold off opposing teams rather than win. Its the Schumaker/Barracello days revisited which is a shame and also takes away from Vettels wins if Webber is running behind him.


“I think in qualifying [Senna] put a lot of critics to rest.”

The critics are always happier with a driver who qualifies poorly and scores points than one who qualifies well and brings in zero.

In truth, it’s too early to call. Senna’s case has yet to be seen.


James, the commentators said that Webber went on the harder tyres at the end of the race (i.e. the same as Alonso and Vettel). Was this not the case?


Webbers overtake at rouge on Alonso is one

of the ballsiest moves ive seen.


Driver of the day…Jenson Button. Brilliant charge through the field.


Schumacher and Button were the drivers of the day.

They should revise the DRS rule a bit, now it’s auto-pass button (though there was passing elsewhere today as well), which sort of kills racing when drivers can just move into the position determined by the speed of their car, not the skill of driver.

Perhaps something like you can use the DRS whenever you want…?


well done michael…we can see after 3 years years out the tide is now turning…hope merc give you a good car next year…”””


Rosberg was not told to slow, and James I would take slight issue with your suggesting that he was told to “save fuel” (emphasis on the inverted commas).

Rosberg was running up at the front when, in truth, Mercedes probably never expected it. Like in China, I believe, they probably went faster than they thought they would and hence burned more fuel – less of an issue for Schumacher coming through the pack. The pass was DRS / tyre related no doubt, but cast your mind back to Canada and remember that Schumacher was on the sore end then. He might have had a chance at holding off at least one of Button and / or Webber if they hadn’t had DRS to drive right by him, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.


I’m disappointed too that Senna dis-appointed Jaime (and almost Alonso by the same token) in no time. Was Senna just playing domino… or bowling?


haha – i wish there was a ‘like’ button available here.. like facebook…. James?


Why is every one so up in arms about DRS- I think it adds to the racing specatacle- if a car is really faster it can get further ahead than 1 sec at the appropriate time- I find it more boring to watch someone defending for lap after lap- when the car behind is compromised aerodynamically. Sure I would agree that DRS is not perfect- but it makes for a more interesting race than what we had before IMO.


I think people don’t like it when its too obvious that DRS is helping them not just during the overtake, but even beyond sometimes..

To be more precise.. DRS (ideally) should be like a draft, you get sucked in due to the ‘hole in air’ by the car in front, but when you pull out to overtake, you don’t have that extra “benefit”… then its up to you.. so DRS should be disabled as soon as the pursuer comes abreast the pursuee….

Then i think everyone will be happy; although it would probably not be worth having a DRS at all in that case.. so take you pick 🙂

It would be interesting though if DRS is only available on selective tracks like Hungary and Monacco where overtaking is notorious difficult.. but tracks like Monza and Spa .. they don’t need these stupid gimicks..


I think to a great extent that is what happened today.

A lot of the DRS assisted overtakes between cars with similar performance, weren’t consolidated until the overtaker got through La Combes well.


“I find, on a broader level, mainstream pop culture to be of the same superficial essence, appealing to the quickest and most accessible forms of pleasure and entertainment.”

You are quite correct.

When Rosberg is told to slow down so Schumacher the has-been can pass him near the end of the race, it is obvious that this is not a race but a show.

Vettel has succeeded on the merit of his car more than his own driving ability. Vettel against Villeneuve or Senna would have resulted in Vettel being humbled in the extreme.

If you want real racing, there is still MotoGP.

I look forward to reading that Ecclestone, who has done so much to ruin F1, is no longer able to parasitically destroy that which he never had a hand in creating.


Rosberg was interviewed after the race and said it was completely normal to have to turn his engine down at that point of the race. He had to push harder at the start and a stint in the middle which meant he used more fuel than Michael. Good to see there are still some decent anti-Schumi people about whatever he does! Great drive from a has-been, it is not often that a has-been is the first finisher behind the top teams on one of the most demanding tracks on the calender…


the comment about the show and not a race.. i think you are not aware that before being told to ‘save fuel’ rosberg was being caught by schumi at almost a second a lap…. plus if you look at the fact that after 3 corners rosberg was in P1, and schumi was in the last 2 or 3.. you have to conceed that schumi was faster than rosber, no matter what transpired during the actual overtake…


BTW – i do agree that DRS (especially) is making it a little artificial…


Out on a limb… that race had the best collection of passing moves in any Spa GP I remember back to the early 80’s… Webber in Eau Rouge, good grief, and several moments at Blanchimont. I think that Mercedes, even though they finished 45 sec plus behind, must have been heartened by seeing Rosberg lead, albeit briefly, and Michael’s awesome drive. Maybe they’re turning the corner? Re the Kobayashi endplate, I don’t think it was such a big deal. Was it Hamilton (I think) with the floor hanging off at Albert park last year, or ’09? I thought that was heaps worse for example, and they didn’t black flag him. As for the incident with Hamilton, I think Kobayashi had a right to be on the outside, and he was running out of road. I was impressed Hamilton said it was his fault after seeing the video, rare for a racing driver to be so willing to take the blame. Anyhow, great race, and no rain needed to create the drama!


Yet again, Hamilton makes contact with someone. Time for a big change of approach to his racing. Of course we all love someone with balls the size of Mansell, but LH isn’t going to win another championship unless he drives with his head a bit more.


How can Jaime disappoint when he was taken out by Senna at the first corner? which in turn ripped his suspension against Alonso…


I think most people were just disappointed that Jaime didn’t have a chance to prove what he could do… they weren’t disappointed with Jaime himself.


Did you see Bianchi’s race, he remminds me of Hamilton, he is so talented it’s a joke. Let’s hope that he can be at Williams and replace Barrichello.


Should Hamilton be punished more harshly this time – for example with two reprimands at once?


Am certainly not a passionate LH fan but if Mansell were candid I wonder what he’d be saying about Sat. and Sunday had it been him in LH’s seat.

Regardless, sure wish the stewards at all races were subject to questions like drivers and team managers are.


Good race from a number of drivers.

Alonso did what the Ferrari could do I guess, the SC clearly didn’t help him.

Button had a fantastic drive, best I’ve seen so far from him this year I think.

Vettel had a smart race.

Schumi and Rosberg did well as well. It was fun seeing Rosberg in the lead for a bit, he would have gotten my driver of the day award, if not for Schumi beating him in the end. So that goes to Schum.

Hamilton…. *sigh* He clearly never even saw Kobayashi there. At the moment of impact, Kamui is near the white line on the outside and Hamilton is moving towards it… I will never dispute that Hamilton is fast, but he is just reckless.


Great race.

James, who makes the decision on DRS zone positions? Its almost as if the decision makers haven’t watched a non DRS race!! I find it very frustrating when the DRS zone is put in place which is normally good for overtaking ie. the back straight in Turkey, the straight before the last chicane in Canada and the straight after Eau Rouge in Belgium. It will be a big shame if the DRS zone is on the start/finish straight in Italy and especially in Brazil, think of all the great non-DRS overtakes we have at these locations in the past. I want DRS to help overtaking where it is difficult, not replace genuine overtakes in traditional overtaking spots. There should be consideration to tracks which do not need DRS, especially with KERS and Pirelli. Barcelona & Silverstone need DRS, Spa & Interlargos do not.


Good question – how come they get it wrong so often, in a sport where they have such incredible simulators?

Maybe for the same reason they can get so much else so wrong too 😉


+1 on DRS where you can already pass. Canada and Spa were both painful in this regard, the double DRS in Canada doubly so.


Fully concur! DRS shouldn’t make a tough-but-doable-by-some overtaking zone an automatic zone for all; it should make overtaking possible again in those zones where there was overtaking in earlier years in F1 but where with modern F1 aerodynamics it’s become harder.

Yeah, Interlagos would be so easy along the start/finish straight, or the run down Reta Oposta.

Having the zone between turns 5 & 6 there would be great though!

I wonder where it will be for Monza? Hopefully not the start/finish straight.


The DRS, imho, should be banned at all. Enough of this fake overtaking like here and in Turkey. You have two cars having 0.3 second difference per lap and they overtake each over like one is just standing by the track. We have great races but there is no fight at all – momens like between Alonso and Webber today – cars are just passing by like on the different lanes on the motorway. I completely agree with Jaques Villeneuve – F1 shoud get ride of fake systems. We need fights on track – not only numbers of overtakes per race.


I subscribe to your point of view. Italy should have a DRS zone before Ascari or the Parabolica. Maybe even both those zones, since it would allow the car passed into Ascari to come back on the next DRS zone. DRS-ing the main straight would be stupid.

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