Spa-Francorchamps is an achingly beautiful circuit. I could get up at 0500h to watch a single car lap the track for an hour and a half, and still be happy. As it is, I got to watch some proper racing.
While we’re still on the subject of the circuit, though: It strikes me that Spa is one of the better circuits for DRS. Putting the DRS zone in front of Les Combes gave us a few formulaic passes, but Les Combes is fast enough that we got to see some pretty good defenses of position as well. Furthermore, in order to get best use out of DRS the trailing driver had to take Eau Rouge just right, with plenty of momentum but just enough space behind the car in front. Eau Rouge is not an easy corner complex to take just right, modern cars or no. A fun alternative might’ve been to activate DRS all the way through Blanchimont; if you can handle the high-speed oversteer you get to pass into the chicane.
Anyway. I was relieved to see that the tire issues about which everyone was fretting before the race turned out to be a side plot rather than overwhelming the rest of the race. I was worried when cars started pitting after four laps, but as the track rubbered in it seemed to get easier on high-cambered tires.
Speaking of tires: did anyone else connect Nico Rosberg’s smoking brakes to his lightning-fast start? My guess is that he got a bit more heat into his tires — radiating off the brake discs on the grid — than everyone else, and had a bit more grip than the rest of the field when the lights went out. I don’t think Mercedes are quite up to the pace of the Big Three, but they’re getting closer. (Of course, as Force India showed in 2009, Spa-Francorchamps isn’t the best place to judge overall pace.) Obligatory congratulations as well to Michael Schumacher, who marked the 20th anniversary of his Formula One debut by slashing his way from 24th on the grid to 5th, making some outstanding passes in place of the clumsily aggressive moves we’ve often seen him make since his return last year, and confusing the hell out of me by leaving his orange helmet behind for one that looked an awful lot like Rosberg’s. For the first time since he returned to F1, Schumi was without question the best man on the track.
More tires. It is apparent that Ferrari haven’t quite managed to get a handle on the medium-compound Pirellis. First Massa and then Alonso fell well off the pace later on in the race. The latter, who had been threatening Vettel on softs, quickly lost ground in his final stint both to Button (who had started on the primes and switched early to the options) and Webber (who did two stints on the primes). The McLaren, once again, looked like a car that does everything pretty well but nothing quite well enough to win, which in this case was good enough for Button to capitalize on Ferrari’s late-race weaknesses and snag a podium. Had Hamilton not come together with Kobayashi he might’ve split the Red Bulls.
And speaking of the Red Bulls: that was a great race by both Vettel and Webber, the latter fighting back from an atrocious start to finish only a few seconds behind the former. The RB7 got over its early-race tire issues to get right on the pace, and as of the halfway mark it looked (and was) unbeatable. It’s not quite time to celebrate Vettel’s second World Driver’s Championship, but it’s getting close.
Next up is Monza, the track with only two interesting corners. I may be hard-pressed to get out of bed for that one.