Mercedes steals double podium amidst Spa mayhem

GP BELGIO F1/2016 – SPA FRANCORCHAMPS (BELGIO) – 28/8/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Mercedes steals double podium amidst Spa mayhem

Mercedes will leave the Belgian Grand Prix feeling no small amount of relief, as Nico Rosberg cruised serenely to his first victory around the Spa circuit and Lewis Hamilton benefited from the chaos ahead to overcome a 60-place grid penalty and finish third.

Even without Hamilton starting from the back, the team had been bracing themselves for a difficult race – the unusually high track temperatures had been compromising Mercedes’ tyre strategy all weekend, and on Saturday in particular Red Bull and Ferrari appeared much closer than expected.

But in the end, the Belgian Grand Prix proved to be an utterly imperious display from Rosberg. Making a clean start from pole, any immediate threat from behind vanished when Verstappen and the two Ferraris barrelled into each other at La Source, and by the end of lap one Rosberg had already opened a gap of four seconds over Hülkenberg and Ricciardo.

Ricciardo eventually managed to pass the Force India for second but by then had already lost too much time to challenge for the lead, and Rosberg took the chequered flag with fourteen seconds in hand over the Red Bull.

“It wasn’t an easy weekend for us,” Rosberg reflected. “We had to work a lot on the setup – but in the race it was perfect. Our car was really great today, so thank you to the team for all their hard work in getting it spot on.”

Hamilton’s race was also made much easier by the bedlam at La Source. Arriving late on the scene because of his grid penalty, the Briton managed to weave his way through the carnage and emerge in twelfth place.

But Hamilton’s biggest break came when the race was red-flagged on lap ten after Magnussen’s horrifying crash at Raidillon.

Although many drivers dove into the pits during the preceding safety car, Mercedes kept Hamilton on track in anticipation of a full neutralisation and therefore gained a free pit stop over most of the field.

With that, Hamilton restarted the race in a legitimate fifth place, which he upgraded to third by lap 18 after straightforward moves on Alonso and Hülkenberg.

“If you’d offered me third coming into this race with all the penalties I definitely would have taken it,” Hamilton said. “The most difficult part of the race was the mental approach…in terms of whether I risked it all at the start or hung back and tried to pick my way through. Then all this commotion happened and I’m grateful I could capitalise on that.”

Like Rosberg, Hamilton also paid tribute to the wider Mercedes team this weekend, praising the “exceptional job” done by his mechanics in changing so many parts on his car, and hailing the pit wall’s tyre strategy as “the right call”.

Hamilton now leads Rosberg by just nine points in the championship heading into next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix – an event he has won three times in the past four years.

James Matthews @James16Matthews

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