Just when you thought the title battle might be turning in to a two horse race the whole things gets blown open again. Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel all registered DNFs in Belgium, and it had started to look like Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton would be the two men to contest this year’s world championship.
Make no mistake, Webber and Hamilton are still the favourites, but Alonso’s win today and Button’s ability to beat Hamilton all weekend, not to mention the 18 points he’s made up on his teammate, suggest that these two shouldn’t be discounted.
And with Sebastian Vettel having a strong run to fourth today the top five in the championship are now covered by just 24 points. It’s still all to play for as F1 heads for Singapore.
This race was, of course, won in the pits. Alonso had a lackluster getaway, Button a good one, and the McLaren was ahead before the cars hit the first chicane. Alonso and teammate Massa were close, and ran side by side through Curva Grande, Alonso just managing to keep ahead of the Brazilian.
Behind them Lewis Hamilton was close to Massa- too close, in fact. Lewis braked too late in to the second chicane and clouted Massa’s right rear wheel, terminally bending the McLaren’s steering arm. Lewis only made it as far as the next corner, where he left the track and came to a halt in the gravel. It could prove to be an absolutely crucial moment in this year’s title chase.
So out front it was Button from Alonso and Massa, and that’s how it would stay until the pit stops.
But despite no position changes you couldn’t call it dull, with Jenson driving at his very best in the McLaren and Alonso menacing him in the Ferrari. Button would build a lead, then Alonso would peg him. Then it would go the other way, whilst Massa too showed the ability to make up some time. It was cat and mouse stuff.
Given that it was a bit of a shame that the pass came in the pits. Button stopped on lap 37, and the McLaren boys did what looked a very tidy job. No mistakes, no panic, and Jenson was back on track.
But Alonso was doing what he had to, putting in a seriously quick lap now that he wasn’t following a fat-winged McLaren, before making for the pits.
And then the Ferrari crew did their job, turning Alonso around at an impressive rate, allowing the Spaniard to just sneak ahead of Jenson. From here it was plain sailing for Alonso, as Jenson couldn’t quite match his pace. Felipe Massa- who drove a solid race himself- rejoined close behind the leading duo, and began to slowly eat in to Button’s advantage.
Meanwhile there were some good battles going on a little further back, not least between Mark Webber and Nico Hulkenberg. The young German is really starting to live up to his pre-season billing, and leapfrogged the Red Bull and Kubica’s Renault at the stops.
But Hulkenberg isn’t yet the finished article, and cut a chicane more than once today. This drove Webber mildly insane, as he felt a penalty was in order. It didn’t come, so Mark made his pass the old fashioned way, steaming past Hulkenberg in to the Roggia chicane.
However Mark may be slightly miffed about the fact that his teammate managed to beat him today, Vettel electing to stop at the start of the final lap, allowing him to easily clear Webber. Sebastian had a panic attack earlier in the race over an engine problem, costing him a place to Mark, but that seemed to clear up and Seb nailed some very quick times.
Out front things had settled, and Alonso came home for a jubilant victory, ahead of Button and Massa. In truth both Fernando and Jenson deserved to win today, and it was harsh on the Brit to lose this one on the pits. Nevertheless he made up valuable championship points, and despite dropping behind Alonso in the standings is now a more serious title shout than he was post-Spa.
Massa completed the podium, ahead of Vettel, with a great drive from Rosberg netting him fifth. Then it was Webber, Hulkenberg and Kubica, who had one of his less impressive drivers of 2010. The points were rounded out by two men whose young teammates showed them how it’s done today: Michael Schumacher took ninth, Rubens Barrichello tenth.
So Mark Webber takes the championship lead, and that’ll coax a smile from him as he leaves a track Red Bull never felt confident at. But overall things are looking tight again, and you still wouldn’t want to pick which of the top five drivers will take home this year’s title.
Singapore- we can’t wait.