We welcomed back Formula One in style with an interesting race around Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Nico Rosberg won at a canter, Max Verstappen made sure he won’t get a Christmas card from Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton played a blinder from the back for a crucial third place. But who walked away with BadgerGP’s TOP DOG award? Step forward…
The McLaren-Honda driver suffered a torrid start to his Belgian Grand Prix weekend after a water leak sidelined him from FP1. The issue was serious enough for McLaren to change Alonso’s engine, all but ensuring he would start the race from the back row of the grid.
By the time Saturday’s qualifying session was due to start Alonso had incurred a rather ridiculous total of sixty grid penalties; as a result, he would take no part in the session but was allowed to start based on his free practice times.
Alonso expected very little from the race, thoughts were the McLaren-Honda would struggle around a notorious power hungry track. A collision between the Ferrari pair and Max Verstappen at turn one saw all three plummet down the order, while a further incident between Pascal Wehrlein and Jenson Button saw them retire from the race. By the end of lap one, Alonso was already in eleventh place!
It was canny driving from the Spaniard – staying away from all the trouble and taking advantage of those who have much less experience than him.
A spectacular puncture for fellow countryman Carlos Sainz and a slew of drivers stopping early on, allowed Alonso to move to an incredible fourth place. Unfortunately, a red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s almighty shunt at Raidillon prevented Alonso from making the most of his medium tyres.
From the restart, it was expected Alonso would be a sitting duck on the Kemmel Straight. Lewis Hamilton breezed past the McLaren almost as soon as the race got back under way but Alonso hung onto Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India stubbornly.
At Alonso’s first stop he was released into the path of Hulkenberg and even brushed the Force India briefly as they exited the pits. Neither car was damaged.
While Alonso was eventually powerless to hold off the other Force India of Sergio Perez and the recovering Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, he did wonderfully to hold back the squabbling Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.
It was a cunning drive from the double world champion and seventh place actually felt like a scant reward for his efforts. The six points gained were crucial for the team, though; they now sit in sixth place and three points ahead of Toro Rosso in the standings.
For the first time in a while, Alonso looked like he had a huge amount of fun on the racetrack. Better fuel efficiency from the Honda engine and little need to save tyres after the red flag allowed him to push hard. Speaking to Will Buxton from NBCSN he had this to say after the race;
“It was an exciting race to drive and I had a good feeling throughout,”
“We had good pace this weekend. We did better than expected on this track. We were in the top 10 with Jenson yesterday in qualifying, and we’ve scored points today.”
“Believe me: a few months ago that would have been unthinkable on a circuit like this. That’s progress – real progress.”
Alonso loves this type of racing and we only wish he was allowed to race like this more often. Spa proved that the old dog can learn new tricks!
Daniel Ricciardo made it three podium finishes on the bounce in Belgium with a steady drive to second place. His starring moment came once again on the podium itself as he indulged in yet another ‘shoey’.
This time though, he brought along a drinking buddy – Mark Webber!
For all the fun in it, we can’t help but hope this Australian tradition doesn’t catch on…