Nico Rosberg wins his sixth race of the season
(Photo from: www.motioncars.inquirer.net)
Nico Rosberg won his sixth race of the season to equal the total of teammate Lewis Hamilton as the Brit managed to make the final step of the podium after starting on the last row of the grid.
The championship leader was handed a 60 place grid penalty after replacing several parts of his engine and going over the maximum permitted amount for the season. Hamilton only set one time in Q1 to finish 21st with only Fernando Alonso behind after the Spaniard failed to post a time.
This left Rosberg, and the Ferrari and Red Bull duos to fight for pole, with the German coming out on top ahead of Max Verstappen, who took his first front row start and the youngest in the history of Formula 1. Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel rounded out the second row followed by the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg qualified seventh with Bottas eighth as Jenson Button and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10.
Race day and as the lights went out, Rosberg got the best start as all the action happened behind him, as Verstappen bogged down, panicked slightly and fell behind his teammate and the two Ferraris. In an attempt to make up some lost ground he dived up the inside of Räikkönen at La Source and collided with the Finn, who in turn clipped his teammate into a spin. Vettel continued at the rear of the field whereas Räikkönen and Verstappen would return to the pits for repairs. There were two casualties from the first lap as Pascal Wehrlein ran into the rear of Jenson Button at Les Combes.
Two laps later and Carlos Sainz retired after sustaining a puncture down the Kemmel Straight heavily damaging his car in the process. The Spaniard attempted to carry on however this only caused further damage, forcing him to stop.
By lap 6 Alonso and Hamilton had reached 10th and 11th respectively as Magnussen crashed heavily at Raidillon, losing the rear over the curbs and spinning into the walls on the outside. The incident bought out the red flags as barriers were repaired. Magnussen fortunately escaped without injury.
The big winners from the red flag were Alonso and Hamilton who found themselves in fourth and fifth place, as those in front pitted for fresh tyres during the two laps under safety car before the red flag was flown. This was also due to the duo starting on mediums in comparison to the soft and super softs of those around them.
Once the barriers were repaired, the green flags were waved leaving Rosberg to quickly develop a lead over Ricciardo with Hulkenburg third, Alonso fourth and Hamilton fifth. At the rear of the field Räikkönen and Verstappen continued their battle, with the duo again making contact soon after the restart. The following lap the Finn would be blocked by the Dutchman at high speed leaving the Räikkönen to express his anger over the radio.
By lap 18 however Hamilton was up to third after overtaking Alonso and then Hulkenberg although a slow pitstop three laps later dropped him to ninth. Despite this those ahead of him then made their own pitstops and he returned to third. However due to being out of sequence with those around him Hamilton then had to pit again dropping behind the Force India duo of Hulkenberg and Perez, though him made light work of them to finish third behind Rosberg and Ricciardo.
The Force India duo would remain in fourth and fifth for the remainder of the race with the recovering Sebastian Vettel in sixth ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was happy with seventh. Valtteri Bottas finished a quiet eighth ahead of compatriot Räikkönen and teammate Massa who rounded out the top 10.
Max Verstappen attempted to make an alternative strategy work from the rear of the field however this was to no avail as he finished just outside the points in eleventh.
Rosberg’s victory closes the gap at the head of the championship to nine points though Hamilton will feel it could have been whole lot worse. This weekend sees F1 visit another classic location, Monza. Known as a power circuit, it is likely Mercedes will be the dominant force, allowing Hamilton and Rosberg to continue their championship scrap.