Vettel takes Spa victory after mayhem start

Sebastian Vettel has surpassed Formula 1 legend Alain Prost with his 52nd victory in a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix which featured a first-corner crash provided the major talking point.

Vettel slipstreamed championship rival and poleman Lewis Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight on the opening lap, drafting past the Mercedes as the Racing Point Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez almost made it four-abreast heading towards Les Combes.

Ocon backed out having pulled almost level with Vettel, which allowed Vettel to hold the lead from Hamilton as Perez swept around the outside of Ocon into third.

That happened just before the race was neutralised with the safety car following a massive first-corner crash in which Alonso was pitched airborne over Charles Leclerc.

Nico Hulkenberg misjudged his braking and locked up both front wheels on his Renault and slammed into the rear of Alonso, who was launched into the back of – and then over – Leclerc, hitting the Sauber’s halo device on the way down.

All three cars were eliminated on the spot, and the drivers emerged under their own steam.

This crash was very similar to Alonso’s 2012 crash in which his car was airborne after taking a hit from Grosjean.

Luckily the drivers in this smash escaped unharmed, in particular the halo did its job in protecting Charles Leclerc from the airborne Fernando Alonso.

Daniel Ricciardo’s rear wing was broken by the flying Alonso, which contributed to the Red Bull running wide through La Source and inflicting a right-rear puncture on Kimi Raikkonen’s the Ferrari.

Ricciardo and Raikkonen pitted for repairs before rejoining, although they did not complete the race – Raikkonen stopped a few laps later while Ricciardo, who fell two laps down as Red Bull worked on his car then returned to the garage with 13 laps to go.

The safety car was out for four laps following the crash, with Hamilton half-attacking Vettel into the final chicane at the restart but falling into line with a small lock-up.

Vettel quickly built a three-second lead that he maintained until Mercedes brought Hamilton in on lap 21, with Vettel following suit one lap later at exactly the halfway mark.

Hamilton’s rapid out-lap threatened to put him in position to attack Vettel but he caught the Red Bull of Max Verstappen at the end of the lap, which meant Vettel emerged out of DRS zone.

The Ferrari quickly re-established its healthy advantage, as Hamilton drifted back and eventually finished 11 seconds behind, meaning Vettel cut the championship gap to 17 points.

Verstappen scored a lonely third place having got ahead of the Force Indias early on, drafting Ocon on the run to Les Combes three laps after the restart and pulling the same move on Perez a few laps later.

Verstappen ended up half a minute behind the winner and roughly the same amount clear of Valtteri Bottas, who claimed fourth in the closing stages.

The Mercedes driver started at the back after exceeding his engine limit for the season by taking the manufacturer’s upgraded engine, but climbed steadily up the order and passed Perez with just a few laps to go.

That demoted the ‘new’ Force India team to fifth and sixth on its debut, as its 18-point haul immediately put the entry ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and just one point behind Sauber, which only stays ahead because of Marcus Ericsson’s tenth place finish.

The new Force India also matched the best points haul for a team on its F1 ‘debut’, equalling the 18 points earned by Mercedes (in 2010) and Brawn (in 2009, under the old 10-8-6-4-3-2-1 points structure).

Haas duo Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a quietly effective grand prix to finish seventh and eighth, which moved the team to just six points behind Renault in the fight for fourth in the constructors’ championship.

Carlos Sainz Jr’s P11 meant Renault failed to score for only the second time this year.

Newly-confirmed 2019 Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly bagged two points for Toro Rosso and Honda in ninth place, with Ericsson completing the top ten.

So a fantastic result for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel. This was payback after a disappointing end in the German Grand Prix by winning at Spa-Francorchamps.

Monza follows next weekend and this victory will give a positive feeling heading to the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

Belgian Grand Prix race results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 44 1h23m34.476s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 44 11.061s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 44 31.372s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 44 1m03.605s
5 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 44 1m11.023s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 44 1m19.520s
7 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 44 1m25.953s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 44 1m27.639s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 44 1m45.892s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 43 1 Lap
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 43 1 Lap
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 43 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 43 1 Lap
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 28 Retirement
– Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 8 Retirement
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 0 Collision
– Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 0 Collision
– Nico Hulkenberg Renault 0 Collision

Drivers’ standings:
1 Lewis Hamilton 231
2 Sebastian Vettel 214
3 Kimi Raikkonen 146
4 Valtteri Bottas 144
5 Max Verstappen 120
6 Daniel Ricciardo 118
7 Nico Hulkenberg 52
8 Kevin Magnussen 49
9 Fernando Alonso 44
10 Sergio Perez 40
11 Esteban Ocon 37
12 Carlos Sainz 30
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 13
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Marcus Ericsson 6
18 Lance Stroll 4
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Mercedes 375
2 Ferrari 360
3 Red Bull-Renault 238
4 Renault 82
5 Haas-Ferrari 76
6 McLaren-Renault 52
7 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
8 Sauber-Ferrari 19
9 Force India-Mercedes 18
10 Williams-Mercedes 4

Hamilton beats title rival Vettel for Spa pole

Lewis Hamilton edged out his championship rival Sebastian Vettel to pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix in wet conditions.

Rain that started to fall when drivers were heading back to the pits at the end of Q2 meant Q3 started in slightly damp conditions with everyone on slick tyres.

But with the rain intensifying, and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas spinning coming through Blanchimont on his outlap, all the drivers except the Racing Point Force India drivers dived straight into the pits.

With Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon having to abandon their subsequent attempts to set a time on slicks, the former after a big moment at Eau Rouge, everyone opted for intermediates.

Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen both had spells at the top before Vettel went fastest with just under three minutes remaining with a lap of two minutes, 02.466 seconds.

While Hamilton lost a lap to an off-track moment on his second flier, Vettel improved his time to a two minutes, 01.188 seconds.

It came down to a battle on their final fliers, with Hamilton posting a one minute, 58.179 seconds to take pole – 0.726 seconds clear of Vettel.

Ocon claimed an impressive third late on with a lap 3.672 seconds off the pace in improving track conditions, with team-mate Sergio Perez completing a second-row lockout for the revitalised team despite an off at the chicane.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Raikkonen ended up on the third row, with Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo taking the fourth row.

Kevin Magnussen was the slowest of those to set a time in Q3, ending up ninth place, with Bottas knowing he will start from the back thanks to grid penalties and not returning to the track after his outlap.

Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was the fastest of those eliminated in Q2 in P11, half a second away from a slot in the top ten.

His final lap was compromised by team-mate Brendon Hartley triggering a yellow flag by spinning in front of him when the rears locked as he hit the brakes for the first hairpin – although he only lost two-tenths of a second compared to his personal best in that sector.

Hartley’s spin meant he did not improve on his second run and ended up P12, and led to him asking the team to investigate what the cause of the rears locking.

Sauber pairing Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson had both been in the top ten in Q1 but ended up P13 and P14 respectively.

Leclerc improved on his second attempt, but was two-tenths slower than Hartley and four-tenths off his Q1 pace.

Ericsson was around a quarter of a second slower, but did not return to the track for a second run.

Nico Hulkenberg, who will start at the back thanks to grid penalties incurred for a change of his whole Renault engine package on Friday – then another turbo change this morning – did not run in Q2 and was classified 15th.

His Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr was 0.088 seconds slower on his second run than the time he had set on his first, meaning he was bumped into P16 and eliminated in Q1.

Sainz complained about a lack of rear grip over the radio after being jumped by Ericsson in the dying seconds of the session.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso also failed to improve on his second run despite a tow on the Kemmel Straight from team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.

Alonso set personal best times in the first and second sectors, but lost time on the run through the last sector and ended up P17 ahead of Williams duo Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.

Vandoorne was slowest, 0.390 seconds behind Alonso after not being close enough to his team-mate to get a tow – setting a time 0.367 seconds slower in the first sector.

So congratulations to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in achieving pole position at Spa-Francorchamps. That was vital in terms of the championship to score one over Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.

And yet the stars of qualifying will definitely be Racing Point Force India. To achieve a row two start as a ‘new outfit’ is just remarkable. A positive outcome after going into administration during the Formula 1 summer break. This P3 and P4 is great news to boost moral. Job well done.

Qualifying positions, Belgian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m58.179s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m58.905s
3 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 2m01.851s
4 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 2m01.894s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 2m02.122s
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2m02.671s
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 2m02.769s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 2m02.939s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 2.04.933s
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.844
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.865
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.062s
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.301s
14 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m44.489s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m44.917s
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m44.998s
17 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m45.134s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m45.307s
19 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes –
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –

Gasly to drive for Red Bull in 2019

Red Bull Racing has confirmed that Pierre Gasly will be the new team-mate to Max Verstappen, as a replacement to the Renault-bound Dainel Ricciardo.

This is a promotion for Gasly, who currently drives for Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso. Pierre made his debut in last season’s Malaysian Grand Prix before being promoted to a full-time drive for this year.

He finished fourth in Bahrain, earning Honda’s best result since returning to Formula 1 in 2015, and has since achieved a seventh in Monaco and sixth in Hungary to comfortably outperform team-mate Brendon Hartley.

When Ricciardo announced his shock move to Renault for 2019, Gasly quickly emerged as the favourite to replace him.

McLaren’s news that it had signed Carlos Sainz, Gasly’s only apparent rival for Ricciardo’s seat, effectively confirmed Gasly’s promotion because McLaren needed Red Bull’s permission to hire and announce Sainz.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said Gasly’s “stellar performances” this season had “enhanced his reputation as one of the most exciting young drivers in motorsport”.

Gasly will also bring a season’s experience with Honda engines, which Red Bull will adopt for 2019.

“Since Pierre first stepped into a Formula 1 seat with Scuderia Toro Rosso less than a year ago he has proved the undoubted talent that Red Bull has nurtured since his early career,” said Horner.

“We look forward to Pierre bringing his speed, skill and attitude to the team in 2019.”

Gasly is the only Red Bull driver to win Formula 1’s immediate feeder series’ championship, having clinched the 2016 GP2 Series title.

He was then placed in Super Formula as Red Bull made him wait for his F1 chance, but described his swift acceleration to a senior team drive as “a dream come true”.

“It has been my goal to race for this team since I joined the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme in 2013,” said Gasly.

“This incredible opportunity is another step forward in my ambition to win grands prix and compete for world championships.

“Red Bull has always looked to fight for championships or victories and that’s what I want.”

Gasly said he was grateful to Toro Rosso and his current team boss Franz Tost, and said he wants to “do everything I can to give them a season to celebrate” over the rest of 2018.

Red Bull’s confirmation of Gasly means it will need to find at least one new driver to place at Toro Rosso next season, though Hartley may yet earn a stay of execution because of the lack of options.

So congratulations to Pierre Gasly in getting the promotion to the main Red Bull drive. It’s going to be fascinating how well he will get along with superstar Max Verstappen.

Sainz to race for McLaren in 2019

Carlos Sainz Jr. will join McLaren next season as a replacement for Fernando Alonso.

The Woking-based team confirmed Sainz as one of its 2019 drivers on a multi-year deal.

“We’re incredibly excited to have Carlos join us as a McLaren driver,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

“We’ve been assessing him for some time now and rate him very highly among the next generation of young talent emerging through the ranks in Formula 1.”

The main complication McLaren faced with Sainz was his contractual situation with Red Bull.

Sainz is on loan from Red Bull at Renault this season but his long-time backer retained an option to recall him to the senior team.

With Ricciardo making the shock decision to quit Red Bull Racing for Renault, taking Sainz’s drive, McLaren had to wait until Red Bull decided whether to promote Sainz or Pierre Gasly.

This confirmation that Sainz will race for the Woking squad means Red Bull Racing has relinquished its option early and indicates it has committed to Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly partnering Max Verstappen next season.

Sainz said: “I’m delighted to finally be able to confirm that I’ll be a McLaren driver from the 2019 season.

“It’s something I’ve been looking at for a while and I’m very excited about this next chapter in my career.”

Reserve driver Lando Norris, Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon and current McLaren racer Stoffel Vandoorne are all linked to the second seat.

The team says it will announce its second driver “in due course”.

Congratulations to Carlos Sainz Jr. in getting the McLaren drive. Following his hero’s footsteps by taking the role with a top Formula 1 team as Fernando Alonso parts way from the sport come the end of the year.

It’s going to be fascinating to see if Stoffel Vandoorne came keep his seat in 2019. If not, rising Formula 2 star Lando Norris will get the dream opportunity to take part in Formula 1 with McLaren.

Best of luck to Sainz in his new squad come 2019.

Alonso to stop racing in Formula 1 after this season

Double world champion Fernando Alonso has called it a day by announcing he will not be racing in next year’s Formula 1 world championship.

The McLaren driver announced his decision on Tuesday, August 14th, mid-way through Formula 1’s summer break

“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on. I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special.

“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever. Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner. I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.

“I want to thank everyone at McLaren. My heart is with the team forever. I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy.I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.

“I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one. Nevertheless, I would like to sincerely thank Chase Carey and Liberty Media for the efforts made to change my mind and everyone who has contacted me during this time. Finally, I would also like to thank my former teams, teammates, competitors, colleagues, partners, journalists and everyone I have worked with in my F1 career. And, especially, my fans all over the world. I am quite sure our paths will cross again in the future.”

Alonso had been debating his future following years of frustration in the deeply uncompetitive McLaren, especially in terms of performance compared to the top three teams.

The Spaniard was allowed to miss the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix to make his Indianapolis 500 debut, and he challenged for race victory before retiring.

McLaren boss Zak Brown paid tribute to his driver by saying: “Fernando is not only an outstanding ambassador for McLaren but also for Formula 1.

“His 17 years in the sport, as arguably the pre-eminent driver of his generation and undoubtedly an F1 great, have added another layer to Formula 1’s rich history.

“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his.

“We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career.”

McLaren said he was not allowed to repeat his Indy bid this year, but did give Alonso permission to combine his Formula 1 efforts with a full FIA World Endurance Championship superseason campaign.

Alonso went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours at the first attempt with Toyota.

With two Monaco Grand Prix wins under his belt, Alonso’s Le Mans victory leaves just Indy unconquered in his bid for motorsport’s unofficial ‘triple crown’.

Alonso is extremely unlikely to add to his tally of 32 Grand Prix victories before he leaves Formula 1 at the end of the year, and is just three shy of hitting 100 podiums.

However, Alonso will surpass Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher in the list of all-time starts as he should end the year with 311 Grand Prix starts, which would only be bested by Rubens Barrichello, who has 322.

Alonso made his Formula 1 debut in 2001, driving for Minardi, before moving to Renault as a test driver the following season in preparation for a 2003 race seat.

He played a key role in helping the French manufacturer in achieving great success, taking his first win in Hungary that year and then becoming the youngest world champion in 2005.

Alonso bested Ferrari legend and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher the following season to earn a second consecutive crown.

However, Alonso’s Formula 1 career has been on a slope since.

He moved to McLaren for 2007 but that descended into a bitter rivalry with the team’s rookie Lewis Hamilton, and after their battle allowed Kimi Raikkonen to steal the title at the final race Alonso went back to an uncompetitive Renault for 2008 and 2009.

Alonso switched to Ferrari for the 2010 season, but his timing was flawed and he spent five years wrestling with cars that were never the peak of the field.

Despite that, Alonso racked up 11 wins with the Scuderia and fought for the 2010 and 2012 titles, with his efforts in 2012 particularly memorable as he valiantly, but fruitlessly, attempted to deny Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.

Alonso finally fell out with Ferrari when it badly misjudged the new-for-2014 V6 turbo-hybrid engine rules and was a distant third-best behind Mercedes and Red Bull.

He switched to McLaren for 2015, tempted by the prospect of restoring the ailing team to its recent former glories with the help of the full power of returning manufacturer Honda.

However, the second coming of McLaren-Honda was uncompetitive and unreliable from the beginning and Alonso spent most of the next three seasons dealing with immense frustration, which sometimes spilled out into public digs at the Japanese manufacturer.

McLaren decided to split from Honda at the end of 2017 and agreed a Renault supply, which the team and Alonso expected to facilitate challenges for podiums.

However, it has been comfortably bested by Red Bull and Renault’s works team, which is only in a rebuilding phase.

So a sad day for Formula 1 with the double champion quitting come the end of the season. My personal highlight will always be his title success with Renault in 2005-06. Such a beautiful race car too.

All the best to Fernando Alonso in his future career. Thanks for the memories.

Ricciardo leaves Red Bull and joins Renault

Daniel Ricciardo has made the shocked decision to leave Red Bull Racing and join rival Renault.

The Australian had been expected to sign a fresh contract with Red Bull, which has backed him since 2008.

But Daniel decided to go for a fresh new challenge and will drive for Renault Sport in 2019.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave and we wish him all the best in his future.

“We would like to thank him for his dedication and the role he has played since joining the team in 2014, the highlights of course being the seven wins and the 29 podiums he has achieved so far with us.

“We will now continue to evaluate the numerous options available to us before deciding on which driver partners Max Verstappen for the 2019 season.

“In the meantime, there are still nine races left in 2018 and we are fully focused on maximising every opportunity for Max and Daniel for the remainder of the season.”

Ricciardo made his Formula 1 debut in mid-2011 when Red Bull placed him at HRT, and he joined its junior team Toro Rosso for 2012.

Daniel spent two years there before being picked to replace Mark Webber alongside Sebastian Vettel for 2014, and won three races.

Ricciardo bested Vettel’s replacement Daniil Kvyat when the four-time world champion left for Ferrari, and is level with Verstappen for wins since Max replaced Kvyat in early 2016.

However, Verstappen was awarded a lucrative new deal at the end of last year, with Ricciardo pushing Red Bull for better terms this year.

As Daniel assessed his options beyond 2018, he acknowledged Renault as a possible destination but the French car manufacturer appeared to be too early in the rebuilding phase of its works team project.

However, Renault has been able to convince Ricciardo it offers a credible alternative to Red Bull in the short-term, with Red Bull switching to Honda engines next season after growing frustrated with Renault.

The likely candidates to replace Ricciardo at Red Bull are current Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz, who Red Bull has under contract but has loaned out to Renault this year.

Sainz went on loan to Renault because his immediate options at Red Bull appeared limited.

However, putting him in the senior team would rekindle the Sainz/Verstappen rivalry at Toro Rosso from 2015 to early-2016, where there was friction behind the scenes.

Gasly is enjoying a fine rookie season with Toro Rosso and went into the summer with a sixth-place finish in Hungary to add to fourth place in Bahrain and seventh in Monaco.


By joining Renault, an exciting new partnership has been formed in the shape of The Hulk and the honey badger.

Ricciardo will partner Nico Hulkenberg, meaning Carlos Sainz will leave the French squad.

“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” said Ricciardo. “But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge.

“I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level but I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track.”

Renault’s Formula 1 boss Cyril Abiteboul said: “Daniel’s signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport. It is also a recognition of the work accomplished over the past two and a half seasons.

“Daniel’s undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible. We welcome him to our growing team in 2019 with a great deal of pride, but also humility.”

Ricciardo’s decision has come as a major surprise given he and Red Bull had indicated a new deal was a formality and there was suggestion it was just a matter of fine-tuning small details.

And yet, it follows a Hungarian Grand Prix weekend in which Red Bull’s Max Verstappen retired from the race with another Renault reliability problem and team boss Christian Horner lashed out at its engine supplier.

Ricciardo had spoken earlier this season of losing faith that Red Bull’s situation with Renault would improve enough to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.

However, he has now been convinced by Renault that it is a better option than Red Bull.

This is a major coup for Renault, which had been in negotiations with Mercedes and Esteban Ocon to take him on loan, while also speaking to current driver Carlos Sainz about extending his stay.

Instead, Ricciardo will join to partner Hulkenberg, with Sainz now free to push to replace Ricciardo at Red Bull or find refuge at Toro Rosso or go to another team.

Ocon and Mercedes will likely have to wait to see what happens to Force India, which is in administration and trying to find a buyer, before it establishes where the highly-rated youngster races in 2019.

This could also impact the options available to Mercedes’ other junior driver George Russell, who is leading the Formula 2 title fight and making a strong case to step up to Formula 1 next year.

So an unexpected news that the honey badger has left the team in which he scored seven victories, 29 podium finishes, 2 pole positions and 904 points at Red Bull. Best of luck to Daniel Ricciardo at his new team. Fingers crossed Renault can provide him even greater success.