The best onboard action from Belgium
From fast starts and narrow misses, to three-way battles and precision passes, Sunday's 2017 Formula 1 Pirelli Belgian Grand Prix had the lot. Here's our pick of the must-see moments from Spa-Francorchamps - all from the driver's perspective...
Fernando Alonso is renowned for his lightning getaways, and in Belgium he again didn’t disappoint. Tenth on the grid, another excellent start meant that he quickly swallowed up both pink cars and the slow-starting Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, moving up to seventh by the time he arrived on the outside line at Turn 1. As Force India team mates Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez squabbled behind him – more on that shortly – the Spaniard was already powering through Eau Rouge in pursuit of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull.
It didn’t take long for the Force India drivers to come to blows at Spa – less than two corners in fact. To be fair, Perez did put his hands up to this one. As can be seen from the video, the Mexican – who’d found himself in the wrong energy setting at the start – had his hands full with a feisty Hulkenberg on the run down to Eau Rouge. With the Renault on his left, Perez clearly wasn’t expecting his team mate to appear on his right. Ocon was duly squeezed into the wall, but somehow the Frenchman didn't just survive - he actually made the move stick and came out ahead.
Felipe Massa had a rollercoaster opening lap in Belgium. Starting 16th on the grid, as Williams team mate Lance Stroll goes neatly around the outside of Carlos Sainz ahead of him, Massa comes briefly under attack from the sister Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat into Turn 1. Despite some oversteer, the Brazilian then gets a relatively strong exit – strong enough to power past Sainz down the hill, getting a grandstand view of the Force India clash ahead. He lifts briefly before Eau Rouge in anticipation of trouble, but gets back on the gas sooner than those immediately in front, allowing him to ease past Stroll and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer on the Kemmel straight. By Les Combes he is rapidly closing on Kevin Magnussen, but an error from the Haas driver – who runs off – upsets Massa’s rhythm and both Stroll and Palmer repass as he recovers. With no let up, he then finds himself having to fend off a resurgent Sainz into Turn 8.
In this superb piece of opportunistic driving, we see Perez pass two cars in one straight – only for it to all go wrong for the Mexican when it comes to the next corner. Ahead of Perez is the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who is chasing Daniil Kvyat for ninth place. Grosjean lines up the Russian through Eau Rouge and makes his move on the Kemmel straight, going down the right of the Toro Rosso. Perez sees his chance and follows the Frenchman through, before jinking left and out-braking Grosjean into Les Combes. He also out-brakes himself though - and duly shoots across the run-off area before rejoining the circuit, still ahead of the Haas. Perez didn’t subsequently surrender the place, much to Grosjean's chagrin, and stewards decided he’d gained an advantage by going off track, handing him a costly five-second time penalty.
More Alonso action, this time his early scrap with Hulkenberg, which is then joined by Ocon. This split-screen video neatly provides all three men’s view of the unfolding drama. First we see Hulkenberg pass Alonso with a brave move around the outside in the final chicane for seventh place – as Ocon looks on from afar. But an excellent run through Eau Rouge puts the McLaren firmly back in the Renault’s slipstream down the Kemmel straight, allowing Alonso to pass the German into Les Combes. At the same time, Ocon’s superior Mercedes power brings him into play – and for a brief second they are three abreast as the Force India man almost follows Alonso through. Heart-stopping stuff!
It’s never something an F1 driver wants to see – a rival just edging ahead as he exits the pits following a stop. And for Kimi Raikkonen at Spa it was a case of seeing double – double pink in fact. As the Finn rejoins the track, first the Force India of Esteban Ocon flashes before his eyes. Then, as he accelerates down the hill, the sister car of Sergio Perez flies past his Ferrari under full throttle. But despite his cold tyres, Raikkonen proves as unflappable as ever and immediately recovers to pull off a textbook pass on Perez into Les Combes.
For the spectator, Fernando Alonso’s undying determination behind the wheel is always a sight to behold. His rivals on track, however, are not always quite so appreciative. Jolyon Palmer was far from happy with this encounter with the Spaniard on lap 24, the Renault driver ultimately losing out following a multi-corner tussle for 12th place. At the start of the video Palmer looks to have got the job done after going down the outside of the McLaren into Les Combes. But in typical fashion, Alonso refuses to back down and the pair remain side by side through Turn 7 and into Turn 8, where Palmer finds himself edged onto the kerbs – and out of the fight. As he protests over the radio that he’s been pushed off, the Briton’s lost momentum means he drops another place – to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz – on the run down to Pouhon.
Race restarts after a safety-car period can often be a somewhat fraught affair, as this incident with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen illustrates. With his car’s temperatures having dropped, the Dane misjudges his entry into the Bus Stop chicane. “I just locked up both tyres with cold brakes, cold tyres, into the last corner at the safety-car restart,” he admitted. “It was my bad and I’m really sorry for the team.” Miraculously he somehow rejoins the circuit without having lost his ninth place, but is passed almost immediately by Force India’s Esteban Ocon as they head to Turn 1. There Magnussen makes another small error, losing another place in the process to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. It signalled an end to the American squad’s chances of a double-points finish – Romain Grosjean came home seventh – but given how close Magnussen came to ploughing into the back of his team mate, things could have been far worse.
Magnussen wasn’t the only one to have a close call just ahead of the restart – in fact he too was almost taken out by another car as the field prepared to resume racing. Check out this clip of Ocon getting it all wrong behind (then inadvertently in front of) the Haas as he looked to keep his brakes and tyres warm.
This turned out to be Sebastian Vettel’s best chance of passing race leader Lewis Hamilton and winning the race. Ironically, however, it was a mistake – followed by some quick defensive thinking – from Hamilton that inadvertently prevented the Ferrari moving ahead. Hamilton was in the wrong power mode at the restart and, as we see here, he runs wide at Turn 1, allowing Vettel to close in as they power down the hill and through Eau Rouge. Realising his error, however, the Mercedes driver deliberately feathers his throttle - and speed - so that the German is forced to duck out earlier than he would have liked, losing the slipstream that might otherwise have carried him past the silver car on the approach to Les Combes. "It was difficult to find the right timing and the right gap and with hindsight I was probably a bit too close," conceded Vettel. Hamilton’s take on it? “I was really happy with that move!”
Belgium was not a good weekend for Valtteri Bottas. As team mate Hamilton took pole and victory, the Finn trailed home fifth – and this clip from just after the restart shows how he lost any chance of a podium. Running third – and having struggled with traction all weekend – Bottas is on the soft tyre compound, while pursuers Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen are both on the quicker ultrasoft rubber. The Mercedes man takes the defensive line on the run towards Les Combes, but is powerless to prevent the Red Bull slipstreaming past. To add insult to injury, compatriot Raikkonen has sized up the situation perfectly and dives down the other side of Bottas, who tries desperately to hold on before running out of grip and running off track.