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Paddock Postcard from Belgium

24 Aug 2014

The 2014 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix weekend started with its title sponsors demonstrating some of the world’s most energy efficient cars with the help of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

The Ferrari drivers got behind the wheel of some very unusual looking machines, all designed, built and engineered by university students from all around the world as part of the Shell Eco-marathon, which showcases how Shell invests in the development of engineering for road cars and our energy future.

Spa-Francorchamps is renowned for its fickle - and often very wet - weather. It was perhaps surprising then that several members of the paddock chose Belgium to actually volunteer for a soaking. Among those taking the ever-more popular ‘ice bucket challenge’ in aid of charity were Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull trio of Daniel Ricciardo, team principal Christian Horner and chief technical officer Adrian Newey.

Among the weekend’s visitors to Spa were actor John Hurt and comedian Rowan Atkinson, and the paddock teemed with famous racing faces too. Father/son duo Jos and Max Verstappen were back after their visit in Hockenheim, former British F3 victor Gerrit van Kouwen continued the Dutch theme, as did commentator and racer Allard Kalff and former Bridgestone guru Kees van der Grint, while Lamborghini competition boss Max Welti was also in evidence.

On track, Ferrari Driver Academy upcomer Raffaele Marciello took his maiden GP2 victory after a fabulous wheel-to-wheel battle with McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne in horrible weather conditions.

The Racing Engineering driver started from the second row of the grid behind polesitter Vandoorne and series leader Jolyon Palmer, but the latter ran wide at La Source and dropped to eighth. Then the race was red flagged because of a massive rainstorm on the third lap.

On the restart ART’s Vandoorne was overtaken by Trident’s Johnny Cecotto Jnr, but the Venezuelan had to hand the initiative back to Vandoorne for disrespecting track limits at Les Combes where he ran wide over the run-off area. He then lost second to Marciello, who went round the outside of him at Les Combes on the ninth lap. Crucially, the Italian stayed out two laps longer than the Belgian when they made their mandatory pit stops, and with his fresher tyres soon closed down a two-second gap until they were fighting side-by-side. They ran like that, swapping the lead, until Marciello finally made a move stick at Rivage two laps before the finish to win by two seconds.

Cecotto was third, more than a half a minute behind, as Carlin’s Felipe Nasr finished fourth ahead of Russian Time’s Mitch Evans. The New Zealander had thrust up to second place but then his car had gone into limp home mode while the field ran behind the safety car when the deluge first hit. He was fortunate that the race was red flagged at that point as he had dropped to 17th but was reinstated in sixth before the restart.

Palmer could only salvage sixth, just fending off Evans’s team mate Artem Markelov and MP Motorsport’s Daniel Abt, who finished eighth and therefore started from pole for Sunday’s race.

His lead did not last past the first corner in the sprint race, however, as Nasr vaulted ahead at La Source and led thereafter. The Brazilian came under heavy pressure from Cecotto in the middle stages, but was able to pull away over the final laps, even gaining the extra point for setting fastest lap.

Palmer limited the damage done to his championship lead by securing third ahead of Evans, who moved into fourth on the final lap when Abt suffered a technical issue at Raidillon.

Vandoorne took sixth, while Racing Engineering's Stefano Coletti charged from 24th to seventh at the flag. Team mate and feature race winner Marciello spun on the opening lap and could only salvage 14th.

Palmer still leads the championship, but his lead over Nasr has been cut to 32 points - 210 to 178 respectively. Vandoorne is third on 135 points, eight ahead of Cecotto.