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Winners and Losers - Belgium

29 Aug 2016

Scintillating action, huge crashes, and several wars of words in the aftermath - the 2016 Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix was a breathless affair from start to finish. So who left Spa-Francorchamps smiling - and who has wrongs to put right next weekend?


The winners...

Nico Rosberg

Where else to start but with the man who dominated throughout? This was the Baku version of Rosberg: cool, calm, collected, and blindingly fast. Yes, his job was made easier by Hamilton starting from the back of the grid - Rosberg even said so himself after the race. But even so he had a job to do, and he did it to near perfection. He put his car on pole yet again, made a great start, handled the restart after nine laps, and always had the pace to respond to any pressure from behind.

In doing so, he also took back 10 points from Hamilton in the title fight, and equalled the Briton's score of six victories in 2016. Oh, and he took his own first success at Spa. Yep, that's a winner.

Daniel Ricciardo

With Hamilton starting from the back, the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull knew they had a special opportunity. It was Ricciardo who seized it.

The Australian took the fight to Rosberg, kept him honest throughout, and had the pace to resist Hamilton in the closing stages. A third consecutive podium was the result - matching his best ever run of rostrums. And to cap it all off, he even got Mark Webber to have sip from a bootful of champagne.

Red Bull

Few really expected Red Bull to challenge Mercedes at a power track like Spa. True, Mercedes' form was compromised slightly by tyre struggles, but even so Red Bull were firmly in the fight. Their qualifying deficit - Verstappen was just 0.149s off Rosberg - was particularly impressive, and might just give Mercedes cause for concern with circuits like Singapore and Suzuka on the horizon…

Lewis Hamilton

The Briton openly admitted that he had no idea what to expect before the race, but this was a masterclass in seizing opportunities to come through the field. The key was staying flexible, being aggressive but not too aggressive, keeping out of trouble, yet pushing hard. Easy, right? He made it look that way, as he made the most of the first-lap shenanigans that delayed rivals who would otherwise have presented problems later on, and he never stopped attacking.

Third place was an excellent result in the circumstances - indeed no other driver in history can match Hamilton's record of starting 20th or lower and still breaking into the top three. On top of that, he has solved his engine penalties in one fell swoop, and maintained the championship lead even while doing so. Game on for the rest of the season.

Fernando Alonso and McLaren

If Hamilton's first lap was good, Alonso's was better. Through a combination of circumstance and genius, the Spaniard leapt from 22nd to fifth by the time the red flag halted proceedings. Even by Alonso's high standards, it was some opening.

The Spaniard couldn't quite hold position thereafter, but he had the legs of the Williams-Mercedes on a track on which the team were expecting to struggle, confirming their opinion that they have passed the Grove cars on performance if not on points.

That underlined the progress McLaren and Honda have made in 2016, and also helped them jump Toro Rosso for sixth in the constructors' standings. Things are looking up in Woking.

Kevin Magnussen

After such a frightening and high-speed crash, the watching world breathed a sigh of relief to see Magnussen lift himself out of his Renault and walk away from the crash. With a sore ankle the only major injury, he is even confident of being fit for Monza in five days' time - and that's to be celebrated.

F1 and the Spa grandstands

The fans came in their thousands…and thousands…and thousands - a glorious sight for everyone involved, not the least the drivers and circuit staff. Every inch of grass was occupied by a crowd the size of which had not been seen since Michael Schumacher's heyday in the early Noughties.

The majority might have gone home disappointed with Verstappen's 11th place, but the orange-clad brigade weren't just supporting one man - and that gave the circuit and indeed the entire sport a massive boost.


Losers

Ferrari

Yet again Ferrari promised much but went away virtually empty handed.

Sebastian Vettel laid the blame for the first-corner accident - which effectively spoiled his and Kimi Raikkonen's races - squarely on Max Verstappen's shoulders. Others, including the Dutchman, saw it differently, arguing that Vettel had caused the squeeze by turning in too tightly.

The cause can be debated, its effect cannot. By Turn 1, a grand prix of massive promise had been scuppered. Both men mounted a fight back to secure points, but as Vettel says, this was a race when a double podium should have been on the cards.

Jenson Button

If Alonso was able to salvage seventh from 22nd, what might Button have been able to do from ninth on the grid? Having produced, by his reckoning, one of his best qualifying performances, Button deserved more than to be eliminated on the first lap.

Max Verstappen

The thing you have to understand about Max Verstappen is that he will always go for it, and his counter-attack on Kimi Raikkonen going into La Source at the start, after he had been relatively slow getting off the line, was always to be expected. He's a racer. Had Vettel not been on the outside of the pair, his audacious move might just have worked out.

Instead, Verstappen was hit, suffered damage, and struggled to recover thereafter.

That wasn't the end of his afternoon by any means. He scrapped again with Vettel, made contact with Sergio Perez, and drew the ire of Raikkonen following two duels on the run down to Les Combes.

The Dutchman defended himself vigorously post-race, but - rights and wrongs of his moves aside - falling from second on the grid to 11th at the flag was undeniably a lost opportunity - for him, and for his legions of fans who had flocked to Belgium to see him perform.

Williams

Williams recently said that their inherent strength would enable them to fend off the attack from upstart Force India, who had closed to within 12 points in the fight for fourth in the standings.

For a while they did look strong, with Felipe Massa heading Q1 and Valtteri Bottas running fourth prior to the race stoppage. But where everyone else dived pitward on the sixth lap, they chose to keep the Finn out for an extra lap and paid the price in a disrupted strategy as he lost eight places.

Their failure to pass the McLaren-Honda was also noteworthy, but the really big deal was losing fourth place in the world championship for constructors as Force India moved ahead. A solitary point splits the two teams - and a fascinating battle looms large for the rest of the season.

Hulkenberg's podium wait

There is no doubting Hulkenberg's credentials as a driver - which makes his wait for a first Grand Prix podium all the more remarkable and surprising. The German was superb on Sunday at Spa, but fortune once again elected not to smile on him as the red flags scuppered what had looked a very strong pursuit of a top three finish. As it was he finished fourth for the third time in his career - another case of coming oh so close. It has now been 107 starts and counting, putting him fourth on the all-time list. Only Adrian Sutil, Pierluigi Martini and Philippe Alliot have started more without tasting the champagne at least once...

Toro Rosso

The lack of development is really beginning to hurt Toro Rosso, who saw McLaren steal their sixth place in the constructor's stakes after Fernando Alonso finished seventh.

Daniil Kvyat flirted with points for a while, but the really big hit had come when Carlos Sainz, having made a blinding start to run seventh, ran over debris from the first-corner incidents on the second lap, and made a spectacular exit with a resultant puncture.