Sebastian Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix to extend his overall championship lead. photo: Rodefeld

‘Standard of F1 stewards is appalling’

After the four-week summer break, the F1 circus moved to the greatest circuit in the world, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.

In my last article, I sighted that this would normally be a happy hunting ground for Mercedes, with their excellent straight-line speed suiting Spa’s long and fast corners. I also commented that this would be a difficult time for Red Bull with their car philosophy of high downforce hurting them through the spectacular Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel straight, as an F1 car is flat out for 22 seconds at this section of the circuit.

I also questioned whether it was wise for Red Bull to persist with this approach for a high-speed circuit such as Spa, since there are very few slow-speed sections for them to make up any time they lose.

However, the ease with which Sebastian Vettel drafted past pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton on the very first lap of the race suggests that they have listened. Indeed, Hamilton could scarcely believe the straight line speed of the Red Bull, saying after the race that he was “powerless” to thwart Vettel’s onslaught. I believe it is this strategy that won them the Belgian Grand Prix, and this was even before the arguably too powerful DRS had been activated on the third lap.

Hamilton would eventually finish third behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Alonso did extremely well having started just ninth on the grid, and displayed Ferrari’s seemingly renewed speed. However, they still have an awful lot of work to do to close a 48-point deficit to Vettel. The top three were followed home by the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Red Bull’s combative Australian, Mark Webber.

Sixth place went to the ever improving McLaren of Jenson Button. The Brit showed that making the top ten in qualifying was not entirely down to adverse weather conditions by fighting for third for most of the race, until he was forced to make a second pit stop when his tyres began to fade.

However, I am still inclined to believe that McLaren have a long way to go and not many resources with which to improve in the near future, since their focus has probably now shifted to 2014. Spa is a very unique circuit and requires a very specific aerodynamic set-up, much like the next race in Monza. Some good engineering at this race flatters their overall pace.

The other McLaren of Sergio Perez may well have scored points alongside his teammate had he not been given what was a ludicrous drive-through penalty. As Perez pulled alongside Lotus’ Romain Grosjean coming into the breaking area for the Les Combes chicane, Perez squeezed the Frenchman onto the kerbing and Grosjean ran wide, going across the run-off before rejoining.

In my opinion, until permanent stewards are appointed, the sport looks ridiculous

For me, examining the stills shows that Grosjean had a car’s width of space and I believe that he simply broke too sharply, rather than being forced off by Perez. This raises a wider issue when it comes to the stewards of F1. Frankly, there is an appalling lack of consistency with the decisions.

In Hungary, Grosjean himself made contact with Jenson Button when squeezing him coming into a chicane; no penalty was given. There was actually contact in this incident too, whereas Perez and Grosjean never touched. In that very same race, Grosjean was penalised for exceeding track limits by what was literally a few millimetres as he performed, in my opinion, the overtake of the season on Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.

The stewards of F1 change at every race, and this is very clear by the vastly different approaches they take to applying to laws of the sport. This simply makes a mockery of F1 to the outside world. All F1 drivers have to champion the FIA’s road safety campaign; and rightly so, as they are ambassadors for the sport. Yet the FIA’s own stewards are failing to punish drivers with any kind of consistency. What kind of an example does that set? In my opinion, until permanent stewards are appointed, the sport looks ridiculous.

The top ten were rounded off by Massa, Grosjean, Adrian Sutil and Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo was the most impressive, coming from 19th on the grid after a mistake in qualifying and dispelling any doubts about his ability to manage a race, further strengthening his case for the vacant seat at Red Bull.

Meanwhile, one conspicuous absence from the points was Paul Di Resta, who collided with Pastor Maldonado at the Bus Stop chicane in a quite bizarre incident. Predictably, they blame each other. For Di Resta, who narrowly missed out on pole position in qualifying, this weekend was a bitter disappointment.

Finally, after Marussia and Caterham made the inspired decision to run ‘slicks’ in damp conditions in qualifying that saw them start higher than ever, they trailed the pack by around lap five of the race. It is saddening that still, during their fourth season in F1, they are no closer to scoring that elusive first point. Surely success must come soon to cement their future in the sport.

As we head to Monza, Italy, in two weeks’ time, it seems for the fourth year running, Vettel looks imperious in his title defence. Hamilton and co. will quite simply have to work miracles to deny the German.


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