The summer break ended with intrigue and accomplishment. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg won pole at Spa-Fracorchamps, while grid penalties put his championship-leading teammate on the back row of the field. With a race win worth 25 points and 19 points separating the two, the implications were clearer. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) lined up next to Rosberg, at 18 years-old becoming the youngest driver ever to start on the front row of a Formula 1 grid. Verstappen was the only driver in the Top 5 to start on supersoft (vs. soft) tires. Row 2 was all-Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
The two cars from Maranello collided in Turn 1, damaging both. Verstappen started poorly and fell through the field after contact with of the Ferraris. He came in to change a damaged front wing and replace his tires at the end of the Lap 1. Both Ferraris also pitted. A virtual safety car came out to start Lap 3, freezing the field to remove debris.
Green-flag racing resumed one lap later. Rosberg led Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull). Kevin Magnussen (Renault) crashed in Lap 6, bringing the safety car onto the track and much of the field into the pits. Hulkenberg circulated as first on the track of those who had already made at least one pit stop. Rosberg and Ricciardo ran 1-2. The race was red-flagged at the start of Lap 10 (of 44) for barrier repairs, effectively resetting the race as work was allowed on the cars as well. Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Honda) and Hamilton ran came into the pits fourth and fifth, Alonso having started on the back row as well.
The field restarted behind the safety car as barrier repairs continued. Racing resumed to start Lap 11. Hamilton passed Hulkenberg for third during Lap 18, having already made his way past Alonso. Ricciardo ran 5.8 sec ahead in second. Hamilton pitted four laps later, returning to the field P9.
Hulkenberg pitted one lap later, reentering in sixth. Ricciardo pitted in Lap 26, retaining second. Rosberg pitted from the lead one lap later, taking mediums which were likely to see him through to the end and retaining P1. Hamilton pitted from third during Lap 33. Hamilton returned to action in P4, 4.2 sec behind Hulkenberg who had also pitted three times but passed the German in short order.
Rosberg won, followed by Ricciardo. Hamilton’s P3 was the sixth time in his career he’d started 20th or worse and ended up scoring points. Hulkenberg retained fourth, followed by teammate Sergio Perez, the combination moving Force India past Williams into fourth in the constructor standings. Vettel (P6) and Raikkonen (P9) swapped spots in the driver standings.
Driver standings (Top 10)
Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), Mercedes – 232
Nico Rosberg (Germany), Mercedes – 223
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull – 151
Sebastian Vettel (Germany), Ferrari – 128
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari –124
Max Verstappen (Netherlands), Red Bull – 115
Valtteri Bottas (Finland), Williams-Mercedes – 62
Sergio Perez (Mexico), Force India-Mercedes – 58
Nico Hulkenberg (Germany), Force India-Mercedes – 45
Felipe Massa (Brazil), Williams-Mercedes – 39
Mercedes (Rosberg, Hamilton) – 455
Red Bull Racing (Ricciardo, Verstappen) – 274
Ferrari (Vettel, Raikkonen) – 252
Force India-Mercedes (Hulkenberg, Perez) – 103
Williams-Mercedes (Massa, Bottas) – 101
McLaren-Honda (Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button) – 48
Toro Rosso-Ferrari (Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniil Kvyat) – 45
Haas-Ferrari (Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez) – 28
Renault (Kevin Magnussen, Jolyon Palmer) – 6
MRT-Mercedes (Pascal Wehrlein, Rio Haryanto) – 1
Next event: Italian Grand Prix – Monza, Sept. 2-4, 2016