Date: 27th August 2013 at 9:58am
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The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of my favourites.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of my favourites. The challenging turns, rich history, beautiful surroundings and charming characteristics to name but a few. The 2013 Belgian Grand Prix wasn?t the most exciting race of the season, but it was certainly an interesting one with plenty of talking points to discuss.

Vettel took a dominant race victory ? even admitting that his pace was a shock ? on one of the sports most iconic circuit, his second win at Spa. It was a race that I was hotly anticipating after the quiet four week break, with the even quieter two week factory shutdown also taking place during that time.

I?m a real hard-core fan ? as you all know ? so it was very difficult not to have any action or many stories to write up. However, it was well deserved for all the team members and drivers as the season is so long and so tightly packed. And what a track to return to after all that time, Spa. A fan, driver and team favourite (which is easy to see why.) I thoroughly enjoyed the race and thought it had plenty of ingredients for a good dry race ? fantastic overtakes, some dramatic incidents, a bit of controversy and some stunning drives.

However I was a bit shocked to see fans on Twitter calling it ?dull.? Obviously everyone has their own opinion, but I never find a race dull and I personally thought it was quite good. Yes, it wasn?t a classic and was by far not the most exciting Belgian Grand Prix ? by a long shot ? but I really enjoyed watching it. I enjoy watching every race to be honest but it wasn?t the worst of the season; however a bit of rain may have mixed it up a bit.

To be honest, much to my annoyance, I missed the free practice and qualifying sessions due to being on holiday. I had a lovely time in Cyprus ? home to GP3 front runner Tio Ellinas ? and it was great to have some time off, relax and celebrate finishing my A Levels but I did miss watching the live on-track action. My F1 switch wasn?t fully off but it was a bit mixed, I enjoyed the relaxation and not having any responsibilities for that seven day period but I was also eager to keep up to date.

So I arrived home at 2AM on Sunday morning, travelling home and had two hours sleep before waking to catch-up with all the on-track action. Alonso and Vettel shared the free practice-topping honours ? which was interesting, to see Ferrari back up the front ? and then we had a highly dramatic qualifying session.

The weather was the big talking point on Saturday with a wet/dry/wet qualifying hour. The first session was wet to start off with and, to be honest, when I heard the Caterham and Marussia driver?s had gone out on slicks, I didn?t think the risk would pay off. It did, much to my shock, with van der Garde finishing Q1 in third, Bianchi setting the 11th fastest time and Chilton in 16th.

Pic had an unfortunate call to the FIA Weybridge which meant he couldn?t do the same. The two Toro Rosso?s, both Williams cars and Gutierrez joined Pic in the drop-zone much to my surprise. We were only 20 minutes in and we already had a mixed up grid!

It was dry for Q2 where, inevitably, van der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton propped up the results page. Props to the Dutchman for beating the Marussia?s by such a margin ? half a second ? and Chilton did well to get to within two tenths of Bianchi. Hulkenberg, Sutil and Perez were also out, meaning we had an exciting looking top 10 shoot-out.

The rain arrived just in time for the green light to signal the start of Q3, meaning the nine drivers queuing to exit on track had to circulate on dry tyres before pitting and fitting the intermediates. Obviously with the unpredictable Spa weather, they couldn?t really predict when the rain would arrive and the intensity so they just had to go for it and try and get a lap in early. It didn?t work and that left Di Resta, who had stayed in the pits, with the advantage.

Following the session on Twitter, it was interesting to see so many people declaring Di Resta had pole after just five minutes of the session and a full track of cars. It was a bit jumbled as people declared that ?Massa was five tenths down in sector one? and then suddenly, in the closing stages, drivers started setting times faster than Di Resta?s. I only realised watching it live how much the rain had eased off and how the playing field had levelled for the final laps.

Rosberg went fastest first, then Webber, Vettel and finally Hamilton who proved that the last man across the line had the advantage. Considering his relatively downbeat comments after Friday practice, I hadn?t thought of Mercedes to be in the same league as Red Bull and Ferrari despite their previous qualifying pace but I was obviously a bit wrong on that one.

So we had a mixed up grid for the race, a brilliant circuit that would be lapped 44 times and the threat of rain. Ingredients for a great race, but the race proved to be good at best. Hamilton had a good start but Vettel kept with him, getting a brilliant slipstream down the Kemmel Straight to take the lead of the race. Behind, Di Resta had a terrible start and Webber lost position as Button and Alonso advanced.

It was a clean first corner ? thankfully ? but we saw plenty of slip streaming on the back straight and a few position changes over the first few laps. Button lost position after his strong start, dropping to sixth thanks to poor straight line speed, and Raikkonen failed to make any progress in the opening laps.

Interestingly, van der Garde managed to maintain his position in the first two laps before dropping back considerably during the rest of the first stint. Fast forward to lap 8 and we had our first controversial incident, Perez squeezing Grosjean onto the outside kerb on the entry to Les Combes. In my view, Grosjean should have backed out as Perez was well clear and I felt it was a harsh penalty considering there was no contact, but I also understand why the penalty was given as the Mexican didn?t leave one cars width. The Frenchman went off track because of this ? strange as others were put in similar positions and managed to hold on ? and lost a number of positions. Not the best start to the race for Grosjean but far better than the one he made 12 months earlier.

By this time, Raikkonen?s Lotus was depositing a lot of brake dust and the pit stop window was looming. It kicked off on lap 10, a little earlier than I thought from Pirelli?s prediction, with the majority of the field filing in shortly after. Meanwhile Pic retired with an oil leak after a terrible race weekend and Alonso got past Hamilton into La Source. I held my breath as Perez, Sutil and Di Resta briefly ran three-wide on the run to Eau Rouge, fortunately they all managed to come out of it in one piece.

By the half way mark, the race had started to settle down and all but Romain Grosjean had made stops ? impressive from the Frenchman on the medium compound. It didn?t take long after surpassing that mark for Grosjean to stop; however the Lotus mechanics weren?t smiling for too much longer after the strong stop.

Raikkonen had been battling to pass Felipe Massa and had a good run through Blanchimont. The Finn had driven really well so far, not that I was surprised, including a very impressive move on Di Resta. However a lunge at the Bus Stop Chicane proved to be too much for his brakes, the Finn went straight on and retired shortly after. It was a massive shame to see his record breaking run of consecutive points finishes come to a close but it just proved what a great driver he is and the strong reliability of Lotus over the past two seasons.

The Bus Stop Chicane proved to be where all the action was. Gutierrez, Maldonado, Sutil and Di Resta battled closely through the final chicane and the former went off track on the exit, carrying more speed through the corner and getting ahead of Maldonado?s Williams. That left him clear of those behind into the final corner and I bet he was thankful for it ? although he was later given a penalty.

Maldonado then lost out to Sutil into the Bus Stop Chicane after going deep and attempting to re-claim the racing line. In the process he touched the rear of Sutil?s Force India and made a quick decision to dive into the pits. However, he couldn?t as Di Resta was to his right and the Venezuelan made contact with the Scot, pitching the latter into the air and causing his retirement. Maldonado was later given a 10 second stop/go penalty; one that I think was very fair indeed.

Alonso pitted immediately after with Hamilton having already stopped prior to the midfield clash. It was a relatively uneventful but stunning run to the flag for Sebastian Vettel after a faultless race and a typically ?Vettel? drive around one of the sport?s most challenging tracks. Yes, it is a tad annoying to see someone win so much ? and by 16 seconds ? as we love a shake-up in the order and a pit of unpredictability, but there is no denying that it was a brilliant drive by the German on a track that we didn?t necessarily think would suit the Red Bull.

Alonso was my driver of the day though. From ninth on the grid to second by the chequered flag, helped by a brilliant start and some strong pace that helped him climb up the order, was very impressive. It proved that Ferrari have managed to eliminate the problems of the previous two races and claw their way back to the front. Hamilton drove well to third, admitting that he ?got everything from the car? but it proved to be not enough to challenge the Red Bull and Ferrari cars.

Rosberg had a relatively trouble-free race and a rather quiet one to fourth. He didn?t have the pace of Hamilton early on but managed to make up ground in the final sector and hold off pressure from Webber, who finished fifth after a poor start. I thought Button was going to try a one-stop strategy but ?plan A? ? as he was told on team radio ? proved to be a two-stopper. Still, we saw improvements with the McLaren which I am happy about and it was another mistake-free race for Jenson.

Seventh went to Massa after a terrible first lap and lack of KERS for part of the race. However he was obviously out-raced by Alonso and didn?t make too much of an impact during the race, he needs to get a few podiums before the seasons end if he wants to keep that Ferrari seat. Eighth went to Grosjean who was one of just two drivers to complete a one-stop tyre strategy. Perez was the other driver but he had to take an extra trip through the pits due to his drive-through, eventually finishing 11th ? points were on for the Mexican had he not had the penalty.

Ninth went to Sutil after a surprisingly difficult race ? I was expecting more from Force India ? and Ricciardo made progress to finish 10th and collect the final point. Van der Garde did well to finish 16th and closer to the cars ahead as well as out-racing the two Marussia?s.

So it wasn?t the most exciting race but it still had plenty of exciting moments, as you have just seen. However I must also bring up the Greenpeace topic. If you didn?t know, 35 Greenpeace activists were involved in a protest against Belgian Grand Prix title sponsor Shell?s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. Two protestors paraglided over the circuit with banners, a group scaled the main grandstand and unfurled a banner saying ?Arctic oil? Shell no!? and two protestors attempted to disrupt the podium celebrations.

Fortunately they were not given any coverage during the race and didn?t disrupt the race, but what is more worrying is that a statement from Greenpeace said that some of the 35 activists involved in the protest set up electronic banners on the podium weeks before the race, obviously having access to the podium.

Vettel was confused by the booing and cheering on the podium, unaware of what was happening above his head. Members of the Sky F1 team also noted that airspace above big sporting events is usually closed or limited, bringing up fears over the security of events at race tracks (which I agree with). Thankfully it was a rather peaceful protest but it could have easily been much worse, Red Bull consultant Dr Helmut Marko saying: ?Imagine if it was an organisation that didn?t want to unfurl banners, but wanted to set off bombs.?

Author: Jack Leslie

TWITTER: @JackLeslieF1

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