x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Formula One title not on Vettel's mind despite Belgian Grand Prix win

Red Bull Racing driver seems peerless after extending his championship lead to 46 points. Gary Meenaghan reports from Spa-Francorchamps.

It took Sebastian Vettel just four turns to drive past Lewis Hamilton at Spa on Sunday. Francois Lenoir / Reuters
It took Sebastian Vettel just four turns to drive past Lewis Hamilton at Spa on Sunday. Francois Lenoir / Reuters

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS // It is a cruel reality that the more races Sebastian Vettel wins, the less popular he becomes. Nobody likes predictable processions and the three-time world champion has become an expert at producing exactly that.

Amid the dense forest of southern Belgium, the Red Bull Racing driver dominated a thoroughly boring Belgian Grand Prix from the first lap to secure his 31st victory and extend his lead at the top of the world championship to 46 points.

Perhaps it was the jeers from spectators at Silverstone and Budapest that convinced Vettel, 25, to try and regain some popularity by adopting a new bleach-blonde, pop-band hairstyle. Certainly when the lights went out, there was only One Direction he was heading.

Starting in second behind Lewis Hamilton, Vettel needed only four turns before sailing past his championship rival’s Mercedes-GP to cement his place at the front of the field. By the end of the first lap, he held a lead of 1.4 seconds and had doubled it by the start of Lap 3. At the half-way point of the 44-lap contest, he led Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who had jumped Hamilton, by 8.7 seconds.

“A fantastic race for us from start to finish,” Vettel said. “Very good tactics. Once I passed Lewis, we had incredible pace. The car was much better than we expected and I really enjoyed it a lot. Fortunately, there was no real racing, so in terms of critical calls there were none to make.”

With the sheer speed of the Red Bull and Vettel’s determination behind the wheel, the only hope his rivals had were for the deployment of a safety car, a traditional Spa downpour or an uncharacteristic blond moment from the highlight-haired leader.

None were forthcoming, though, and Vettel passed the chequered flag 16.8 seconds ahead of Alonso for a fifth win of the season.
The Spanish driver with Ferrari called the contest “a little boring”, while Hamilton referred to it as “not particularly exciting”. For Vettel however, who was informed upon the podium that he has now led more than 2,000 grand prix laps, he now holds the largest championship margin of his career.

As for whether he is already thinking of securing his fourth successive drivers’ title and joining Michael Schumacher and Juan Fangio in an elite trio, he predictably played down the prospect.

“For sure it’s a positive message, but I am honestly more happy just to win,” he said. “When the car works so well, you don’t want the race to stop. I was very comfortable and the car was a pleasure to drive. I didn’t think about the championship or points.”

Vettel leads Alonso in the drivers’ standings by almost two full race wins with eight grands prix remaining. The victory also takes him to fifth in the all-time race winners’ list – level with Nigel Mansell, albeit having achieved it in 75 fewer races. One more Vettel victory will see him equal Alonso’s career-haul of 32 race wins, yet Ferrari’s tenacious Spaniard remains optimistic as he prepares for his team’s home race in Italy in two weeks.

“The weekend has been good for us, recovering some feelings that we lost in July,” said Alonso, who started ninth on the grid after a rain-soaked qualifying. “We felt a little bit more competitive. When Red Bull are dominating the weekend and the race, they deserve the win, so to finish on Sunday only seven points further behind is not too bad. We minimised the damage.
“We now go to Monza fully motivated and hope to give the Tifosi some smiles and satisfaction.”

Hamilton won the last race before the summer break and showed no signs of ring rustiness as he continued his run of consecutive pole positions on Saturday. Yet, having enjoyed a decent getaway off the line, he conceded he was helpless to defend his position as Vettel attacked him.

“I had a good exit out of Turn 1, but Seb caught me massively through Eau Rouge,” Hamilton, who now trails Vettel by 58 points in the championship, said. “Coming out of there, there was no defending really, you can only move once and I moved once, so just had to watch him glide by.

“After that, it was very hard to hold on to him and once Fernando came by, particularly on the straights, we were just blown away.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE