x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Second title almost a reality now for Vettel

Five things we learnt: Age debate is catching up with Schumacher, and more from the Belgian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel's domination is far from over.

He will not admit it, but even Vettel must now accept - in private at least - that it would take nothing short of a series of cataclysmic calamities for him to finish the season with anything other than a second successive world championship title.

Having won six of the first eight races of the season, Red Bull Racing's 24-year-old German seemed to suffer a mid-season wobble as he failed to finish top of the podium in Great Britain, Germany or Hungary.

Mark Webber, his teammate, claimed the reigning world champion's period of domination was over yet, in Spa-Francorchamps, Vettel returned and in claiming his seventh success, he extended his lead at the top of the drivers' standings to 92 points.

The 259 points he now holds is three more than the entire total that saw him last year become the youngest world champion in F1 history, and with only seven races and 175 points remaining, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in two weeks marks a potential final chance for his rivals.

 

Michael Schumacher is still an exceptional talent.

The 42-year-old German was celebrating his 20th anniversary in Formula One at the circuit where it all began, but after a disastrous qualifying session saw him start at the back of a 24-car field for the first time it looked like another forgettable weekend to add to recent disappointments this season.

When Ross Brawn, Schumacher's team principal at Mercedes-GP, was informed that in 43 years only three drivers have won a grand prix over the age of 40, the Englishman apologised before turning the question on the interviewer. "How many other drivers have won seven world championships?" he asked.

Schumacher showed his unique talent as he fought from the back of the grid up to fifth at the track he calls his "living room".

With his pit stops more than half a second quicker than the rest of the field, it would not be outlandish to assume that, with a better car, he could have fought to become the fourth driver over 40 to win a grand prix.

 

Pastor Maldonado capitalises on stewards' reprieve.

Some critics argued the Venezuelan should not have been allowed to race following the moment of madness that led to his controversial collision with Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.

The 26 year old appeared to deliberately smash into the side of the former world champion, but the stewards correctly dealt with him, handling the Williams driver a five-place grid penalty.

It would have been mightily harsh to deny him a drive in Spa and he made the most of his reprieve, claiming his first point of the season with an impressive performance that saw him climb from 21st to finish 10th - six places ahead of Rubens Barrichello, his veteran teammate.

Maldonado has made many mistakes in his rookie season and, were it not for his lucrative sponsorships, questions surrounding his seat would be echoing louder.

But at times he has shown glimpses of the talent that saw him win the GP2 title last year. Now, in Monza, he must proceed to build momentum.

 

Renault's Nick Heidfeld F1 career is over.

Heidfeld is taking Renault to court over the team's decision to drop him for the rest of the season.

It is hard to see how he can possibly return to the cockpit even if he wins his case as bridges appear to have been burnt.

Eric Boullier, the Renault team principal, said the German lacks the leadership necessary.

Instead he promoted Bruno Senna, which was a risk, but the Brazilian helped his team's legal chances by out-qualifying Vitaly Petrov, the teammate who "lead driver" Heidfeld had struggled to outpace.

Senna started seventh on the grid, but made few friends when he badly misjudged his braking point on the first corner and caused a chaotic scene that resulted in Jaime Alguersuari retiring before even completing a lap.

It was a novice mistake that a 27-year-old driver should not be making.

 

Never - ever - rely on Belgian weather.

The saying goes that if you don't like the weather at Spa, you should just wait a minute.

While that rang true for the first two days of on-track action with rain and wind and sun and more rain coming and going incessantly and infrequently, when Sunday's race was crying out for some raindrops, they stayed away like Damon Hill at a Michael Schumacher anniversary party.

For the first time in the entire weekend, the track stayed dry for two hours and Vettel was able to capitalise to comfortably lead home a one-two Red Bull finish and maintain his record of having finished first in every dry race this season.

Predictably, the rain returned by the time the journalists had to start their walk home.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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