F1 came back from the beaches to the permanent autumn of the Ardennes. But at least Spa-Francorchamps laid on its traditional greeting of massive straights, terrifying corners, changeable weather and an enormous crowd of intoxicated Dutchmen. Forget Monaco, the Ardennes is the ancestral home of Formula One…
Everybody loves Spa!
“If I had to chose a favourite, this would be it. The Eau Rouge-Radillion section is something special. The feeling of going up the hill so quickly – you don’t get that anywhere else.”
Sébastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso
“I think of it as my living room”
Michael Schumacher, Mercedes
“It’s one of the favourites for all the drivers. It’s high-speed, some of it’s blind, there’s high compression. It’s good to be here…”
Robert Kubica, Renault
“The first few laps will be interesting. You need to push like hell while being very, very careful. And that’s if it’s dry. When Spa is wet… anything can happen.”
Jaime Alguersuari, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Actually, nearly everyone likes Spa…
“I broke my finger here in 2006 in a World Series race. They took me in the ambulance to the medical centre and the guy driving was crazier than all of us put together. They put me in a wheelchair – even though there was nothing wrong with my legs – And they made me where a very strange dress… like an old women’s dress…”
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
“Are there pictures?”
Usually driver moves are the hot topic of the summer break, but with no one putting pen to paper, speculation instead focussed on the idea of Red Bull signing up with Mercedes for a 2011 engine…
“I’ve heard the rumours but that’s it… I don’t know of any plans, I haven’t been consulted or asked and nor do I necessarily need to be. I’m sure Ross is much closer to this than I am.”
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren (Mercedes)
“This is the first time I’ve heard the rumour!”
Ross Brawn, Mercedes
Given their horsepower and straight-line speed, McLaren were everybody’s favourites to repeat the dominance they enjoyed the last time F1 went to a medium-low downforce track in Canada
“This is a very different circuit to Hungary. I think the Red Bulls will come back towards us because of the straight-line speed that we have. This is a better situation for us, but the Red Bull is still a very quick car.”
Jenson Button, McLaren
“You can’t be doing purple sectors on every single track in every single condition, every single time; Formula One is just too competitive for that. Then again, we were shitting ourselves in Valencia and Sebastian won the race.”
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing
Meanwhile, Mark was celebrating his 34th birthday.
“I didn’t know this was his birthday! I have brought nothing with me. I need to find something. I think they have these free shampoos in the hotel. Don’t tell him…”
“I think the best present would be a quick car for this weekend.”
“I got a cake!”
Mark got the prefect present with pole position in a rain-affected qualifying session, narrowly ahead of Lewis Hamilton
“It felt like it was a great effort from the whole team and it’s a great place to get pole. We’ve seen a few occasions this year that pole positions haven’t done too much, so we need to capitalise tomorrow.”
“It’s difficult to know if it’s just a dark patch of tarmac or whether it’s actually damp and whether it’s going to affect you. You don’t know until you hit it. We’re all on the knife edge.”
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
Vettel qualified fourth, and Button fifth, with Robert Kubica’s Renault the surprise package in third
“I think victory is out of reach, but in motor sport anything can happen!”
Red Bull had their now-traditional horror-start, with Webber down to seventh by the first corner. Button got past Vettel and Kubica to make it a McLaren 1-2.
“I had a big bog on my formation lap and… I had it even worse on the main start itself… when you have a micro moment on the start it is massively exaggerated by the performance of the other guys getting normal starts.”
Then the rain started to fall. Nearly everyone went off but the only retirement was Rubens Barrichello, who smashed into Alonso and bought out the safety car.
"Despite my experience, it was very difficult to know how wet the track was on the opening lap… but it was fully wet when I came into Blanchimont… when I touched the brakes, even though it was quite early, it wasn't sufficient to stop the car, which went straight on into (Fernando) Alonso, for which I'm sorry."
Rubens Barrichello, Williams
“You tip-toe around! It was very, very tricky but you have to stay out as long as you can.”
After the restart, Hamilton pulled way from Button and Vettel; Vettel tried to overtake and hit Button. The McLaren retired, the Red Bull was damaged and came into the pits for a new nose – but would return soon afterwards to serve a penalty.
“It was looking really good; it was tricky to keep them [Sebastian and Robert] behind but I think I was doing a good job. All I felt was a big bang in the sidepod. I think he ripped out my radiator. It’s a massive blow and it hurts. I don’t know what Sebastian was doing.”
“I tried to out-brake him on the outside. When I changed from the inside to the outside, I lost the car under braking on the bump… and unfortunately crashed into him. Obviously it was not my intention to destroy his race or mine. I’m really sorry.”
"It was not what you would expect to see in F1 – more reminiscent of junior formulae.”
Late in the race, the rain began to fall again and the leaders pitted for rain tyres – but in the slippery conditions Kubica misjudged his stop allowing Webber to take second place.
“My mistake, I got distracted in the pit lane. In order to change tyres we have to adjust the front wing, change some settings on the steering wheel. I couldn’t do it on the race track because it was so slippery… when I managed to change everything it was quite late to brake and I locked the front wheels. I went wide, hit some guys, but fortunately they are fine.”
Late on, Fernando Alonso crashed. The safety car was out again but the order was maintained to the finish. Hamilton won from Webber and Kubica. Vettel, Alonso and Button failed to score, giving Lewis and Mark a clear lead in the championship.
“We came here surprisingly to see that we were very competitive, if not a little bit faster than the others. To then try and put that into a win in these changeable conditions was very tough. It is one of those I can tick off now and say that I have won.”
“I was hoping this guy (Lewis) would make a mistake but it’s not his first race, so I’m very, very happy with second place, to be honest, after the start I had.”
We go to Monza with both Championships on a knife-edge. Red Bull Racing lead McLaren by a point, while Hamilton is three clear of Webber.
“Clearly for me, my closest rival in the championship is Mark, but I still think the championship is open.”
“I think if you beat Lewis in the championship, you are doing very well.”