This was a comeback with a bang! – quite literally. The 2012 season restarted after the summer break with a crash that saw several front liners flying out of the race at its very start – and with Jenson Button crashing onto the top of the podium for the first time since his first run this year.
Spa was well awaited by the drivers: refreshed, confident and hungry for victory; yet, the long Belgian circuit, which in theory allows for a lot of overtaking, was not the friendliest during practice sessions, when heavy rain disabled most of the teams from testing the set-up of the cars after a one month break.
The sunny qualifying provided some surprises. Gearbox-related grid penalties included, the line up saw both Red Bulls outside the first ten, together with both Mercedes. On the other hand, the front row saw Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi start from second – the closest to pole that any Japanese driver has made in the Grand Prix – as well as Jenson Button claiming first pole for McLaren on their 50. race weekend together, which was also his first pole since Monaco 2009, the season which he ended as a Champion with Brawn. “It’s been so long since my last pole position that it almost feels like a win for me!,” he said on Saturday, and the euphoria, good tactic and some luck at the start of the race proved his words right, as he drove faultless 44 laps to arrive home as a definite leader – winning for the first time since Melbourn at the start of the season.
Certainly, starting on the front helped a lot baring in mind the hell that broke loose at his back door right on the first lap. The sibling star of the double-Lotus-podium in Hungary, Romain Grosjean, was obviously not satisfied with his 8. grid position and he charged for the front as if it was his last race; and considering the outcome of his daring approach, it might as well have been just that.
Grosjean’s attack on Lewis Hamilton’s position ended up in the two touching wheels at high revs which sent the Lotus flying over Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, effectively crossing all three out of the race, but luckily leaving all of them unharmed. Kobayashi, who was also caught up in the crash, continued the race, but with too many issues to repeat his stunning qualifying result: having to pit twice due to car damage and puncture he ended the race in 13. – which was still an achievement in the circumstances, especially when adding the worryingly looking smoke from his chassis just after the formation lap.
The crash triggered a series of organisational decisions: firstly, Grosejan was banned from starting at the next race in Monza for causing an avoidable incident (together with being hit by a nearly £40,000 fine); secondly, discussions about increasing drivers’ safety in Formula One were sparked once more, involving further development of crash helmets, and, more importantly, considering closed cockpits an ‘inevitable’ feature in the upcoming years.
But, as it happens, with bad news come good ones, and although this was certainly not a dream weekend for many drivers, it has also brought joy and reassurance to others. And so, Lotus, who in Italy will substitute Grosjean for their test driver, Jerome d’Ambrosio, have a reason to celebrate with Kimi Raikkonen having finished once more on podium and proving to be one of the most consistent drivers of the season – now fourth in the general standings. Sebastian Vettel, who so far has failed to impress as he did in the past two years, shone in Belgium overtaking the competitors one by one from his 10. grid start to the 2. podium step finish, with a temperature-turning battle over position with his team-mate Mark Webber in between. The latter’s less impressive finish in 6. added to Red Bull’s domination in Constructors’ Championship, now 54 points ahead of their main rival, McLaren.
As for those, Button, who has so far not been considered seriously for a 2012 title win is now back in the game as the fourth driver who won more than one race this season – a significant achievement. Probably still ecstatic after his long awaited win, the Brit is looking out to Monza with high hopes: “I’ve finished second here in both my previous races for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – I’ll definitely be going for the win this weekend.”
But we can’t forget about the current Championship leader, who was probably the luckiest – and simultaneously unluckiest runner in Spa; Alonso miraculously avoided head injury when the Lotus flew over his chassis, although he did spark a moment of panic, when not responding to team radio calls in a post-crash shock in the first minutes after the accident. “I am not angry with Grosjean, he definitely didn’t do it on purpose: it was a case of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said later, although he had all to fight for in the race that finished so untimely for him, with no fault of his own. With Vettel’s top-notch performance, Alonso gained a new threat to securing the title – now only 24 points ahead of the German, whilst being only 32 points ahead of Webber in third. He pointed out to his own team-mate’s, Felippe Massa’s improved form, congratulating him on a 5. place finish; yet, it is somewhat questionable whether the Brazilian would have achieved the same result with Alonso, Hamilton and Grosjean running the race as well.
With the season back on track it is therefore still unclear who is most likely to become the 2012 Champ, with many drivers, previously not considered, claiming boldly they are still in it to win it. More and more sources – including present team members and the sport legends – agree that this is the most exciting year Formula One has brewed up so far – and it has to be said, that the only certain thing about this season is that nothing can be taken for granted.