Sebastian Vettel. (Photo: Getty Images)

. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dominant Vettel takes a step towards fourth title

Sebastian Vettel took a step closer to his fourth World Championship title by scoring a dominant win in Belgium.

Vettel dragged past pole man on the straight after Eau Rouge on the first lap, and thereafter was never under threat. He now has a 46 point advantage over his nearest rival, Fernando Alonso.

“Obviously very difficult around here to plan your start because first of all you need to have a good launch off the line and then there’s a long straight coming,” he said. “I tried my best to line up behind Lewis and basically benefit from a massive tow through Eau Rouge.

“I think especially in the opening lap when the tires are not yet completely there and the fuel tank is full, Obviously the cars are quite heavy up the hill and produce a lot of drag and I was able, in the tow, to make up a lot of speed, and when I got side by side I had a lot of advantage over Lewis and was able to get straight ahead.

“So, yeah, it worked very well, what I was trying to, let’s say, plan at the exit of turn two. And after that I just tried to settle into the rhythm. I tried to open a gap to be flexible at the first stop and yeah, until the end we had incredible pace. We didn’t expect that.

“We knew, probably, going in that, in the dry, we should be able to beat Mercedes on the track but we knew other cars – Lotus, – they looked very competitive in the dry, so in that regard we had massive pace, and could control the race until the end.”

Despite extending his lead Vettel insisted that he wasn’t yet thinking about the World Championship.

“For sure a positive message today, but I’m honestly more happy to win the race today: it’s a fantastic track and especially when the car works well, you don’t want the race to stop. The car is getting lighter and lighter and I was very comfortable at the end on the Primes. The car, as I said, was just a pleasure to drive.

“I didn’t think about the championship or points. Obviously I know the higher up you finish the better it is: ideally ahead of everyone else, which worked today. We’ve had good races here in the past, so it’s nice to have another one, another great memory today. So, that’s what honestly I was focusing on most. For sure, regarding the championship, it’s a bonus.”

Lewis Hamilton. (Photo: Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hamilton has to settle for third at Spa

Lewis Hamilton saw his pole position turn into third place at Spa after losing out to Sebastian Vettel on the first lap and Fernando Alonso after the first stops.

Hamilton said he just didn’t have the pace with which to defend.

“I had a half-decent start and I felt like I got a good exit out of turn one,” he said of his first lap. “But Sebastian just caught me massively, particularly through Eau Rouge. There was no defending really. I could only move once, so I moved once and just had to watch him glide by. After that it was very, very difficult to hold onto him. And also when Fernando came by, particularly down the straights, he was just pulling away.

Hamilton doesn’t believe that Spa represented a longer term drop in form.

“I think every year you come here – here and Monza – you come with a new package, new front and particularly rear wing and sometimes you hit the nail on the head and sometimes you don’t.

“I think we’ve done a decent job but obviously these guys [RBR] have done a slightly better job. Whether or not we can make an adjustment before the next race, we’ll wait and see, but I think more importantly we’ll be back to being very competitive – or more competitive – when we get to Singapore.”

 

Protesters. Photo: (Getty Images)

Protesters. Photo: (Getty Images)

Protestors strike at Belgian GP

Greenpeace launched a carefully co-ordinated attack on race sponsor Shell at the Belgian GP – and the organization even managed to invade the podium ceremony.

A group of protestors managed to get on top of the main pit straight grandstand before the start, with four of them abseiling down to eventually reveal a 20m wide banner that read ‘Arctic Oil? Shell No!.’ The protestors remained in place, dangling from the roof of the grandstand, until after the race.

Another team struck on a Shell advertising sign at the top of Eau Rouge.

Incredibly during the national anthems after the race two banners rose up seemingly from nowhere on the metal fence at the front of the podium, operated by remote control. They were hurriedly removed by Alex Molina, the man responsible for the podium ceremony, while the TV director focused in on Vettel.

Meanwhile two protestors tried to interrupt the ceremony, with one of them abseiling down on the left while security tried to pull her back up. They had purchased VIP Paddock Club passes at a cost of several thousand dollars. She was removed by security after the ceremony concluded.

The drivers had no idea what was happening, or why there was booing from the crowd under the podium.

Greenpeace later confirmed that the banners had been installed “several weeks ago,” and said that 35 people were involved in the action.

A spokeperson said: “Shell has spent millions on this event, hoping to ride on the glory of the drivers and pretend it’s a company worthy of a spot on the podium. But Shell has proven time and again that it will cut the most dangerous corners in the race to drill for oil as the Arctic ice melts away. So I’m here to let Formula One fans know what this company is really up to and make sure the truth of what Shell is doing in the Arctic is part of today’s race.”

Clearly today’s events will lead to more stringent security in the future.

Stefano Domenicali. (Photo: Getty Images)

. (Photo: Getty Images)

 Domenicali says more to come from Ferrari

Stefano Domenicali says that Ferrari has to keep pushing to improve the F138 in order to maintain its championship challenge.

Asked if it was important to appease Fernando Alonso with an upturn in form in Belgium, Domenicali said it was a boost for the whole team.

“I think it was important not only for Fernando, who deserved a quick car, but also for the team, because they are working very hard to make sure that we are able to fight up to the end for the championship,” he said. “We had a very bad July for many reasons, but I’m very pleased to see we are back on track, but it’s not enough.

“We need another step with regard to the performance of the car, and this is what I’m expecting from my people, and this is what honestly at home everyone is trying to do as best as they can. This is really the target that we have.

“For us it’s important to keep back again on this trace, let’s say, of improving the car. We saw Red Bull has for sure improved, and we need to stay there, because we can beat them by improving the car better than them, and being there if an opportunity can come, because they may have a problem. Don’t forget last year.”

Domencali said the improvement in form was not just down to upgrades introduced for low downforce Spa: “Some of them will carry through for the next races, some others were obviously focused with the package for this race, but at least I’m pleased to see that the car was back to a normal improvement, in terms of performance, that was the most important thing for us.”

Meanwhile Domenicali confirmed that the gap between Alonso and leader Vettel opened up in the final stint because the Spaniard backed off to save the car.

“At a certain point, because the gap was always there around 10-11 seconds, and in our view there was nothing to gain and there was nothing to protect from behind we just considered not to destroy the rhythm and preserve car in order to avoid any possible damages. We saw that Vettel was still pushing, and it was a little bit strange from our perspective, but we were let’s say just managing the position.”

 Ferrari expecting to confirm Sauber 2014 deal

Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali says that he hopes to confirm Sauber’s 2014 customer powertrain deal in the near future.

While there has never been any question of Sauber going anywhere else the deal has not been confirmed due to obvious commercial reasons, given the massive financial commitment the Swiss team will have to make when it signs a multi-year deal.

It’s a similar situation with Lotus, whose expected Renault deal has yet to be inked.

“The thing is progressing very well,” he said. “We want to keep working with Sauber, as you know, hopefully very soon we will clarify formally the situation with them. That’s the intention.” Asked if it would be by Monza, he added: “I hope so.”

Meanwhile Domenicali made light of the fact that Mercedes and Renault have undertaken some PR by revealing details of their 2014 powertrains, while Ferrari has not.

“On the engine side we believe that what has been put out from our competitor [Renault] is an interesting marketing exercise, but I can guarantee to you that the pictures I have seen are not the engine that will be in the cars next year. If you want we can bet! I’m joking, but you understand what I want to say.

“So we are going ahead with our program. It’s tight for everyone. From the engineering point of view it’s a really great challenge, and so that is the approach that Maranello, our people, are having in front of this project.”

Christian Horner (Left). (Photo: Getty Images)

(Left). (Photo: Getty Images)

Horner says Red Bull seat open – will Alonso get it?

The consensus in the paddock at Spa was that Daniel Ricciardo had already got the nod for the second Red Bull seat, and Mark Webber added fuel to the fire by telling Australian TV that it was a done deal.

However Christian Horner continues to insist that the team has yet to decide who will get the drive.

Ricciardo is signed to Red Bull Racing anyway, and in effect the team could call on his services at any time up to the start of next season. Even if the Aussie doesn’t get the RBR job he will be in a Toro Rosso with an identical powertrain/gearbox package to the RB10, and thus potentially in a competitive seat.

There appears to be no logical reason why Red Bull would not have announced Ricciardo if he had already been guaranteed the drive. Indeed from a PR standpoint an early announcement would be a show of faith in the junior program at a time when other options were available.

The bottom line is that Horner wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t continue to explore other interesting options, given that Ricciardo isn’t going anywhere. Two World Champions are currently without a 2014 contract – Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button – while sources continue to suggest that Fernando Alonso is still not 100% committed to Ferrari.

When this writer asked if he thought that Felipe Massa would be staying at Maranello, he replied: “They should be more worried about hanging on to Alonso…”

The value of having two experienced, proven winners on board for what will be a complicated season for all the teams is obvious, and at the same time if RBR takes a second top driver it will in turn damage a rival.

“There’s plenty of speculation about, but nothing has been signed yet,” said Horner at Spa. “So the situation is still as I said before the race, we’ve got time to contemplate who we’re going to put in the other seat, and there will be no announcement certainly before Monza.

“Mark obviously isn’t privy to all of the discussions with drivers. When there’s something to announce, we’ll certainly announce it. It will probably go on beyond Monza.”

Elaborating on Ricciardo’s situation, he said: “Both Toro Rosso drivers are on Red Bull Racing contracts. They’re on loan to Toro Rosso, so at any point they are available for us to call upon. So we don’t have to worry about those two, because they’re products of the Red Bull junior team, and the reason we’re taking the time is to look at what other options are about.

“Obviously they are very big shoes to fill next year. We want to field the strongest possible team that we can, so therefore it’s absolutely prudent to look at all the options that are available. It’s actually surprised us the options that are available that perhaps we didn’t think were.”

It’s widely assumed that it would be impossible for Sebastian Vettel to operate alongside a proven superstar, but Horner says that’s not an issue.

“To be honest with you Sebastian has no input or veto or requirement for any blessing over that second seat. He wants obviously to have a competitive team mate, because he wants to be pushed, as Mark has pushed him. He hasn’t voiced any opinions, strongly or otherwise, in any way. He sees it very much as a team position, and that’s very much the way it is.”

While many observers struggle to understand why Alonso might want to leave Ferrari, it may well be that he simply has fears about the competitiveness of the 2014 powertrain package.

It remains unclear in what circumstances Alonso might be able to walk away from what appears to be a solid Ferrari contract, unless it contains a generous performance clause that works in his favor – for example something that relates to driver and team having failed to win a World Championship over their four years together.

Of course as ever there are some potentially some games in the background, and it’s easy to suggest that Alonso is simply finding ways to motivate his current team, while Horner is destabilizing the likes of Ferrari and Lotus by keeping the driver debate open.

However, it’s worth remembering that it’s dangerous to second guess what Alonso might do. Not many people expected him to leave his home at Renault for McLaren, or indeed walk away from an ultra competitive McLaren at the end of 2007 – even allowing for the rather awkward way that season unfolded, and the breakdown of his relationship with the team management.

As someone close to Fernando said at Spa, “At McLaren he finished a point behind the champion, and he still quit…”