Belgium Grand Prix Reflections: Jenson Button Wins as Vettel Gains Ground
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Jenson Button's victory at Spa in Belgium was about as measured and composed as is possible in the Formula 1 of 2012.
Any comparisons between his race pace and that of Sebastien Vettel in the final stint are really very subjective, Button having a sufficiently large buffer to be able to measure his pace against his nearest challenger, and even then their ultimate fastest laps were only a tenth apart.
The first corner incident changed the race, and while Fernando Alonso will feel a little aggrieved to see his championship lead to Vettel cut to less than a race victory, one of the other big losers in the first corner was the race as a spectacle.
Alonso had made a good start and would have gone into the first corner in around fourth position—which would have become third after the resultant penalty for Maldonado's obvious jump start—and from that position he would have been far better placed to challenge Button than eventual second-place man Vettel, who dropped down to 11th.
Felipe Massa's pace in clear air showed that the Ferrari, as usual, is a stronger race car than a qualifier, and while Button's ease in the race meant he never had to push his McLaren to reveal its true potential, the Englishman's early buffer would probably not have been created had he not had Nico Hulkenberg holding up faster cars behind him.
Also, it is very probable that one if not both of the Sauber drivers would have been a real threat had they not been caught up in the Grosjean-induced melee. Like their engine supplier's car, the Sauber-Ferrari is not as competitive in qualifying as in the race, and yet still Kamui Kobayashi was Button's closest challenger in qualifying.
With the top two finishers opting for a one-stop strategy and Sauber's renowned kindness to its tyres, this was surely a race tailor-made for their car. In Montreal, around a track with similar characteristics to Spa, it was Perez in the Sauber who showed incredible pace to go from 15th on the grid to third in the race using the one-stop tactic.
On the other hand, as well as Button, the other winner from the first corner crash was Sebastien Vettel. The world champion showed consistent pace throughout and made crucial overtaking maneuvers at the right times—foremost among these his pass on team-mate Mark Webber at the bus stop chicane which gave the opportunity to run a one-stop strategy.
The German has turned a 42-point deficit into a 24-point one, which significantly reduces Alonso's comfort zone. And while the Red Bull is not always the fastest car, it is competitive enough in races to consistently pick up podiums, if not wins.
The Ferrari is arguably slightly slower than the Red Bull on average, and what had previously looked like a solid lead for the Spaniard is now looking a lot more tenuous.
This relative closeness in the F1 championship is the undoubted upside for the Formula One fan—together with the fact that they do it all again next week in Monza.
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