Belgian GPR Race Recap: Button wins dramatic & debris covered Spa

Jenson Button won the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, a race dominated by a nasty shunt on the first lap, caused as Grosjean and Hamilton coming together on the grass. That contact forced Hamilton into a spin that pushed Grosjean across the field and over the top of Alonso and Perez. The Spaniard then went flying, as Hamilton continued to spin through the air as well. The Safety Car was deployed. Button led from lights out through his single pit stop until the checkered flag, allowing all the scrapping and dicing to happen behind him.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen joined the Briton on the podium, with Vettel having moved his way up through the field and Raikkonen performing a brilliant move on Michael Schumacher into and through Eau Rouge. Pastor Maldonado likely jumped the start, though the investigation would occur after the race as the Venezuelan did not finish. There was plenty of fighting over every position as Spa delivered an exciting and diverse race.

Though Button stormed to pole during Saturday’s qualifying sessions, there was plenty of drama to be had throughout the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. Friday saw dismally rain-out sessions that, as the rest of the weekend would be clear, gave drivers and teams no chance to prepare for either qualifying or the race. Saturday’s practice session saw the first dry running and Alonso (1:48.542) setting the fastest time. Raikkonen, Perez, Kobayashi, and Button completed the fastest five, in an indication of pace for qualifying. A number of drivers performed uncharacteristically poorly, as Rosberg did not make it out of Q1, Vettel and Schumacher managed only to get to Q2, and Hamilton and McLaren’s wing gamble brought them only to eighth fastest at the end of Q3. Kobayashi pushed his Sauber to a front row start, and while Maldonado qualified third fastest, the Venezuelan was demoted three grid positions for impeding Hulkenberg in Q1. In the end, Button and Kobayashi start on the front row, Raikkonen and Perez on row two, and Alonso and Maldonado on row three. Hamilton will start seventh, while Grosjean, Di Resta, and Vettel will round out the top ten starters, as Webber dropped five places due to a gearbox change.

Race Start:
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, if a bit chilly for the race start. Only Hulkenberg and Rosberg started the race on the harder tyre, with the rest of the field choosing the softer compound, and many of them picking used instead of brand new tyres. Kobayashi sat at his grid spot with a lot of smoke from his brakes. Button got off the line well, but Maldonado pulled well out of the line to make up grid positions in what was speculated was a jumped start. However, disaster stuck immediately at La Source. Perez, Alonso, Hamilton, and Grosjean all were involved in a massive, debris-flying shunt and taken out of the race.

Safety Car (L1):
The SC was nearly immediately deployed, as most of the field continued to shuffle around and through the massive debris. Grosjean squeezed Hamilton onto the grass and forcing him into a spin and the back of the Lotus, which pushed the Frenchman across the top of Perez, then into the back of Alonso, who had made it up to fourth. The Spaniard suffered a severe blow as cars went over him, and he flew into the air, as did Hamilton spinning across his bow.

Alonso sat in the car for a while, but soon clambered out under his own power. Somehow, Kobayashi made it through the middle of that incident without suffering any hugely damaging contact. He pitted for a new wing but continued on. As for Maldonado, the lights may have gone out just before or just after he pulled out of line. It appeared to be a jumped start as Raikkonen lingered behind the smoking Kobayashi, and Maldonado took advantage. Under the SC, Button led Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Schumacher, Ricciardo, Vergne, Senna, Webber, Kovalainen, Massa, Vettel, Rosberg, Karthikeyan, Petrov, Glock, Maldonado, Pic, de la Rosa, and Kobayashi.

Restart (L5):
Button led Raikkonen with a decent distance on the restart, as the order remained the same. Massa went wide, allowing Vettel a look, but he was unable to slip through. Maldonado pulled off at Les Combs without his front wing. Just after the Venezuelan stopped, the stewards announced that they were investigating him for a jumped start. Quickly thereafter, they also announced that the contact between Maldonado and Glock would be investigated.

Meanwhile drivers were getting dicey on the track, as Hulkenberg took second from Raikkonen, Schumacher took fourth from Di Resta, and Vettel continued to harry Massa. As they went through the Bus Stop, Vettel neatly took tenth from the Brazilian. Kobayashi pitted for his second stop on L8, taking another set of the harder tyres. At the same time, Webber looked desperately for a way around Senna, but the Red Bull could not match the Williams in a straight line. In another lap, Vettel pushed his way through on his teammate, leaving Webber no choice but to crash or allow the pass.

End L10/Pit Stops Begin:
Di Resta pitted as L10 ended, at Button led Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Ricciardo, Vergne, Senna, Vettel, Webber, and Massa as the top ten. Button had a relatively safe nearly seven second margin over Hulkenberg. Raikkonen, Webber, and Glock all pitted as L12 began. Ricciardo and Massa pitted the next time by, as did Petrov. Meanwhile, Vettel continued to push Senna as Webber had before him. Hulkenberg pitted on L14 as Raikkonen posted the race fast lap on his fresh tyres. Vettel finally passed Senna for fifth from the outside, then inside at the chicane. Kovalainen and Karthikeyan pitted on the next lap, even as Hulkenberg attempted to push his way though on a twitchy Rosberg. In the garage, Caterham allowed Kovalainen to leave his box straight into the side of the pitting Karthikeyan. The stewards would soon investigate. At about the same time, Hulkenberg finally made his way around Rosberg, as Ricciardo, then Webber soon did as well. Senna pitted on L17 for new tyres.

At the end of L17, Button led Schumacher and Vettel, none of whom had yet pitted, with Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Webber, and Ricciardo, who had pitted, Rosberg (no stop), Massa, and Di Resta as the top ten. Rosberg continued to drop down the order on his old tyres, while Button continued to gain time over Schumacher on his own set of old tyres. Schumacher pitted as L20 began, in the midst of a scuffle with Vettel.

The older German had locked up dramatically, and dove into the pit lane at the last moment, nearly across the front of Vettel. As the Red Bull crew were out in the pit lane, it originally appeared that their messy dice and Schumacher’s nip into pit lane might have kept Vettel from pitting, but the team had previously told him to do the opposite of Schumacher’s strategy. The pit lane entry would be investigated after the race. On the next lap, Button pitted from the lead. McLaren delivered a brilliantly quick stop and allowed Button to return in the race lead. Rosberg also pitted on that lap. Back on the track, Vergne made his way around Di Resta through the DRS zone, as did Massa on Ricciardo.

Halfway (End L22):
Vettel pitted as L22 began, rejoining just ahead of Ricciardo and Schumacher, fighting over seventh. At halfway, and after the pit stops shook out, Button led Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Webber, Massa, Vettel, Ricciardo, Schumacher, Vergne, Di Resta, Senna, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Petrov, Glock, Karthikeyan, de la Rosa, Pic, and Kovalainen. Button’s lead remained strong, with more than eight seconds gap back to the Finn. Meanwhile, Maldonado spoke to the media and admitted a jumped start, as he made a mistake and the clutch slipped in his hand.

Second Pit Stops Begin (L27):
The drivers continued to tick the laps down in the middle sector of the race, but the second pit stops would soon begin as Di Resta and Petrov pitted on L27. Hulkenberg, Webber, and Massa followed them in on the next lap. The latter two nearly came to contact, as Red Bull released Webber just as Massa went by. The stewards would investigate the unsafe release after the race. De la Rosa and Kovalainen pitted as well on the next lap, as did Raikkonen from second and Ricciardo from eighth. On fresh tyres, Massa soon set out to pass Senna, completing the maneuver in the DRS zone at Les Combs.

Vergne and Karthikeyan pitted on L30, which did the Indian little good as he soon spun into the gravel and tyres after getting a wheel over the kerbing entering the Paul Frere curve. He was unhurt, but his race was over as the HRT lost a rear wheel. Meanwhile, Raikkonen took third from Schumacher through the chicane, then the German retook the position in the DRS zone. They also had Hulkenberg and Webber scrapping over fifth just behind them. That train of cars nearly came to grief approaching de la Rosa, but the Spaniard moved out of the way, and they all kept going.

10 Laps Remaining:
Raikkonen made a brilliant move on Schumacher, staying behind through the DRS detection zone, flying by down the hill on the outside and keeping the position through Eau Rouge, allowing the Finn to keep his DRS open and gain time through the Kimmel straight. Hulkenberg attempted to follow him through at the top of the hill, but was unable to do so until he came through at La Source. Hulkenberg kept fourth for only moments as Schumacher came back to him and pushed through to retake his position at Les Combs. The dice continued as Hulkenberg passed through the chicane, just before Schumacher dropping into the pits for his second stop. He would soon radio the team and explain that he had lost sixth gear.

Meanwhile, Massa nipped by Webber for fifth at Les Combs. A bit further back, Ricciardo pushed Rosberg to take ninth, only to lose the position to his teammate as Vergne followed him through and then took ninth. Rosberg pitted immediately thereafter. With six laps remaining, Button led Vettel by more than fourteen seconds, with Raikkonen safely ahead of Hulkenerg. Massa, Webber, Schumacher, Senna, Vergne, and Ricciardo completed the top ten, with some stopping once and others twice. Vergne changed the order, flying by Senna for eighth. Ricciardo looked to follow him soon thereafter.

Button still looked solid in the lead with five laps to go. Though he was losing a bit of time to Vettel, there did not seem to be enough time for the German to catch him. Senna pitted and dropped down to twelfth. As the final laps ticked away, the drivers continued to maintain a gap. Button became the first driver to lead from lights to flag all season with his first ever win at Spa, with Vettel and Raikkonen joining him on the podium.

Final Positions, 2012 Belgian Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamGapStop
1. Jenson ButtonMcLaren 1
2. Sebastian VettelRed Bull13.61
3. Kimi RaikkonenLotus25.32
4. Nico HulkenbergForce India27.82
5. Felipe MassaFerrari29.82
6. Mark WebberRed Bull31.22
7. Michael SchumacherMercedes53.32
8. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso58.82
9. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso62.92
10. Paul Di RestaForce India63.72
11. Nico RosbergMercedes65.12
12. Bruno SennaWilliams71.52
13. Kamui KobayashiSauber1 Lap3
14. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1 Lap2
15. Timo GlockMarussia1 Lap2
16. Charles PicMarussia1 Lap1
17. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1 Lap2
18. Pedro de la RosaHRT1 Lap3
 Narain KarthikeyanHRT15 Laps2
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams40 Laps1
 Sergio PerezSauber  
 Fernando AlonsoFerrari  
 Lewis HamiltonMcLaren  
 Romain GrosjeanLotus  
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