Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hamilton limits losses to rain on Rosberg's parade


Nico Rosberg celebrates his victory in Belgium. Photo: Reuters
Nico Rosberg celebrates his victory in Belgium. Photo: Reuters

Daniel Johnson

The reaction of the orange-clad faithful told the story. Standing on the top step for the sixth time this year, Nico Rosberg received muted applause, and even a smattering of boos.

Lewis Hamilton, to his left, was cheered like a hero having made it to the podium from the last row of the grid. Rosberg might have won the Belgian Grand Prix, but Hamilton was the moral victor.

The reaction was harsh on Rosberg, who did all he needed to do, leading from pole position and avoiding the melee that ensued behind him. But his performances this term have not caught the imagination. A nine-point deficit to his team-mate feels generous given that in all six of his wins in 2016 he has not had to execute a single overtake, other than off the line.

In contrast, Hamilton has packed in more drama into this season than many would manage in years, with car breakdowns, collisions and two starts from the back along the way. He found the perfect balance between aggression and caution here, navigating his way through the mayhem to finish third.

This demonstration in damage limitation was beyond Hamilton's wildest dreams, even if he could not close down Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages. On Saturday night he believed a podium was unlikely.

But even without the turbulent weather Spa-Francorchamps is renowned for, the race played into his hands. Three of his principal rivals, the two Ferraris and local hero Max Verstappen, were effectively neutered after turn one.

It means the day he had been fearing for months ended with only 10 points lost in the championship. Now he can look forward to a run of races where he has been utterly dominant in recent years. None of the numbers which have dominated this weekend - a 60-place grid penalty, 21st on the grid, three new engines - matter, other than that he still has a lead in the standings.

The three-time champion seemed taken aback by the smoothness of his progress on the way to a record-breaking drive at Spa (no one has ever made it to the podium from so far down the grid).

"I really was not expecting that," Hamilton said. "I had no idea what was possible. I just came with a positive attitude and it worked. I was very grateful to be able to capitalise on all the commotion that happened along the way.

"It was a freebie for Nico, but for me it was a good race and I am just grateful to be sitting up here.

A classy Rosberg could only concede that his rival had done a fine job. "Lewis starting from the back made it a lot easier," he admitted.

This was a tale of two races: one in the first nine laps of carnage, before a slightly more subdued affair following the red flag for Kevin Magnussen's horrific shunt.

Verstappen, in the wars all day, was sluggish off the line from second but dove down the inside of Kimi Raikkonen anyway. They left each other just enough space but Sebastian Vettel, round the outside, did not, turning on his Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen. It effectively ruined all three of their races.

Eleventh was all Verstappen could give the thousands who had come across the border from Holland to cheer. Vettel finished in sixth, three places ahead of Raikkonen.


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