Hamilton boosts title lead as tyre row erupts at Spa

2015 Belgian Grand Prix review

Posted on

| Written by

With his tenth pole position from eleven grands prix, Lewis Hamilton clinched the FIA Pole Position Trophy with eight races to spare at the Belgian Grand Prix.

If there was a separate championship awarded to whichever driver generated the most column inches during the summer break, he would have won that just as dominantly as well. Certain newspapers with a broad definition of ‘news’ spent August regurgitating the contents of Hamilton’s Instagram account for the benefit of their readers.

Even Jenson Button’s burglary in the south of France failed to dislodge Hamilton as the principal focus of the media’s attention. Yesterday his latest social media offering – a video of him firing off an automatic weapon – became the latest cause celebre.

Hamilton had no need for such heavy weaponry when he took to the track, however. After Nico Rosberg got away slowly at the start of the race, he was rarely headed on the way to his sixth win of the season.

Perez surges at the start

Pre-race talk centred on how the new communications restrictions would make life more difficult for drivers. The result was a slightly more variable start, if only because for the first time in four races Hamilton managed to convert his pole position into the lead.

It was the other Mercedes which got away poorly. Rosberg fell behind a trio of cars, headed by Sergio Perez’s fast-starting Force India. The VJM08 even nosed ahead of Hamilton briefly on the run to La Source but Hamilton protected the inside line, claimed the advantage, and left Perez behind.

Bottas had Rosberg filling his mirrors as they reached the chicane for the first time and left the inside open for the Mercedes. Even so Rosberg ran deep into the corner, allowing the chasing Sebastian Vettel to pounce on Bottas at La Source.

Neither Williams had got off the line well – Felipe Massa had lost three places, falling behind Vettel and the two Lotus drivers. As lap two began Pastor Maldonado suddenly lost drive on the Kemmel straight.

Team mate Romain Grosjean was following him closely at the time and had to take evasive action to avoid hitting the other Lotus. Just as on Saturday morning, when Kimi Raikkonen had slowed in front of him, his reactions and car control proved up to the task.

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

Hamilton keeps Rosberg in check

Rosberg didn’t make any further impression on the cars in front of him after that, but he didn’t need to – both Force India and Red Bull knew they wouldn’t be able to keep the Mercedes behind.

Ricciardo followed Perez for six laps, but even as the gap between them fell to little more than half a second and Ricciardo used his two shots of DRS per lap it was clear he lacked the straight-line speed to pass. Red Bull brought him in for a tyre change – reminding him to stay out if Perez came in – and switched to the harder medium compound tyres.

Perez responded on the very next lap, and although he briefly lost his position to Ricciardo he had switched to soft tyres, and easily reclaimed the place with the aid of DRS on lap 12. Rosberg, however, made his first pit stop at the end of the lap and came out ahead of the pair of them – though he had to defend his place from Perez.

Next Rosberg gave chase to Hamilton. The leading Mercedes was the second of the two to pit, and by lap 17 the gap between the pair was down to just over three seconds. It probably wouldn’t have got any lower had the Virtual Safety Car not been deployed a few laps later.

Despite his lack of straight-line speed Ricciardo looked to be in a strong position strategically – until his car abruptly failed neat the end of his 20th lap. In the Virtual Safety Car period that followed, Hamilton was surprised to see his team mate appear much closer to him than he expected. “How did Nico gain a second behind the VSC?” enquired Hamilton on the radio.

It didn’t matter. Once the VSC period ended Hamilton restored his advantage, and then some. By lap 29 he was five-and-a-half seconds to the good, and following his second pit stop shortly afterwards he could stroke the Mercedes home.

Blow-out costs Vettel a podium finish

Perez, third, was already heading to the pits when the VSC period began. Grosjean also took advantage of the opportunity to pit while losing little time.

“I went through Eau Rouge on that lap and they just told me on the radio ‘Safety Car window is open'”, he explained afterwards, “and I did finish the lap and ‘safety car’ came up on the steering wheel and we pitted as planned”.

Grosjean switched to mediums for his final stint while Vettel, who had taken the harder tyres at his first stop, stayed out. “They stayed on the one-stop strategy which was quite aggressive and we didn’t think we’d be able to do it.”

For a long time it looked as though Ferrari would be able to do it. Grosjean reduced a five-second deficit to Vettel to half a second, but with the laps ticking away he was sat in the SF-15T’s slipstream, unable to mount an attack.

Then on lap 42, Grosjean’s reactions were put to the test again: this time because of another sudden Pirelli tyre failure. Vettel’s right-rear tyre let go moments after he crested the rise at Blanchimont – had it happened seconds earlier he would have suffered a monumental accident.

This was the second major tyre failure of the weekend follwoing Rosberg’s blow-out on Friday. It prompted a furious response from Vettel and, hours later, Pirelli reacted by stating that its demand for limits on stint lengths two years ago should not have been rejected.

Hamilton pulls clear in points race


Vettel’s drama handed the final podium place to Grosjean. A late pit stop for Daniil Kvyat paid off handsomely: hs extra grip more than made up for the Renault’s lack of grunt, and he picked off Massa and Perez on consecutive laps to claim fourth ahead of his two rivals.

The second Williams fell out of contention after a bizarre error in the pits. Bottas was sent on his way with three soft tyres and a single medium compound tyre, which earned him a drive-through penalty. He’d been struggling for straight-line performance anyway, but without the penalty would surely have come home higher than ninth.

Ahead of him were two drivers who’d worked their way up from the back Kimi Raikkonen, seventh, and Max Verstappen. The latter had put an audacious pass on Felipe Nasr, running onto the run-off at Blanchimont. But his attempt to take Raikkonen at Les Combes on the final tour did not come off, and he had to settle for eighth. Marcus Ericsson took the final point.

Spa has not always been a kind circuit for Hamilton. He was stripped of victory in 2008 following a highly contentious stewarding decision. Three years before that he was disqualified after winning a Formula Three race at the track due to a minor technical infringement.

Going into this weekend he was asked if the venue was his favourite, and gave a blunt “no”. Perhaps today’s commanding win, which has moved him more than a victory clear of Rosberg in the championship race, he give him a little more affection for one of F1’s great venues.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

63 comments on “Hamilton boosts title lead as tyre row erupts at Spa”

  1. Well, I think that it is clear that the era of deliberately degrading tyres is coming to a rapid close, irrespective of who is appointed the supplier to F1 from 2017.

    Michelin don’t want to build tyres of that kind, and after today’s events, it seems doubtful that Pirelli will be prepared to risk the reputational damage which resulted from Silverstone 2013 and now Spa 2015.

    Whether we like it or not, it’s bulletproof tyres from 2016, if not sooner.

    1. Yeah, I think we’re seeing the beginning of the end for this tyre era, and as always in F1 history repeats itself over and over so it’s just a matter of time before we see one stop races again and maybe eventually a new tyre war.

    2. I thought the theory was that the outer layer of ‘rubber’ wears away then The Cliff is the less grippy layer beneath. There’s no accepted scenario for sudden catastrophic failure as the signal that the tyres are past their best.

      1. Exactly. If a tyre is near the end of its life it should lose performance, not integrity. Pirelli has nowhere to hide on this one I’m afraid.

    3. I wish I could be as certain as you seem to be….seems to me the only time something changes is when a driver is killed. If there are no deaths, the FIA seems content to come up with their usual arbitrary nonsense, such as the orange chicane they tried to install at eau rouge this weekend only to have to remove it after a few cars got airborne in the feeder races. Stupid is as stupid does.

    4. Good riddance then.

    5. Silverstone was way, way worse than what happened today.

      1. Of course Silverstone was way worse. But it seems Pirelli wasn’t able to fully solve the problem.

        1. It is nearly impossible to solve this kind of problem with 13″ tyres, you need bigger diameter to make them safer.

          1. No. Not really. No excuse for what happened.

        2. Sauber did 36 lap stints at Silverstone on these medium tyres.

    6. Although I hate the fast degrading tyres, Vettel’s tyre issue has nothing to do with that.

      The fast degrading part of the tyre is in the thickness and hardness (speed of wear) of the tread surface.

      That was not the issue here. He destroyed the construction of the tyre by driving too long on the set of tyres and going off-track ramming kerbs, grass and asphalt edges time and time again.

      1. Sure enough Vettel does seem to be the guy who gets on the edges (and over them) the most regularly, could well have something to do with it yes @patrickl

      2. All the drivers ride the kerbs at Spa. On the BBC Allan McNish said during free practice that drivers have to ride the kerbs and attack drive aggressively at Spa to set good lap times. The teams all setup their cars to cope with this.

        Pirelli know that this is what the teams and drivers do every year at Spa their tyres should be robust enough to handle this. They should take the nature of the track and the way it is driven into account (plus a safety margin) when they give teams information on tyre life. Safety should be their prime concern.

        1. It’s not about “hitting the curbs”, it’s about going over them and then back over them again on he way back to the track.

          One side of the curbs is indeed designed to be “hit” by the cars. Going all the way over them and endig up on the other side over and over is not.

          Like I said above, these medium tyres have done several much longer stints before this season. Even on Silverstone and Hungary which are much harder on the tyres.

          The difference here is the continuous off-track excursions …

          Why on earth would Pirelli have to include that in their tyre advice? It’s know that that’s not allowed.

          1. It’s not about “hitting the curbs”, it’s about going over them and then back over them again on he way back to the track.

            Amen, brother. I fully agree. Pirelli is being hammered and, as in the case of Silverstone 2013, there were extraneous reasons for the tire failures.

            If people stop and think for a second, how many thousands of miles Pirelli tires have been driven under tremendous stress without a catastrophic failure? to me, the most plausible explanation for the tire failures are wear abuse, riding the car over the curbs. The track was working on the curbs during the weekend. That’s a fact. They even removed something from the curbs. so, it is very plausible something cut both tires which led to the blow outs.

      3. Dear God, he rammed grass with his pirelli tyres? No wonder they exploded!

        1. What happens if you go back from the grass onto the tarmac?

      4. That’s not what happened.
        “The fast degrading part of the tyre is in the thickness and hardness (speed of wear) of the tread surface.”
        Fast degrading part is completely gone after you hit the cliff, not before. There’s still the 30% of rubber on tyre after that.
        Pirelli engineer on the Ferrari garage would warn the team if it was a normal issue.
        Hembrey: “Teams make decisions based on the data they have and in this case there is something that did not work out between us and them. It’s easy to say now, but we have always had good co-operation with Ferrari. So we will sit at a table to find the best solutions.”

  2. Pirelli were told in 2013 that the FIA would not impose a lap or distance limit on the teams use of the tyres, they have had plenty of time to engineer this factor into their tyres for F1, and being a monopoly supplier cannot claim the pressure of competition forced them to take risks.

    1. I guess it will just mean that Pirelli get back to their more conservative tyre choice for the upcoming races @hohum. There had been quite a bit of pressure from teams, from Bernie and from media on them to give it a bit more “agressive” options. Seems to me the softs were pretty clearly too soft/fragile for Spa on a hot weekend.

      1. @bascb, with it being the medium tyre causing the problem a more conservative (harder) approach will only have the problem arise a little earlier, unless that is, they introduce a super hard.

        1. I guess they would have to go medium/hard with the mediums then being the tyre people qualify on and running a relatively short stint and the hards lasting them for ages @hohum

          1. @bascb, but the teams do have competitive pressure and surely would want to use the faster mediums for as long as possible.

        2. They don’t have to keep producing harder and harder compounds for more durable and safe tyres. Are they so engineeringly incompetent? My God!

    2. @hohum: It’s kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” though. If you are required to make tyres with a very short life span, it’s very hard to make them physically robust enough to be “totally safe” over a wide range of possible usages, whatever “totally safe” is defined to be this year. If Pirelli made tyres much stronger and heavier, there would be an outcry. If they made them stronger with clever composite materials the costs would skyrocket. They are quite limited in their scope for manoeuvre here. I don’t think there’s an easy, or even a moderately difficult, solution.
      18″ rims would help though. People seem to forget that in F1 cars the tyre sidewalls are the main moving component of the suspension. Simplify the tyres and ease the design difficulties. That’s the first step F1 needs to take.

      1. @tribaltalker, well if it can’t be done within acceptable safety limits they should have told Bernie so and refused to comply.

        1. @hohum: If Pirelli builds an extra 20% margin into the tyres, at least one team will try to get an extra 20% out of them (as they should!). It’s a non-win situation for any tyre manufacturer that cannot state definite limits to tyre usage.
          Of course, Pirelli tried and failed to get rules in place two years ago, in order to stop the teams from pushing the tyres too far.
          I’m glad I’m not Paul Hembury right now.

      2. “If you are required to make tyres with a very short life span, it’s very hard to make them physically robust enough to be “totally safe” over a wide range of possible usages.”
        I don’t think it’s that hard. They are professionally manufacturing all sorts of tyres. They can make safe degrading tyres. If they want to reduce the costs, they should hire more clever people.

  3. It is about time they did something about these highly unprecedented incidents (not belittling the issue; just eyeing the immediate panic) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIX-JmmmonY

    1. So, since Ayrton Senna died in 1994, it’s acceptable what happened to Jules Bianchi in 2014?

  4. So the tyre blew? Is it really that big of a deal? All sorts of parts fail for all sorts of reasons. Why should we expect all the tyres to be perfect yet not any of the other parts? Why do we not bitch and moan as much when gearboxes fail or new brakes fail, the latter being just as dangerous, especially when they are using them beyond their expected life? Ferrari were stupid to keep him out. They gambled and lost. Simple.

    1. @selbbin Please read beyond anything that confirms your ‘based on nothing’-opinion.

    2. @selbbin Why were Ferrari stupid to keep him out.

      It’s like saying Americans re stupid for having aviation for without which 9/11 wouldn’t have happened.

      1. No, it would be like saying a pilot is stupid for trying to stay in the air when they run out of fuel, because hey, we have wings!

        Weak and worn tyres blow. This isn’t the first time it’s ever happened, either on a race track or a normal road. They took the risk that the tyres would last… and they didn’t.

        1. @selbbin, a 747 pilot forgot to refuel before an Atlantic crossing, when they ran out of fuel he was able to glide over 100 miles and land without power on an airport in the Azores, he never gave up, but for some reason he doesn’t brag about it.

          1. What the hell does that have to do with tyre blowouts in F1?

          2. @selbbin Either way more than your opinion on the matter.

        2. @selbbin

          They took the risk that the tyres would last… and they didn’t.

          In which case, his times should have tailed off, instead of his tyres coming off.

        3. 1. Vettel hadn’t run out of rubber before the tyre blew out if we are using your analogy.
          2. Planes can indeed glide in air, because hey, they have wings! What was your point again?

  5. A tyre should never explode, it’s the simple. The cars are travel at a too higher speeds and in too high speed corners for that to happen. Pirelli should ensure that every tyre choice is structurally sound enough to complete every single lap in a race.

    However while the tyres shouldn’t explode in the way they did this weekend, they should reach a final level of very low grip while remaining structurally sound which would trigger the team to pit for lack of performance. This would mean that while a team can gamble on taking a set of tyres much longer than anybody else, their punishment if the gamble doesn’t pay off is only a sporting one.

    1. Do you think Pirelli are going to disagree that tyres shouldn’t explode at whim?

      I find this entire discussion completely and absolutely ridiculous. How many other sports demand that a supplier supplies them with equipment designed, on purpose, to degrade to ‘unusable’ before the competition event is completed? Seriously, where else> The contract remit is based on another parameter entirely – improving the racing by ensuring there are sufficient differences in the states of the same sets of tyres. Not producing a tyre that can last the race and remain high-performance with the ideal traction for the track.

      That self-evidently introduces a safety compromise for the sake of the racing show. Don’t want the risk? Find another way for cars to be able to overtake more often.

  6. ColdFly F1 (@)
    24th August 2015, 8:54

    A big thank you to Verstappen to show that overtaking can still be exciting and does not always need DRS.
    Of course he was overzealous when passing Raikkonen and it looked like he wanted to ‘take’ Massa as well. Sure he’ll learn from that.

  7. What I don’t understand is why Williams didn’t immediately call Bottas back in to put on the right tyre. It’s not as if he was gaining any advantage from the mis-matched tyres. Mixing tyre compounds is illegal, so they left the stewards no option other than to impose a drive-through, which might have been avoided if they’d shown good faith and scrambled to bring him in ASAP. The net result was that Bottas had the time penalty from an extra pit-stop and also lost a lot of time from being out on mixed tyres – the original mistake was truly Mickey Mouse, but their repsonse simply compounded the problem.

    1. @charleski I actually see it differently. From Williams perspective they ‘only’ got a drive through (with the driver not stopping) which is less penal than doing a pitstop in terms of lost time. The remaining issue though is whether they lost time on the mixed tyres (you claim they lost a lot of time, but it didn’t look that way).

      However, I believe that the penalty should have been greater than a drive through for the very reason that they didn’t immediately put the mistake right. I think that they should have had to come in and change the tyre immediately regardless of the penalty and then had a penalty (e.g. 5s time addition). When they took the drive through but still didn’t bother to fix the issue I think they should have been told to immediately pit or face a DQ.

      Just like the silly change to penalties for engine changes being immediately mis-used by McLaren to put four new engines in on a single weekend, this precedent gives teams the chance to consider situations in which a deliberate mis-match might be a strategic decision worth taking (teams did, in the past, do this for performance reasons). In a race with a short time-cost of a drive through and certain characteristics it’s possible this could be the fastest strategy.

      1. @jerseyf1: That’s pretty much how I read it until I realised that (a) Bottas didn’t seem to be any slower than before (b) there was no clear safety problem.
        Had there been an issue with safety, an immediate call back into the pits should have been required. That tells us that the FIA knows that mis-matched tyres may be safe; it leads me to wonder if there could be some advantages in the sort of front-back and side-to-side asymmetry we see in MotoGP tyres.

      2. @jerseyf1 You might have a point there. It’s difficult to say for sure how much the tyre mix affected him. Looking at the lap times it seems Massa was about 0.3s/lap up on Bottas in the second stint, but Massa was on mediums for that and should have been slower. The drive-through was about 8s faster than the first pitstop. I’d certainly agree that if they did calculate that waiting for a drive-through would save them overall then the FIA needs to take a hard look at its penalty system.

    2. Bottas said it didn’t feel too bad, just a little bit odd.

  8. “Vettel’s right-rear tyre let go moments after he crested the rise at Blanchimont”

    That should say Raidillon, not Blanchimont.

    1. @jh1806 The mistake is probably Pirelli’s fault.

      1. @jerseyf1 Don’t blow it out of proportion. it’s just a typo.

  9. Vettel’s right-rear tyre let go moments after he crested the rise at Blanchimont – had it happened seconds earlier he would have suffered a monumental accident.

    Eau Rouge?

    1. Eau Rouge is the bottom of the hill. The top of the hill and the beginning of the straight is called Raidillon.

  10. One thing I’ve seen many people comment on, but no evidence to support, is that Rosberg was driving too quickly under the VSC…

    Considering he didn’t receive a warning/penalty and wasn’t under investigation at any time, can I assume Hamilton must have instead been driving too slowly, as he did in Monaco?

    Re. the Williams tyre debacle; I know Bottas received the drive-through, but I’m amazed they weren’t forced to stop the car and change the incorrect tyre. Does anyone know if this has happened before (I imagine it has) and whether the team/driver were punished more severely? It doesn’t seem a particularly safe setup, considering the finite margins of these tyres, to be mixing them up…

    And Vettel’s pant-wetting explosion… regardless of whether you think a tyre should last for 40 laps (as Hembrey apparently said prior to the race), or 4, it should not fail in the way it did IMO. As has already been said, Vettel’s lap times were consistent and didn’t suggest any cliff was approaching, been peered over or dropped off. There was no indication it was too worn, which is what Hembrey was getting at after the race. It needs to be looked into.

  11. Shouldnt Vettel be investigated for dangerous driving for the way he drove after his tyre blew out?
    He was obviously slow and was not in complete control of the car and was on the racing line, almost causing a crash.
    Also, F1 site says Vettel: DNF: classified 12th. while alonso was +1 lap and 13th, how does this happen?

    1. @sd Because Alonso didn’t claw the gap he had to him entirely.

  12. News on the investigations into Vettel’s tyre failure:

    “The laptimes that Vettel was producing at the time of the failure did not suggest he had hit a performance drop-off, while it is understood that there was no indication on Ferrari’s data of variations in tyre temperature or pressure to suggest that a problem was imminent. Furthermore, there are suggestions that initial analysis of Vettel’s remaining tyres have found no evidence of excessive wear either.

    The situation is further intriguing because a failure through over use would likely manifest itself on the most stressed corner of the car, which around Spa is the front left.”

    1. The issue wasn’t a performance drop off or wear of the tyre tread surface.

      The tyre delaminated and the whole tread surface came off. That’s because either the tyre had a construction fault or it was overly abused. The latter for instance by banging up and over the curbs at 300+km/h lap after lap.

  13. one size doesn’t fit all, especially on a tight budget.

  14. Can we see a stat on how many tyres have been used this season to the number of failures? What percentage has failed?
    Hulkenburg’s wing failure was just as dangerous but no noise over that!

Comments are closed.