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Race recap: 2016 Belgian Grand Prix is a dozen angry laps

MOTOR-F1-BELGIUM/ / Image Credit: Yves Herman / Reuters
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The calm of the Formula One summer break ended with the tumult of the Belgian Grand Prix. The first two days included unusual tire pressures and grid penalties; Mercedes-AMG Petronas' Lewis Hamilton started 21st because of a 55-place grid penalty for engine and gearbox changes, McLaren's Fernando Alonso started 22nd due to a 60-place penalty for the same offenses.

The bedlam rolled right into what was effectively an 11-or 12-lap race. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg took off from pole and the cameras barely bothered with him until he took the checkered flag 44 laps later. Red Bull's Max Verstappen bogged from second on the grid, got swallowed by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen on the way to Turn 1, then attempted to recover by sticking his Red Bull's nose between Räikkönen's sidepod and the apex at the first corner. Vettel, who didn't see Verstappen, turned into La Source leaving only enough room for Räikkönen. Three cars don't fit in a space for two cars. Vettel spun, Räikkönen and Verstappen clobbered one another and all three drivers had to pit for repairs.

Force India's Nico Hülkenberg zig-zagged his way into second ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, Williams' Valtteri Bottas, and Sergio Perez in the second Force India. On Lap 6 Kevin Magnussen lost his Renault at Raidillon at the top of Eau Rouge and flew backward into an enormous crash. Magnussen escaped with just a cut ankle.

The Safety Car paraded the field for four laps before officials red flagged the race to repair the barriers. When racing resumed on Lap 10, Rosberg led Ricciardo, Hülkenberg, Alonso, and Hamilton. Ricciardo stayed ahead of Hamilton to keep second place at the end of the race, Hamilton easily got around Alonso and Hülkenberg to lock up third.

Hülkenberg – who'd given up second to Ricciardo by pitting during the Safety Car period – earned another career-best fourth position ahead of teammate Perez in fifth, followed by Vettel and Alonso on recovery drives, Bottas, Räikkönen, and Felipe Massa taking 10th in the second Williams.

Rosberg reignited his Driver's Championship charge with the victory, closing to nine points of leader Hamilton. We could argue that Hamilton had an equally good day by driving from 21st to third, limiting his loss to only 10 points.

About that Verstappen, though... We've seen far more experienced drivers attempt the same move Verstappen made into Turn 1 – Räikkönen on Bottas in Russia in 2015, for instance. Yet Verstappen's later defending moves against several drivers through Turn 5, when he drifted all the way across the track twice, and on the Kemmel Straight, were iffy. The stewards never penalized the Dutch teenager, but a vigorous discussion during next weekend's driver meeting at Monza is certain.

Mercedes clearly owns the front of the grid, Red Bull's clearly closed the gap just that little bit more, but Ferrari? Still unknown. The Italian team couldn't buy pace on Friday, come Saturday Räikkönen said he could have snatched pole position if not for tiny mistakes. The Turn 1 scuffle squashed Ferrari's potential and kept Ferrari off the podium for the fourth straight race. It can't be easy inside the team, with Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne jawboning the entire scuderia and publicly calling out both drivers.

McLaren showed its progress, Alonso taking his upgraded Honda engine from 22nd to seventh. The red flag helped, but Alonso was in fourth on Lap 11 when racing resumed. He only surrendered three places to a Mercedes, a Ferrari, and a Force India, and was able to hold off a charging Williams for the final three laps. Alonso's six points moved McLaren ahead of Toro Rosso in the Constructor's Championship.

Williams has work to do. Force India outscored the Grove team for the second time in a row, and McLaren outscored Williams for the third consecutive time. Force India takes fourth place from Williams in the Constructor's Championship with eight races remaining. Williams, 53 points ahead of McLaren, is likely safe in fifth as long as Massa and Bottas bring home a few points in each round.

Wherefore art thou Haas? Both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutíerrez were happy with the car in Belgium, but the current package isn't strong enough to get into the top 10 without help. Even so, being just 17 points behind Toro Rosso, it wouldn't take too much luck to move up to seventh in the Championship.

Rosberg's first win in Belgium takes him to 223 points, behind Hamilton with 232 points. Ricciardo moves to 118 points in third, further away from new fourth-placed driver Vettel with 128. On the Constructor's side, Mercedes goes to 455 points, way out ahead of Red Bull with 274 and Ferrari with 252. The next race comes next weekend in Monza, we'll see you then.

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