2 September 2012
Button victorious, after shattering start at Spa
Pit stops started to factor in at this point, with di Resta coming in shortly after being embarrassed by Daniel Ricciardo lasting past him with ease to steal fifth place. Ricciardo himself was in soon after, comprehensively scrambling the running order once again. Caterham caused a panic in pit lane on lap 16 when they released Heikki Kovalainen from his pit box right into the path of incoming Narain Karthikeyan and there was minor contact between the two cars.
One thing that didn't change was the race leader: Button was having a fine old time way out in front and had no need to pit yet, pulling out over 15s on Schumacher who also stayed out after the Force India of Hulkenberg peeled off into pit lane. Also opting for the long initial run was Sebastian Vettel, who was boosted into third place as a result, with the next six cars in line led by Raikkonen all having been in for their first stops.
Schumacher and Vettel almost crashed on lap 20 when Vettel tried his trademark move into the Bus Stop but coming form a long way back and locking up his tyres in the process. Complicating matters still further was Schumacher needing to come onto pit road at the same time, and two two came within inches of taking each other out, an incident race stewards said they would look at in more detail after the race.
Firmly on line for a one-stop strategy, Button pitted next time around and still came out more than a second over Vettel, who came in himself on the following lap. That left Button with an eight second lead over the two-stopping Raikkonen and Hulkenberg, with Webber and Massa also ahead of Vettel when the world champion returned to the track - but he had fresher rubber and was soon past the Ferrari for the second time today on lap 24.
Almost for the first time so far this afternoon, the race settled down into something like a period of normal, calm running. No one could be happier about that than Jenson Button, for whom the more boring and uneventful the rest of the race was the better. The worst scenario for him would have been a second safety car closing up the field and wiping out his huge lead, but none came: after the high attrition rate at the start of the race, the only car to retire after Maldonado's exit on lap 5 was Narain Karthikeyan on lap 32, when the HRT's left wheels strayed onto the dirt on the run into the Paul Frere curve and spun off into a heft hit with the tyre barriers.
A quieter second half to the Grand Prix was also very good news for Vettel, as the road in front cleared when the two-stoppers including Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Webber started to come in for their second stop. Webber's stop seemed co conclude with the team releasing him right into the path of the incoming Massa, but Webber showed more awareness of the situation than many a driver in the same situation as he held off the throttle and ran through the McLaren pit box in order not to run into the Ferrari.
As the race entered its final dozen laps, Button still maintained a huge lead of over 14 seconds over Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher, with Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Webber falling in behind them and ahead of Massa, Senna, Rosberg and Ricciardo. The best battle of the bunch was undoubtedly between Schumacher and Raikkonen for third place, with Raikkonen forcing his way around the outside of the Bus Stop on lap 32 only to then be blown away by the DRS-assisted pace of the Mercedes down the Kemmel Straight.
Two laps later, and Raikkonen tried the almost insanely brave move of sweeping around the outside of Schumacher at the 185mph Eau Rouge. Somehow the Finn managed to do it without flying off the circuit, and since the move had been accomplished after the DRS activation line, Schumacher had no DRS response to play with and almost lost a second place to Nico Hulkenberg, who did.
It was still a thrilling battle, with Webber and Massa following close behind to pick up the pieces if any of this dicing ended up in an accident. But Mercedes realised that Schumacher's second set of tyres were fading too fast to allow him to cling on for much longer, and so at the end of lap 36 they abandoned the one stop strategy and brought him in for new rubber. Schumacher wasn't alone: his team mate Rosberg was also suffering by this stage, succumbing to challenges from Vergne and Ricciardo through Les Combes on consecutive laps, before Rosberg had to follow his compatriot's lead and pit on lap 37.
The Toro Rosso duo carried on their formation flying, this time closing up on the back of Bruno Senna for eighth place. Verge went past on lap 40 on the run up the hill to Les Combes, and Ricciardo didn't even wait for the next time round before finding his own way to blast past the Williams as well. Senna accepted defeat, and like Rosberg before him he withdrew to pit lane for fresh tyres to see what if anything could be salvaged from the failed pit strategy.
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