Hamilton untouchable in charge to Belgian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship on Sunday by claiming a dominant victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Starting from pole, Hamilton went unchallenged en route to his sixth win of the 2015 season, only losing the lead through the pit stops as Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for second place at Spa.

After coming under increased pressure in recent races, Mercedes stamped its authority on the F1 field once again by easing to another one-two finish.

Ultimately, it was Romain Grosjean who completed the podium for Lotus, scoring his first top three finish since the 2013 United States Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel suffered a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.

The first start of the race had to be aborted due to a problem on Nico Hulkenberg’s car, which combined with Carlos Sainz Jr’s issue on the second formation lap meant that just 18 drivers took the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Sainz would ultimately rejoin the race, albeit a lap down.

When the field eventually pulled away, it was Hamilton who made the better start at the front of the field as Rosberg dropped back to fifth. Sergio Perez jumped forward in the Force India, putting pressure on Hamilton at the front before settling down into second place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in third.

As Hamilton began to establish a lead over Perez behind, pulling away at over one second per lap, Rosberg began to fight back. After passing Valtteri Bottas, the German managed to move up into third when Ricciardo made an early pit stop on lap seven. Rosberg recovered P2 when Perez pitted one lap later, but found himself over eight seconds behind his teammate at the front.

Rosberg opted to stay out four laps longer than Perez in a bid to stay ahead of the Mexican driver. He eventually emerged from the pit lane on the medium compound tire in front, moving up to second once Sebastian Vettel had pitted. The gap to Hamilton – who had come in just one lap after Rosberg – in front now stood at just four seconds.

Further back, the race to complete the podium proved to be as close as it was in qualifying as Romain Grosjean joined the fight with Perez and Ricciardo for third place.

Valtteri Bottas had been in the running for P3, but a bizarre mistake by Williams in the pits saw the Finn emerge with three option tires and one prime. The stewards looked dimly on the mistake, handing him a drive-through penalty.

Grosjean seized the initiative in the fight for P3 by making an excellent pass on Perez at Les Combes, leaving the Mexican driver in the clutches of Ricciardo. However, the Red Bull driver’s race soon came to an end when his car lost power at the final corner on lap 20, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car period.

Ricciardo’s car was quickly cleared, allowing the field to get back up to full racing speed just two laps later. Grosjean took advantage of the reduction in speed to make a pit stop, which he hoped would be the last of the race.

Hamilton’s lead had shrunk further by this point, prompting the Briton to suggest to Mercedes that Rosberg had got closer under the VSC when he should have maintained his distance. He soon dug deep and found some more pace, though, extending his lead back out to five seconds before the Mercedes drivers made their final pit stops.

Hamilton was the first to pit, coming in on lap 30 for a set of option tires. Despite requesting to go one lap longer, Mercedes told the leader to stick to their planned race strategy, allowing Rosberg to come in soon after. The German emerged from the pits behind his teammate, setting the status quo that would last until the end of the race.

Behind the Mercedes drivers, Sebastian Vettel had emerged as the leader in the battle to complete the podium after Ferrari opted to roll the dice and try a one-stop strategy. With ten laps to go, Vettel enjoyed a 3.5 second lead over Grosjean behind, but had to keep monitoring his tires in a bid to make it to the end without stopping for a second time.

Drama struck Vettel with just two laps to go at Spa, though. Despite making a good go of getting to the end of the race, it proved to be too much for his right-rear tire which blew on the Kemmel Straight, leaving the German to limp back to the pits after dropping down the order.

At the head of the field, Hamilton had no such concerns. With the gap to Rosberg at a comfortable three seconds, the Briton was able to cross the line after 43 laps to claim his sixth win of the 2015 season and extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 28 points.

Rosberg was left to finish the race in second, knowing that his poor start had cost him a shot of taking the fight to Hamilton. Following Vettel’s blow-out, Grosjean completed the podium for Lotus, albeit some 35 seconds behind the cars ahead.

Vettel’s tire failure allowed all of the cars behind to make up a position, resulting in Daniil Kvyat finishing fourth after the Russian made a late charge to pass Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages. They were forced to settle for fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Max Verstappen made it a home race to remember as he crossed the line in eighth, having started down in P18. Valtteri Bottas bounced back from Williams’ tire faux-pas to finish ninth ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who rounded out the points for Sauber.

Felipe Nasr finished 11th in the second Sauber, whilst Vettel was eventually classified in P12 following his tire blowout, marking his first finish outside of the top five in 2015. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button made it to the end, albeit a lap down, in 13th and 14th ahead of the two Manor cars.

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

Photo: Juncos Racing
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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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