Like a goalkeeper sending the ball flying over the crossbar in the dying moments of a match, Daniel Ricciardo made a great save for Scuderia Toro Rosso by salvaging the point that goes with tenth place in the closing stages of Sunday’s 44 lap Belgian Grand Prix. After the disappointment of qualifying, which saw him start from nineteenth on the grid, one place behind team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, this single point was important. So too was the fact that the car was genuinely competitive in every session and the race, with the exception of Saturday afternoon, when our strategy let us down. And that’s a good sign for the remaining eight races.
In all honesty, it could just as well have been Jev who got that point, because the Frenchman had been on the case right from the start of free practice, showing that he had the pace to qualify in the top six. For the race, given our poor grid positions and the ever present threat of rain in the Ardennes, we decided to go for different strategies with each driver, hedging our bets and trying to be ready for whatever the weather and circumstances threw at us. In the end, the tyre plan we ran for Daniel – a long first stint on the Hards before two stints on the Medium, worked better than the one we went for with Jev – two stints on the Medium before finally switching to the Hard. Jev was also handicapped in the final part of the race with a very slow puncture that meant air was leaking from his right rear.
Going longer on the first stint worked for the Australian, even if he was not that comfortable on the Prime tyre and in fact, at one point it looked as though he might have been able to one-stop, but making that second trip down pit lane was definitely the right choice to get him into the points.
By the first lap, Jev and Daniel both made up two places so that the Frenchman was sixteenth and the Australian seventeenth. After Jev made his first stop on lap 10, he dropped to 19th, while Daniel steadily moved up the order as others changed tyres, getting as high as eighth before he switched to the Option on lap 16. Hulkenberg and Maldonado proved hard to pass for both our guys as the Sauber and Williams had good pace and when Jev, having made his second tyre change on lap 24, finally dispensed with the German ten laps later, he whooped with delight over the radio after what was a really brave move. Daniel’s final tyre change came eleven laps from the end and on fresher rubber, he was always going to pass his team-mate which he did on lap 37 and then, with just three laps remaining of the 44, he finally secured that point as he dispensed with Perez in the McLaren halfway through Kemmel – a truly classy performance.
At the front, Sebastian Vettel is beginning to look unstoppable in the title race, comfortably taking his fifth win of the season for Red Bull. In second place, Fernando Alonso did his usual trick of making up for a poor qualifying, bringing the Ferrari through from ninth on the grid to second at the flag, while Lewis Hamilton took third for Mercedes, so that the podium was an exact replica of the top of the Drivers’ championship table.
Back home in Faenza today, we will be putting the whole Belgian weekend under the microscope, working out what were the positives and the negatives, while our two drivers will soon be back in the simulator, preparing for the Italian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time. It goes without saying that, as our home race, it’s a very important round of the championship. After Spa, Monza is another very fast track but with very different characteristics and technical requirements to the Belgian circuit. The team will be looking for a better points score in front of our home crowd.