That wasn’t a ripsnorting Belgian Grand Prix by any means. Sure, there were some splendid moments – super-fast-starting McLarens, 17-year-old Max Verstappen sticking two fingers up to physics by hurling his Toro Rosso round the outside of Felipe Nasr’s Sauber at Blanchimont, onboard oversteer with Red Bullfighter Daniel Ricciardo over the brow at Raidillon and Romain Grosjean tigering to the beleaguered Lotus team’s first podium finish of the season – but it was really just a demonstration run from world-champion team Mercedes and, realistically, the only two guys who’ll be in the championship hunt from here on in.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked out the front row of the grid, led every lap between them, secured the team’s seventh one-two of the season and set the race’s fastest two laps along the way. A brace of silver arrows through the hearts of their rivals, then.
As I came to terms with the crushing-yet-admirable dominance of the Brackley bombers around the sweeps of the fabulous Spa-Francorchamps circuit, a small, but significant, statistic re-entered my head, one that I’ve had in the pocket of my anorak for a few months.
Hamilton’s 39th grand prix victory was also his 80th podium appearance – a habit that began in his debut race in Australia in 2007 and hasn’t gone away some 158 races later. Those 39 wins, which put him fifth on the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91), Alain Prost (51), Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel (tied on 41), have been complemented by 22 second places and 19 thirds.
Why is Hamilton’s 80th podium finish significant? Well, it matches the rostrum-climbing antics of his great hero Senna, a man whose three world titles he’s well on course to matching this year. And how apposite that it should happen on a proper, unspoilt venue around which Senna won four times.
And, eerily, Senna and Hamilton reached the 80-podium mark having participated in an almost identical number of races, Senna at 158 GPs, Hamilton 159.
The 30-year-old took a split second to reflect on the Senna milestone when BBC F1 pundit David Coulthard mentioned it in his opening salvo with the race winner during his podium interviews. It may be a Formula 1 truism that precious few drivers these days know much – or care – about the past and what happened before their time, but the Senna legacy means a lot to Hamilton. He idolised the Brazilian, which was manifested for many years by his helmet colours and helped by his racing for six years in F1 with McLaren, the team with which Senna took his three titles.
It was a tiny yet perceptible moment of admiration and respect – a flicker of gratitude for all that childhood inspiration.
And for that very human moment, Hamilton is forgiven for failing to hang around and make a race of it yesterday!
Photography courtesy Daimler AG and Williams F1