Vettel untouchable as he dominates Belgian Grand Prix and extends championship lead

Race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Belgian GP

Race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Belgian GP

Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel stamped his authority on a somewhat processional Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday to chalk up his fifth win in 11 races and stretch his overall lead to 46 points. It was a dominant performance by the Red Bull driver.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, now his closest rival, finished second – a distant 16.8 seconds behind the German – after starting ninth. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was third.

Vettel seized the lead from pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton on the Kemmel straight after Eau Rouge and never looked back while the threatened rain held off. The German now has 197 points to Alonso’s 151.

“It was a fantastic race for us from start to finish really. I feel good, winning helps, the car was much better going into the race so we had the pace to control it. The guys on the pit wall were not as stressed and in terms of rain there was nothing critical,” said Vettel after his 31st career win.

Behind the Red Bull, Alonso carved his way from ninth on the grid to second place. Although he had no answer to Vettel, he had enough in his Ferrari to make light work of getting by Lewis Hamilton and then consolidate his runner-up slot and in so doing banking a decent points haul when 24 hours earlier few would have factored him in to a podium prediction.

Sebastian Vettel led into Les Combes on the opening lap and it was race over

Sebastian Vettel led into Les Combes on the opening lap and it was race over

“We had to recover some places, we were not OK yesterday. But today it was a little bit boring, we get second place but no threat to Sebastian Vettel and had no threat from behind. It is important weekend for us and the team. We arrived fully motivated, and in Monza we would like to give some smiles to our fans,” said Alonso, whose team’s home Italian Grand Prix is next up.

Hamilton, winner of the previous race in Hungary and on pole position for the fourth race in a row, took third place. The Briton moved up to third overall on 139 points.

Hamilton in the Mercedes was a mega combination in qualifying, but in the race lacked the edge. First Vettel got by with a ferocious exit out of Eau Rouge which saw the Red Bull pass the Silver Arrows way before Les Combes.

Then on lap 16 Hamilton went wide at La Source, Alonso clipped the apex and had the momentum as the two went side-by-side down the hill. The Mercedes tried to fight back but even with DRS there was no way past.

Alonso disappeared into the distance, while Hamilton managed his way to third place and the final podium spot.

Race winner Sebastian Vettel with second placed  Fernando Alonso after the race

Race winner Sebastian Vettel with second placed Fernando Alonso after the race

“We had a tough race but the team did a great job. The fans have made the weekend. I came into this weekend thinking we did not have as great a package here but I think we have a much greater package for Singapore,” Hamilton reflected afterwards.

The race, on one of the fastest and most challenging circuits on the calendar, was no thriller and the outcome proved a disappointment for those fans who had hoped to see Vettel slowed on his march to a fourth successive title.

There were boos from the crowd mixed with the cheers as drivers stood on the podium after the race, although reports suggested that may have been directed at protesters trying to interrupt the proceedings.

Greenpeace activists demonstrating against race sponsor Shell had unfurled a banner from the roof of the main grandstand, opposite the VIP area, before the race as teams readied their cars. They then remained hanging from ropes, watching the action.

“We are a bit confused here because the crowd are booing and cheering and I’m not sure why,” Vettel told the crowd after spraying the champagne during the podium celebration.

Race winner Sebastian Vettel with thrid placed  Lewis Hamilton after the race

Race winner Sebastian Vettel with third placed Lewis Hamilton after the race

The start was uneventful after last year’s mayhem, when Lotus’s Romain Grosjean took out Alonso and Hamilton at the first corner in an accident that brought the Frenchman a one race ban. Hopes that Hamilton could hold off Vettel were short-lived.

“[Vettel] had the momentum and was able to go around Lewis and that was the decisive moment,” said Red Bull principal Christian Horner. “There’s still a long way to go but it was a dominant performance from Seb, [a] perfect display by the team with pit stops and strategy.”

Nico Rosberg started fourth on the grid and ended fourth, in what was a strong showing but an admittedly low key afternoon on track.

Australian Mark Webber was fifth for Red Bull after a poor start in his last Belgian Grand Prix, with McLaren’s Jenson Button, last year’s winner, sixth after leading early on when those ahead pitted and he stayed out.

“We were worried before the start of the race,” said Webber. “The preparation was poor. We were on the back foot. We tried our best, but we had top gear to race in clear air.

Belgian GP top three on the podium at Spa-Francorchamps

Belgian GP top three on the podium at Spa-Francorchamps

“The two practice starts we did were diabolical. The clutch was like tractor. That’s where we were. It turned out to be not great. In the end, you murder the tyres trying to recover and it just snowballs. The win would have been difficult, but we had pace for the podium,” added the Australian.

Button spoke of his graft to sixth place, “We made the mistake at the start of the race by pitting too early. We went from a one to a two-stop and then back to a one but the front left tyre gave up. We gave it a go but the pace was not good enough. It’s definitely progress, we were expecting to be fighting for third. We know the reasons and hopefully we can put that right in Monza. It’s nice to be racing up there with the Mercedes and one of the Red Bulls. We’re making progress, it’s just tough at the moment.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was seventh, Grosjean eighth and Force India’s Adrian Sutil ninth despite being caught in a clash with the Williams of Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado that took out his team mate Paul di Resta.

“Traffic was the main event. We got stuck in traffic and when we stopped for the third time we were behind the same traffic. [The incident] was quite silly and took the rear corner of the car. Maybe a point or two was up for grabs but we have to go to Monza and end this pointless run,” said Di Resta before his early shower.

Belgian GP winner Sebastian Vettel strokes his Red Bull at the end of the race

Belgian GP winner Sebastian Vettel strokes his Red Bull at the end of the race

Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, frontrunner to replace Webber at Red Bull next season, climbed through the field from 19th at the start to take the final point and further enhance his credentials.

“It was nice to get that point,” said the Australian. “That last set of tyres helped us get that crucial point. I’m happy, we had to work for it, so it was rewarding. We are set on the Prime and [I] did not like it. As soon as we had the Option I felt more comfortable. It was a little bit frustrating but the team assured me it would come good and that was great.”

Kimi Raikkonen’s run of 27 successive races in the points came to an end with the first retirement since his comeback last year.

The Finn had started the day second in the championship but fell to fourth overall with 134 points after pulling into the pits and stopping with what looked like a brake problem.

Typically Raikkonen had little to say, “I don’t know if it was the brakes. It was not a problem until now but we need to check.” (Reuters-Apex)

Subbed by AJN.

Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps – Sunday, 25 August 2013

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 44 Winner 2 25
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 44 +16.8 secs 9 18
3 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 44 +27.7 secs 1 15
4 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 44 +29.8 secs 4 12
5 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 44 +33.8 secs 3 10
6 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 44 +40.7 secs 6 8
7 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 44 +53.9 secs 10 6
8 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 44 +55.8 secs 7 4
9 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 44 +69.5 secs 12 2
10 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 44 +73.4 secs 19 1
11 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 44 +81.9 secs 13
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 44 +86.7 secs 18
13 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 44 +88.2 secs 11
14 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 44 + secs 21
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 44 + secs 20
16 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 43 +1 Lap 14
17 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 43 +1 Lap 17
18 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 43 +1 Lap 15
19 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 42 +2 Laps 16
Ret 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 26 +18 Laps 5
Ret 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 25 +19 Laps 8
Ret 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 8 +36 Laps 22
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