Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton fended off incessant race long pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win the Belgian Grand Prix on the occasion of his 200th Formula 1 race, which he will remember as one of the toughest victories of his career.
Hamilton led from the moment the lights went off, but Vettel stalked him throughout the 44 lap race – the Ferrari always a second or so in the Mercedes’ mirrors. A high-pressure stalemate until a dozen laps to go when the safety car was deployed after Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez collided.
When the pink debris was finally removed and the field unleashed there were ten laps to go. Intriguingly Hamilton had Pirelli yellow band softs bolted on to his car, while Vettel opted for the quicker purple band ultrasofts with clear intent to attack.
However Hamilton stood fast, keeping Vettel behind him and, crucially, out of DRS range. The Ferrari driver simply did not have the pace to do anything other than follow the silver car, a second or so adrift. The pair swapping fastest laps and breaking the race lap record in the process.
It was a show of two of this era’s finest drivers in an intense duel with the biggest prize in motorsport on the line. More a game of chess than a boxing match this time around.
It was an impressive showing by Hamilton to keep Vettel at bay during the tense final stages. In the end he did enough to claim victory and reduce the gap in the championship standings from 14 to seven with eight races remaining.
Hamilton looked back on his 200th race, ” It’s been a strong weekend for myself and the team. The team have done a great job and I’m really grateful for all the hard work. Sebastian put a great fight on but this is what I said I was coming to do so I did it.”
“There are probably kids here who dream of doing what we are doing one day. I came here in 1996 with my dad and I hope this does show that dreams come true,” added the triple F1 World Champion.
Vettel said, “It was good fun. It was really intense because every lap I was waiting for Lewis to do a mistake – he didn’t – he was probably waiting for me to do a mistake – I didn’t.”
“The restart – that’s why I’m not entirely happy. I was fearing that I was not close enough and then I was probably too close. Then I was on the outside with nowhere really to go. I think we had good pace, if you compare this track to Silverstone, I think it was a lot better here,” added the Ferrari driver.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for Red Bull with Daniel Ricciardo . biggest winner during the safety car period, finishing third after yet another steady and opportunistic drive that has become his trademark.
His overtake on Valtteri Bottas after the safety car restart was one of the best moves of the race, and thereafter he did well to stay in third place on the ultrasofts with the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen chasing but to no avail. The Finn was fourth despite receiving a 10-second stop and go penalty for ignoring double waved yellow flags.
Ricciardo reflected, “I knew we’d been given a bit of an opportunity so it was good to take advantage of that with Valtteri on the restart.”
Although unable to match the leaders, Bottas was in a solid third place until the restart and was gobbled up on the run up to Les Combes by Ricciardo and Raikkonen. On softs for the final ten laps he had no answer to the Red Bull and the Ferrari ahead and had to settle for fifth.
For the multitude Max Verstappen fans who cut an impressive swathe of orange through the grandstands it was a day of disappointment as their hero parked his car with an engine problem, his sixth DNF of the season.
Nico Hulkenberg drove a solid race in the Renault to finish sixth ahead of the Haas of Romain Grosjean, while Williams driver Felipe Massa turned around a trouble packed weekend to finish eighth.
Ocon survived the Force India civil war to finish ninth, crossing the finish line ahead of Carlos Sainz who claimed the final point in tenth.
It was another woeful race for McLaren despite Fernando Alonso making a good start and running as high up as seventh early on. But the joy was short-lived as he was quickly gobbled up by those behind him at which he point he described the pace of his car as embarrassing. The team retired the car on lap 25.
Stoffel Vandoorne, who started his home race from the back of the grid thanks to 65 place grid penalty, soldiered on to finish 14th.
With the dust settled the biggest talking point from another dramatic race at Spa-Francorchamps is the clash between the two Force India drivers. The fact that the stewards saw no harm in Perez’s cynical block at one of the most dangerous points on the daunting track will no doubt fuel the debate.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff summed up: “Very good for his championship. Really brilliant. Lewis Hamilton’s drive was really fantastic all weekend. Bottas’ restart was unfortunate. We need to go away and analyse properly. This is somewhere we should be doing better but the Ferraris are up there second with their championship driver still leading.”
At the start Hamilton held P1 when the lights went out and a clean start saw the top six cars exit La Source in grid order, with the Briton being followed by Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo.
Alonso made an excellent start and picked up three places in the first two laps, rising from P10 on the grid to seventh. However the Spaniard’s time in seventh was short-lived as first Hulkenberg retook his starting position and then Alonso was passed by the Force Indias of Ocon and Perez.
Lap one was the high-point of the McLaren driver’s afternoon, however. Lacking power he was easily bypassed by rivals and after terse radio messages that it was “embarrassing” the Spaniard told his team to avoid radio contact for the remainder of the race. His pain ended on lap 27, however, when he pulled into the pit lane and retired from the race.
At the front of the field the settled order of the first few laps was disrupted on lap seven. Exiting the Bus Stop chicane, Verstappen cycled through the gears but as he hit sixth he suddenly lost power. As his engineers radioed through possible solutions, Verstappen trundled through Eau Rouge and up to Raidillon but with as the fixes evaporated so to did the Dutchman’s hopes and he pulled over halfway down the Kemmel straight to retire.
Hamilton pitted from the lead at the end of lap 12, taking on soft tyres in a quick, 2.3s stop. That dropped him to fourth place behind Räikkönen and left Vettel in the lead and chasing lap time.
Vettel’s stop eventually came at the end of lap 14 but the German was unable to make an impression on Hamilton’s lead and he once again slotted in just over a second behind his title rival.
Behind him Räikkönen was now chasing Bottas, but his race hopes were dented when he was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty for failing to slow for the yellow flags displayed when Verstappen halted at the side of the track.
Ricciardo was just a couple of seconds behind and when Räikkönen took his penalty the Australian moved up to fourth behind Bottas. Räikkönen dropped to sixth, 4.6 seconds behind Hulkenberg.
At the midway point of the race Vettel was an ominous presence in the mirrors of Hamilton and the Briton’s race engineers was telling him to maintain track position as the German appeared to find better pace out of the soft compound Pirelli tyres.
Hamilton responded and extended his lead to 1.7 seconds by lap 28 but the battle was nullified on lap 30 when the two Force India drivers, battling over 10th place collided.
Ocon pressured Perez as they exited La Source but the Mexican held firm with his team-mate on the inside. The result was a broken front wing for Ocon, a puncture for Perez and debris across the track.
That brought out the safety car and most of the field pitted for new tyres. Hamilton opted for soft compound Pirellis, but Vettel had a set of ultrasofts in reserve. Bottas was now also on softs, but like Vettel, fifth-placed Ricciardo chose ultrasofts.
When racing resumed Vettel attacked Hamilton as the pair ran down the long Kemmel Straight, but the Briton defended well and just managed to hold off a the German’s determined charge.
Bottas, in the other Mercedes, was not so lucky. He was passed by Ricciardo on the outside on the run towards Les Combes and to make matters worse was also ambushed by Räikkönen, who snuck past down the inside under braking.
Vettel set about trying to find another avenue of attack but Hamilton managed to find more pace and slowly worked a 1.3s advantage with four laps to go. Behind them Ricciardo was also making his position safe, holding a 2.2s lead over Raikkonen lap 42.
And that was how it finished with Hamilton holding Vettel at bay to take his fifth win of the season and the 58th of his career. Ricciardo took his sixth podium of the year ahead of Raikkonen while fifth-placed Bottas was left to rue the re-start.
Hulkenberg took sixth for Renault ahead Grosjean and Massa. The last two points places went to Ocon and Sainz.
Hamilton’s win means he heads to next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix just seven points adrift of Vettel who leads the title race with 220 points.
PTS 1 SebastianVettel GER
220 2 LewisHamilton GBR
213 3 Valtteri Bottas FIN
179 4 DanielRicciardo AUS
RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER
132 5 KimiRäikkönen FIN
128 6 MaxVerstappen NED
RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER
67 7 SergioPerez MEX
FORCE INDIA MERCEDES
56 8 EstebanOcon FRA
FORCE INDIA MERCEDES
47 9 CarlosSainz ESP
36 10 NicoHulkenberg GER
34 11 FelipeMassa BRA
27 12 RomainGrosjean FRA
24 13 LanceStroll CAN
18 14 KevinMagnussen DEN
11 15 FernandoAlonso ESP
10 16 PascalWehrlein GER
5 17 DaniilKvyat RUS
4 18 StoffelVandoorne BEL
1 19 JolyonPalmer GBR
0 20 MarcusEricsson SWE
0 21 AntonioGiovinazzi ITA
RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER
FORCE INDIA MERCEDES
Belgian Grand Prix – Official FIA Race Weekend Documents