Lewis Hamilton won a closely fought Belgium Grand Prix to close the gap on title rival Sebastian Vettel to just 7 points.
Hamilton narrowly led Vettel for most of the race but a late safety car ramped up the excitement of an already tense contest.
Under the safety car Vettel changed to the faster ultra-soft tyres to attack Hamilton on the re-start who put on soft tyres. The Briton immediately came under pressure but he used every bit of the Mercedes engine to quell Vettel’s push and regain control of the race.
‘Fantastic Fight’ Between Hamilton and Vettel
The Belgium Grand Prix was always setup as a titanic battle between Hamilton’s Mercedes that was clearly the best car along the fast and flowing sectors 1 and 3, and Vettel’s Ferrari that showed better performance on the more technical sector 2 where over-taking is near impossible.
And so it began with Hamilton getting a decent start to lead into turn 1 with Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen forming a queue behind.
Vettel tracked the Silver Arrow within a second or two for the opening stages – their cars so closely matched over the lap that the Ferrari could stay close but not overtake.
But a collision between the two Force India drivers going down the hill from La Source to Eau Rouge brought out a safety car and threatened to mix up the race.
All of the drivers took the opportunity to put on new tyres – Vettel opting for the quicker ultra-softs and Hamilton putting on softs – and sensing an attack on the re-start Hamilton labelled the safety car “a BS call from the stewards”.
Vettel seemed to get the jump on Hamilton and challenged out of Eau Rouge and towards Les Combes.
But the counter-punch was short lived and Hamilton put in consecutive fastest laps to settle back into comfortably leading the race.
“Vettel did a great race, he was very consistent throughout and it was fun to be racing against Sebastian at his best and the car at his best, we were within half a tenth every lap and that is what racing is about,” said Hamilton.
“They were able to keep up so I think they had better pace but fortunately I was just about able to stay ahead.”
The win now puts Hamilton within seven points of Vettel ahead of the next outing at Monza that should also favour the Mercedes setup. But that won’t dissuade Vettel who comes away from Spa full of confidence.
“If we had ended up ahead in qualifying, then we would have had a good pace to stay in front today,” said Vettel.
“I was surprised how close I could follow through the whole race.”
“We don’t need to be afraid of any circuit, I believe we have the best car in terms of package.”
The Fighting Force India’s
The news isn’t so positive at Red Bull and Force India – but for very different reasons.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is having a torrid season quickly racking up a mounting list of “DNF’s”. He added to that tally at Spa when a loss of engine power on Lap 8 forced him to stop by the side of the track on the Kemmel straight.
Facing fresh penalties for a likely engine change it also puts in jeopardy Verstappen’s next race at Monza.
“For a top team this can’t happen. In the beginning you can say it’s bad luck, that those things happen, but if it’s happening again and for the sixth time this year, you can’t call it bad luck anymore.”
Over at Force India, self-inflicted problems prematurely ended Sergio Perez’s race and cost the team valuable points.
Having a remarkable ability to consistently compete for the same patch of tarmac, the Force India drivers first came together on the opening lap when Perez squeezed Ocon against the wall in a heart-stopping incident.
It was repeated again on Lap 28 as Ocon tried to pass Perez out of La Source, and Perez pushed the Frenchman towards the inside wall. The cars collided and Ocon’s front wing was damaged and Perez suffered a puncture.
Force India’s Otmar Szafnauer said: “We gave our drivers the chance to sort it out by themselves, but if they cannot do it, we will have to put some more rules in place and take the situation in our control. It’s disappointing to lose so many points when we had the pace to finish well with both cars.”