Lewis Hamilton claimed a crucial victory at an action-packed Belgian Grand Prix to cut Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead to seven points.
The Mercedes driver held off the German at the start and then survived a challenge from the Ferrari driver following a Safety Car interruption to claim victory by 2.3 seconds. Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo profited from the restart, overtaking Valtteri Bottas to claim an unexpected podium finish and strengthen his hold on fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings ahead of Kimi Räikkönen.
At the start, Hamilton made the better getaway from pole position and eased clear of a potential DRS threat from the chasing Vettel in the opening laps. Attempting to negate a potential undercut from the Ferrari, which had shown similar pace in long runs during Friday practice, Mercedes called Hamilton into make his pit stop at the end of Lap 12 and switched the Englishman to Soft compound tyres.
He emerged behind the yet-to-stop Räikkönen, but quickly breezed ahead of the Finn with the help of DRS on the Kemmel Straight.
Vettel ran two laps longer but was unable to make the advantage of a clear track work and rejoined two seconds adrift of Hamilton. He quickly cut into Hamilton’s lead to close within DRS range of the Mercedes, but Hamilton countered and pulled away once again to build up a two-second margin.
The complexion of the race changed when the Force India pairing of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez collided on the run down to Eau Rouge.
Proving that no driver is ever bigger than the team for whom they race, the result was as disastrous as it was predictable.
The pair had already clashed – incredibly without damage to either car – when Ocon was squeezed into the old pit wall on the opening lap by the Mexican who was trying to avoid the Renault of Nico Hülkenberg as they ran three-abreast down the hill after both made poor getaways off the line.
The two managed to recover back into the top-ten before and after their first stops, but Pérez found himself hit with a five-second time penalty for cutting the Les Combes chicane while trying to outbrake the Haas of Romain Grosjean.
He pitted earlier than Ocon and managed to undercut the frustrated Frenchman, who quickly launched a counterattack on his teammate after Pérez had blocked his less-experienced teammate.
Running side-by-side down to Eau Rouge, the contact between the pair was a near carbon copy of their Lap 1 incident. This time, however, Pérez succeeded in damaging Ocon’s front wing and deflating his own right-rear tyre – the contact scattered debris across the width of the track, prompting a Safety Car intervention.
That allowed the remaining runners to pit for a second time. Lacking an available new set of the quicker Ultra or Super Soft compounds, Hamilton took on another set of Soft tyres, while Vettel had the luxury of another Ultra Soft set that could put him in the pound seats to overtake the race leader at the restart.
He nearly achieved the feat when the race resumed, getting in Hamilton’s tow through Eau Rouge and Raidillon before ducking out of the Mercedes’ slipstream on the Kemmel Straight. Hamilton had just enough straight line speed to stay ahead, and that proved to be the last opportunity Vettel would have to deny the three-time champion his victory.
Behind them, Ricciardo put in a sensational move to blast by a slow Bottas, with the former also losing another spot to Räikkönen under braking at Les Combes.
Räikkönen himself was left to rue a tough race to fourth place. The 2007 World Champion was handed a controversial drive-through penalty for failing to slow through a yellow flag zone triggered by yet another mechanically-induced retirement for Max Verstappen. Räikkönen’s additional tour through the pits meant he dropped from fourth had to put in a recovery drive and haul himself back into podium contention.
While Ricciardo celebrated on the podium, there will be commiserations on the other side of the Red Bull Racing garage following his sixth DNF of the season. The Dutchman was running fifth before his car slowed with a loss of power and he was forced to park it on the side of the track.
Nico Hülkenberg secured sixth for Renault with another superb drive that saw him running ahead of the warring Force India drivers on merit. He finished ahead of Grosjean and Williams’ Felipe Massa, who both took advantage of the Silverstone team’s ill-disciplined drivers.
Ocon recovered to finish ninth and claim two points – a scant result given what the team should have netted – while Pérez retired with a few laps to go, having sustained more damage than just the puncture from his contretemps with his teammate.
Tenth and the final point went to Carlos Sainz Jr, who ran a long opening stint on Ultra Soft tyres in his Toro Rosso.
His Spanish compatriot Fernando Alonso retired with another loss of engine power in his McLaren-Honda. A lightning start saw him vault to seventh on the opening lap, but his lack of horsepower meant he was a sitting duck in a straight line and he quickly dropped down the order before retiring.
Lance Stroll kept his nose clean to finish just out of the points in the second Williams, crossing the line just one second clear of the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.
The luckless Jolyon Palmer earned a five-place grid penalty that booted him from tenth on the grid, and made little headway in the race to finish thirteenth ahead of the sole McLaren-Honda of Stoffel Vandoorne.
Kevin Magnussen finished a frustrated fourteenth after being forced to make an extra pit stop when he flat-spotted his front tyres in a heavy lock-up at the Bus Stop chicane as the race was restarting.
Marcus Ericsson was the final finisher in sixteenth in his Sauber; his teammate Pascal Wehrlein was the first retiree with an apparent rear suspension issue.
|2017 FORMULA 1 PIRELLI BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (44 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||44||1:24:42.820|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||44||+ 2.358|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||44||+ 10.791|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||44||+ 14.471|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||44||+ 16.456|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||44||+ 28.087|
|7.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||44||+ 31.553|
|8.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||44||+ 36.649|
|9.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||44||+ 38.154|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||44||+ 39.447|
|11.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||44||+ 48.999|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||44||+ 49.940|
|13.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||44||+ 53.239|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||44||+ 57.078|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||44||+ 1:07.262|
|16.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||44||+ 1:09.711|
|17.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||42||Handling|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||25||Engine|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||7||Power Loss|
|DNF.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||2||Suspension|
Image via LAT Images