The Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix was expected to favour Ferrari and despite a weather-assisted pole position for Mercedes on Saturday, the Italian team dominated proceedings with Sebastian Vettel claiming a clinical victory at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
It was the German’s 52nd Grand Prix win of his career – moving him past the tally of fellow four-time World Champion Alain Prost – in a truly crushing display reminiscent of some of his earlier wins during his run of four successive titles with Red Bull Racing. By finishing ahead of his main rival Lewis Hamilton, Vettel narrowed the points’ gap to 17 behind the Englishman in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
With his Ferrari proving unmatchable in Sunday’s dry conditions, Vettel swept past Hamilton to take the lead on the opening lap and cantered to victory by a margin of over eleven seconds. Max Verstappen brought his Red Bull Racing home in third from seventh on the grid, claiming his first podium finish in the country of his birth and thrilling the tens of thousands of Dutch fans who had crossed the border to cheer him on.
Second-placed Hamilton was left perplexed at being beaten so easily at a circuit where Mercedes has been the dominant force over the past three years. Last year Hamilton was able to successfully fend off Vettel along the straights, but this year his rival was able to exact revenge and give Ferrari its first win at Spa-Francorchamps since 2009.
“He drove past me like I was not there,” Hamilton said, recalling Vettel breezing past him on the run to Les Combes on Lap 1. “We have to keep pushing to see what we can do. They have got a few trick things going on in the car. I did what I could, we did what we could so we have to keep working.”
While the starting grid’s first two rows were able to get away cleanly – indeed Vettel and Hamilton were nearly both overtaken by the rapid Force Indias on the opening lap – the midfield charge to La Source triggered absolute chaos.
Starting from the second-last row of the grid, Nico Hülkenberg left his braking absurdly late and cannoned into the rear of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, launching the Spaniard’s car into the air.
Alonso’s flying McLaren broke Daniel Ricciardo’s rear wing before it then crashed over the top of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. Leclerc’s Halo cockpit protection thankfully did its job by protecting the Monégasque driver, while the top of his car ripped Alonso’s apart like a tin of tuna. All three drivers were out on the spot.
Having had his rear wing knocked off, Ricciardo then hit the back of Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari – damaging the rear of the Finn’s car and ultimately leading to the retirement of both drivers.
In a completely separate accident, Valtteri Bottas – who started from the penultimate row of the grid alongside Hülkenberg – hit the rear of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams and broke his own front wing.
With over one-third of the field either a retiree or suffering damage in the space of a few hundred metres, the Safety Car was dispatched. Thankfully for Vettel, the yellow flags and flashing signs came out just seconds after his crucial pass on Hamilton.
Hamilton had one last attempt to pass Vettel as the race resumed, but Vettel was on alert and cleverly blocked the Briton’s charge with some deft defence. He was not challenged for the rest of the race, with Hamilton turning down the engine to save it for the coming weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Verstappen ran a lonely race to finish a distant fourth, overtaking the two Force Indias in the opening laps to complete the podium.
Despite damaging his front wing and needing to pit for repairs during the early Safety Car, Bottas climbed through the field to finish fourth – his progress aided both by his Mercedes’ superior power and the Kemmel Straight DRS zone which made passing ridiculously easy.
In their first race under new ownership, Force India duo Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon finished fifth and sixth respectively to give the team a much-needed boost.
The pink cars comfortably outpaced the Haas Ferraris of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, who finished seventh and eighth in front of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who claimed back-to-back points’ finishes. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson finished in tenth place, earning his third top-ten finish in the last five races.
|FORMULA 1 2018 JOHNNIE WALKER BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (44 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||44||1:23:34.476|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||44||+ 11.051|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||44||+ 31.372|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||44||+ 1:08.605|
|5.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||44||+ 1:11.023|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||44||+ 1:19.520|
|7.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||44||+ 1:25.953|
|8.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||44||+ 1:27.639|
|9.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||44||+ 1:45.892|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||43||1 lap behind|
|11.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||43||1 lap behind|
|12.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||43||1 lap behind|
|13.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||43||1 lap behind|
|14.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||43||1 lap behind|
|15.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||43||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||28||Withdrew|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||8||Rear wing|
|DNF.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||0||Collision|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||32||1:46.286|
Valtteri Bottas – who was provisionally classified 4th – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision with Sergey Sirotkin.
- Nico Hülkenberg was issued a 10-place grid penalty for the forthcoming Italian Grand Prix for causing the opening-lap pile-up.
Images via Scuderia Ferrari and Sutton Images