Belgium win for Vettel puts pressure on Hamilton

Vettel’s victory at Spa cuts Hamilton’s lead in the title race to 17 points

  McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc crash at the first corner. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc crash at the first corner. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

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Sebastian Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix for Ferrari, beating his Formula One world championship rival Lewis Hamilton into second place. The German proved to have the quicker car at Spa and put it to good use with a clinical piece of driving to which Hamilton and Mercedes had no answer. Vettel has now narrowed the gap to Hamilton in the title race to 17 points. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in third.

Vettel thoroughly deserved the win. Having taken the lead from Hamilton on the opening lap, he went on to open a gap, exploiting the remarkable pace Ferrari could bring to this power-hungry circuit. It was an unspectacular encounter out front but one Vettel badly needed, as he executed his tactics to perfection and returning the result that has eluded him since the British Grand Prix.

This is Vettel’s third victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, having won here twice before for Red Bull in 2011 and 2013, both years he went on to take the championship. Ferrari, however, have not won at Spa since 2009 and for the Scuderia to take the flag on a circuit where Mercedes have been dominant for the past three years is hugely encouraging for the team. Vettel’s 52nd career win is his fifth this season, the same number as Hamilton has scored and in reducing the deficit to the British driver it returns the points he needed to maintain his pressure in the title fight.

He had not been able to match Hamilton in qualifying in the wet and was ultimately seventh-tenths down over the single lap in taking second on the grid. But the Ferrari had been very strong all weekend in the dry conditions that were repeated on Sunday and Vettel made the most of it. Both the Scuderia and Mercedes had brought engine upgrades to the race but it was Ferrari who already enjoyed a straightline speed advantage and look to have maintained their engine edge. The power-dependent Spa fell to them and left ominous signs that they will be similarly strong in the next round at Monza.

Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari celebrates his win on the podium after the Belgium Formula One Grand Prix race. Photograph: EPA
Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari celebrates his win on the podium after the Belgium Formula One Grand Prix race. Photograph: EPA

Hamilton had warned that Ferrari remained favourites but where last year he was able to skilfully deny Vettel with his track position from pole, backing the German up through Eau Rouge when he challenged, the superior pace of the Ferrari this year meant Vettel could not be denied.

The front runners got away cleanly but Nico Hülkenberg shunted Fernando Alonso going into La Source, sending the Spaniard airborne and ending both their races. The safety car was deployed but, crucially, Vettel had already made his move. The German successfully slipstreamed Hamilton and passed him on the Kemmel Straight and had it done going through Les Combes. The overtake he was repeatedly denied last year was executed perfectly and there was nothing Hamilton could do, while the two Force Indias joined the action making it four abreast on the approach to the corner.

Racing resumed at the end of lap four but Hamilton went after Vettel too soon, locked up and was not close enough to try and retake the lead on the run to Les Combes. Vettel was subsequently able to eke out a lead of 3.2sec by lap 11 as Hamilton managed his rubber, staying out of the Ferrari’s dirty air.

By lap 17 Hamilton began turning in quick laps, bringing the deficit down and reporting that he felt confident in the grip from his supersoft tyres. But Mercedes opted to pit him first, coming in for the soft tyres on lap 22. Vettel closed off the move pitting a lap later for the same rubber and emerged in front of Verstappen and Hamilton. The British driver passed the Dutchman on the Kemmel Straight and set off after Vettel again, now 1.9sec back.

But Vettel was in complete control out front, driving with calm control without putting a wheel wrong. He knew he had the pace and it quickly became clear Hamilton could not challenge. The gap was 4.9sec by lap 29. The move on the opening lap had proved decisive, as had Ferrari’s superior pace. Vettel took the flag with an 11sec lead over his rival, the first blow of a fightback from which Vettel can take great heart.

Max Verstappen came up from seventh on the grid to take a well-deserved third place for Red Bull, his best finish at Spa. Valtteri Bottas drove a strong recovery to come back from 17th on the grid after receiving engine penalties to claim fourth place. The two Force Indias, in their first race under new owners, returned just the finish they team wanted, with Sergio Pérez in fifth and Esteban Ocon in sixth.

Haas Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in the two Haas cars were in seventh and eighth, in front of the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly in ninth and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson in 10th. Kimi Raikkonen took a puncture on the opening corner after clashing with Daniel Ricciardo, lost position and was forced to retire on lap nine with his rear wing and DRS damaged. Ricciardo also took damage and retired on lap 31.

- Guardian

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