Hamilton fends off Vettel to clinch Spa victory

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Belgian Grand Prix
© XPB 

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton had to summon up every bit of his driving prowess to hold off Sebastian Vettel in a frantic late restart during Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver came within inches of finding his way past Hamilton as they hurtled into Les Combes side-by-side.

Having survived that encounter, Hamilton was then able to maintain a slender advantage over Vettel to clinch his 58th Formula 1 career victory in 200 starts. The victory means that Hamilton is now just seven points behind Vettel in the drivers championship standings.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo had a relatively quiet afternoon, eagerly taking advantage of any opportunities presented to him on the day to finish in third place. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen fought back from a mid-race stop-go penalty to finish in fourth.

Valtteri Bottas ran in third place for much of the afternoon, but then lost two positions during the final restart. He had to settle for fifth place ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, Haas' Romain Grosjean and Williams' Felipe Massa.

Force India's Esteban Ocon finished in ninth position after surviving two big clashes with his team mate Sergio Perez at Eau Rouge. Rounding out the top ten was Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz, who claimed the final point of the day.

Hamilton holds on the lead at the start

Starting from pole position after his blistering track record lap on Saturday, Hamilton led the field into La Source. However, he only just managed to fend off Vettel running down the Kemmel Straight into Les Combes. Bottas held on to third ahead of Raikkonen, and the Red Bull boys maintained position with Max Verstappen leading Ricciardo.

Fernando Alonso got an excellent start, the McLaren immediately up to seventh place ahead of Hulkenberg thanks in part to the two Force India cars' ill-tempered tangling on the exit of La Source. However it proved a short-lived success for Alonso, who quickly gave back those gained positions and rapidly dropped down the order with a chronic lack of engine power that eventually forced him to retire mid-race.

Also suffering from power issues was Verstappen. The TAG-Heuer branded engine cut out on lap 7; the team tried to help him reset the system, but to no avail. To the heartache of the legion of Dutch fans in attendance at Spa, he was forced to pull over and park on the side of the Kemmel Straight. It was his sixth retirement of the season.

At the front, Hamilton was painstakingly working on moving out of DRS range of his pursuers. Ten laps in and only Vettel was able to hold on to his coattails. Pit stops began on lap 9 with Kevin Magnussen directing Haas to make an early change to the soft compound. His team mate Grosjean, Williams' Lance Stroll, and the two Force Indias soon made their own stops.

Raikkonen hit by stop-go penalty

Hamilton pitted at the end of lap 12. He came back out in fourth ahead of Ricciardo, temporarily handing Vettel the lead. Bottas came in next time by, but Ferrari waited two laps before summoning the race leader into the pits. By then, Hamilton had already dispatched Raikkonen with a clean pass on the Kemmel Straight to reclaim the lead.

Raikkonen pitted soon after but was then handed a ten second stop-go penalty for failing to slow under the double yellow waved flags for Verstappen's retirement. Serving the penalty dropped him to eighth place, over 40 seconds off the leaders. He immediately started the long march back with a rapid pass on Perez for seventh on lap 19.

Ironically it was Perez who was next in the race stewards' crosshairs, receiving a five second stop-go of his own. The penalty was due to running off track while passing Grosjean at Les Combes, and then failing to hand the position back as required by the regulations.

Raikkonen picked up further positions with a muscular pass on Ocon down the inside of the final chicane, and Hulkenberg down the Kemmel Straight. Even so, he was 50 seconds off the leaders by this point.

Force India clash triggers safety car

However the anticipated race strategy was turned on its head on lap 29. A clash between the two Force India cars in the climb up to Eau Rouge resulted in a safety car after Ocon's front wing connected with Perez's right rear tyre, scattering debris along Eau Rouge. Ocon pitted for a new wing and Perez limped back to the pits after his damaged wheel completely detached.

The top five all pitted under the safety car, and Raikkonen was brought right back into contention as the field closed up for the restart on lap 34. Hamilton kept the lead into the first corner but Vettel kept pressing for all he was worth, running side-by-side down Kemmel. It was all Hamilton could do to stop him getting by at Les Combes, but manage it he narrowly did - unlike Bottas, who lost places to both Ricciardo and Raikkonen.

It proved to be Vettel's last opportunity to challenge for victory. When the chequered flag dropped ten laps later, Hamilton had rebuilt a margin of 2.358s over his pursuers and was duly able to celebrate his win on the top step of the podium.

Belgian Grand Prix - Race results

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes44 laps - 1:24:42.820s2
2Sebastian VettelFerrari+ 2.358s2
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull+ 10.791s2
4Kimi RäikkönenFerrari+ 14.471s3
5Valtteri BottasMercedes+ 16.456s2
6Nico HülkenbergRenault+ 28.087s2
7Romain GrosjeanHaas+ 31.553s2
8Felipe MassaWilliams+ 36.649s3
9Esteban OconForce India+ 38.154s2
10Carlos SainzToro Rosso+ 39.447s2
11Lance StrollWilliams+ 48.999s2
12Daniil KvyatToro Rosso+ 49.940s2
13Jolyon PalmerRenault+ 53.239s2
14Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren+ 57.078s2
15Kevin MagnussenHaas+ 67.262s3
16Marcus EricssonSauber+ 69.711s3
17Sergio PérezForce IndiaDNF3
18Fernando AlonsoMcLarenDNF2
19Max VerstappenRed BullDNF0
20Pascal WehrleinSauberDNF1

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