Button claims dominant Spa win
Jenson Button delivered a peerless performance to win a dramatic Belgian GP as Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were wiped out at the start.
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 02/09/12 6:59pm
Jenson Button produced the most dominant of drives to claim his first victory since the first race of the season to breathe unexpected life into his title ambitions after points leader Fernando Alonso, along with Lewis Hamilton and a host of other front-running drivers, were spectacularly wiped out amid a chaotic start to the Belgian Grand Prix.
Vindicating his pre-race stance that it was too early in the season to throw in the towel on the championship, Button - who expertly led away from the supreme pole he had earned on Saturday - saw championship leader Alonso taken out before La Source in a sea of flying cars and carbon fibre after a coming together between the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and the other McLaren of Lewis Hamilton had sent the former flying into the side and over the top of the Ferrari.
The multiple-car collision was undoubtedly one of the most frightening crashes seen in F1 for some time and in addition to putting Alonso out on the spot - the helpless Spaniard fortunate to be able to clamber out of his car unscathed - also claimed Grosjean, Hamilton and the two Sauber drivers - although the front row-starting Kamui Kobayashi did continue after emergency repairs.
It also served to give the title contenders left in the field the chance to make the most of Alonso's first retirement since Canada 2011 - a challenge Button accepted better than anyone.
Adopting a bold one-stop strategy, the 2009 World Champion expertly led from lights to flag for his 14th career victory, but first at legendary Spa. At the chequered flag, his margin of victory over World Champion Sebastian Vettel stood at a commanding 13.6 seconds.
Distant he may have been at the flag, but Vettel's performance was not to be underestimated either as the German, having somehow picked his way through the scattered debris at the first corner from 10th on the grid, also used a one-stop strategy to battle his way up to second in a display befitting a driver of his quality.
Indeed, Vettel is now right back on course for a third straight title with his deficit to Alonso suddenly less than a race victory - 24 points to be precise with eight races still to go.
Many pundits' pre-race favourite Kimi Raikkonen also inched closer courtesy to the summit but the Finn still cut a disgruntled figure on the podium after another race in which things didn't quite go to plan for Lotus.
Button had been in a league of his own all afternoon, and yet while this victory will stand as one of the most imperious performances of his whole career, it will be the horrendous first-corner pile-up that will live longest in the memory.
Even before the carnage was triggered , F1's resident Pantomime villain Pastor Maldonado, no doubt eager to make up for his three-place grid penalty for blocking Nico Hulkenberg in Q1, clearly jumped the lights and was already storming up towards the front-row starters just as the rest of the field was getting into their stride.
While he was passing the slow front-row starting Kobayashi, further back on the inside Hamilton was attempting to go down the inside of Grosjean but, as the Lotus driver veered right to block off the McLaren's advances, the McLaren was squeezed onto the strip of grass and, losing control of his car, slammed into the back of the Frenchman.
The collision triggered a massive chain reaction: Grosjean was sent airborne
and over the top of the front of Alonso's Ferrari with the side of his E20 flying frightening close to the Spaniard's head. Alonso in turn was ploughed into by both Hamilton and Kobayashi, with Grosjean's airborne Lotus ending up scattered in the run-off area.
As the dust settled on what exactly had happened at the first corner, with the consensus soon emerging that Grosjean had triggered the chaos by squeezing Hamilton off the road, it had emerged that the two Force Indias of Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta and, from 13th on the grid on his 300th GP start, Michael Schumacher had picked their way through to run third to fifth on the road behind Button and Raikkonen.
When the race was eventually restarted at the end of lap four Button easily pulled away from Raikkonen, who again seemed to struggle to get his tyres up to temperature and was passed by Hulkenberg up the Kemmel Straight.
The Finn was then soon passed by what was an initial racy Schumacher and swiftly headed to the pits on lap 12 - an early stop which effectively ended his hopes of challenging Button despite more than flashes of pace thereafter either side of his second stop.
With Button able to both manage his tyres and run at a consistent pace, Vettel therefore emerged as the McLaren's closest challenger with the Red Bull picking off a number of runners with a string of forceful but fair moves, mainly at the Bus Stop chicane.
Red Bull copied McLaren in running a one-stop strategy, and despite Raikkonen arguably having a faster car on outright pace, the Finn's additional pit-stop and time spent trying to repass a struggling Schumacher meant it was the World Champion who finished second.
Hulkenberg drove an impressive race to finish in a season-best fourth place, the young German fending off a charging Felipe Massa, the Brazilian showing strong pace on his two-stop strategy after a poor qualifying session.
Both drivers' strong drives came at the expense of Mark Webber, who unlike the first three finishers, failed to capitalise on Alonso's rare demise and ended up sixth.
Schumacher, who lost sixth gear late on and ultimately struggled with rear tyre wear, saw his particularly stunning first stint give way to a rather more underwhelming seventh place ahead of a hugely important double points finish for Toro Rosso. Di Resta took the final point.