Belgian GP: Sebastian Vettel closes F1 title gap to Lewis Hamilton
Serene Vettel overtakes Hamilton on lap one and wins by 11 seconds; Alonso, Hulkenberg, Leclerc in major first-corner carnage
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 06/12/18 11:15am
Sebastian Vettel cut Lewis Hamilton's F1 title lead to 17 points with a comfortable Belgian GP victory after overtaking his Mercedes rival on the opening lap.
A big first-corner crash for Fernando Alonso was the race's most dramatic moment but Vettel's pass on Hamilton moments later into Les Combes was the most significant as the Ferrari driver took control of a race he never relinquished.
"We had a new engine this weekend which gave us a little bit more power and a little bit of a help and boost down the straight," said Vettel. "When it all comes together it's good to see that it works and we had the pace."
And Hamilton admitted: "They just blitzed us today. 11 seconds is a big, big gap."
Vettel's victory, Ferrari's first at Spa since 2009, was the 52nd of his career and puts him ahead of Alain Prost and behind only Hamilton and Michael Schumacher in F1's all-time victory table.
It also reinvigorates Ferrari's title challenge ahead of their home race at Monza next Sunday, live only on Sky Sports F1.
Max Verstappen finished a fine but distant third from seventh on the grid, with the Red Bull driver overtaking the Force India drivers early on after their stunning qualifying performance.
Force India pair Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were eventually shuffled back to fifth and sixth positions as Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas, despite an early pit stop for a wing change, raced from 18th to fourth after engine grid penalties. However, just days after they were officially rescued from administration and their points before Spa were wiped, fifth and sixth immediately moved Force India back ahead of Williams and on to the tail of Sauber in the standings.
Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo both retired after their cars sustained damage in separate incidents to Alonso at a chaotic first corner.
Sky F1's Martin Brundle said: "Vettel's race craft has been great. Attacked on the opening lap before the Safety Car came out and defended where he had to on the restart."
Anthony Davidson added: "Ferrari have had the fastest car for a long time and this was a brilliant race from Vettel. He was masterful and unbeatable.
"Mercedes had no answer."
Alonso goes airborne at Spa - again
McLaren were already enduring a weekend to forget before lead driver Fernando Alonso was spectacularly punted out of the race at the first corner by Nico Hulkenberg's out-of-control Renault.
Getting his braking wrong as he attempted to make up ground after grid penalties, Hulkenberg slammed into the back of Alonso's car which sent the McLaren airborne and up and over Charles Leclerc's Sauber.
All three drivers retired immediately but emerged unscathed from the chain reaction, with the halo head protection device on Leclerc's car successfully deflecting the flying McLaren.
"I saw Hulkenberg in the mirrors with all four tyres locked and he was coming at very high speed," an unimpressed Alonso told Sky F1.
"There is no way you can avoid that. He hit my car and then I went over Charles.
"But on the positive side we are all ok, with Charles, with the Halo or whatever, it's good news that all three of us are ok.
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"It's a good proof [for the halo]. We didn't need any proof, but it's a good thing. Something similar to 2012 at the start. When you miss so much the braking point and hit someone at that speed you need to think a little bit twice next time."
Hulkenberg told stewards he had 'completely misjudged' his braking and was handed a 10-second grid penalty for next Sunday's race in Italy.
Vettel makes Ferrari power count
After being widely adjudged to have let victory chances slip in the final two races before the summer break, Ferrari and Vettel needed an urgent championship lift at Spa but the weekend threatened to be going awry again when Hamilton claimed pole in the rain of qualifying.
However, the poleman insisted on Saturday night that Ferrari's pace - particularly in a straight line - still made them favourites for the race and Sunday's first lap confirmed that prediction.
Although Hamilton kept ahead in to the first corner of La Source, Vettel stalked the Mercedes on the long run up towards Eau Rouge and then onto the Kemmel Straight before taking to the outside to take the lead into Les Combes just before the Safety Car was activated for the Alonso crash.
Underlining the power of the slipstream, Ocon also briefly overtook Hamilton and also nearly Vettel from third, although got trapped on the inside and ultimately slipped behind Perez to fourth.
"He drove past me like I wasn't even there on the straights," said Hamilton post-race in reference to his Ferrari rival. "So we've got to keep pushing to try and catch up."
Hamilton added: "He was doing times I wasn't able to do."
For Vettel, a first victory at Spa in five years acted as the perfect fillip as the sport returned following the four-week summer break.
"I had a great start, Lewis pushed me quite far to the left, but l knew l would have my chance at the top of the hill," said the German driver. "Timing is crucial and l managed that perfectly, l thought.
"I had a good restart after the Safety Car and after that it was a very smooth race. It was a great weekend."
Belgian GP Race Result
|1) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari|
|2) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+11.061|
|3) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+31.372|
|4) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+63.605|
|5) Sergio Perez||Force India||+61.023|
|6) Esteban Ocon||Force India||+69.520|
|7) Romain Grosjean||Haas||+85.953|
|8) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||+87.639|
|9) Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||+105.892|
|10) Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||+1 lap|
|11) Carlos Sainz||Renault||+1 lap|
|12) Sergey Sirotkin||Williams||+1 lap|
|13) Lance Stroll||Williams||+1 lap|
|14) Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||+1 lap|
|15) Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren||+1 lap|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||DNF|