Belgian GP: Lewis Hamilton masters Spa as Vettel suffers late blowout
Sixth win of 2015 gives Hamilton 28-point lead over Rosberg, who finished second; One-stopping Vettel loses third on penultimate lap to Lotus's Grosjean after dramatic tyre deflation triggers costly DNF
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 27/08/15 9:30am
Lewis Hamilton opened his biggest title lead of the season after claiming a controlled victory over Nico Rosberg in the Belgian Grand Prix.
The path to Hamilton's win, his sixth of the season and 39th of his career, was cleared on lap one when he staved off the challenge from a fast-starting Sergio Perez to hold the lead while Rosberg fell to fifth place, as F1's new start procedures produced the desired unpredictable results.
With Hamilton able to quickly open a lead at the front, Rosberg had to wait until the first round of pitstops to regain second place and, despite closing down his team-mate's lead in the middle part of the race, was unable to mount a sustained challenge to his title rival. Hamilton's two-second winning margin belied the untroubled nature of his latest triumph.
"It was an amazing weekend, an incredible job done by the team throughout all the pitstops and the whole weekend. Today was a dream and the whole weekend the car was fantastic," said a delighted world champion. "Nico had good pace, but I was able to answer most of the time so I was fairly relaxed at the front."
Hamilton now leads the standings by 28 points – more than the equivalent of a race win – with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel now a surely-insurmountable 67 back after a tyre blowout on the penultimate lap cost the German the final podium slot.
Attempting to recover from a disappointing qualifying session which left Vettel eighth on the grid, Ferrari adopted a bold one-stop strategy which required the German to complete the final 29 laps - more than half the race - on the same set of medium tyres.
Despite growing pressure from Lotus's impressive Romain Grosjean, brilliantly recovering from his grid demotion, the tactic look set to deliver the desired result before Vettel's right-rear tyre instantaneously deflated down the high-speed Kemmel Straight. While it was the same tyre that blew on Rosberg's car in practice on Friday, Pirelli blamed excessive wear rates for the Ferrari failure - rather than an external cut as in the Mercedes case.
Managing to keep his SF15-T under control as it fish-tailed down the straight, Vettel's first retirement as a Ferrari driver promoted Grosjean to third - giving the beleaguered and cash-strapped Lotus team their first podium finish for two seasons.
The surprise result, which few will begrudge, came on the same weekend in which the Enstone outfit have had bailiffs threaten to impound their cars in Belgium following a legal challenge from former reserve driver Charles Pic.
Amid continued talk of a takeover by Renault, a beaming Grosjean said on the podium: "It has been an incredible weekend for us. I still can't believe that we're on the podium. This is special and feels like a win."
While Mercedes' seventh one-two finish of 2015 was ultimately achieved in relatively serene fashion, the close nature of the battle for third was repeated further down the field in an action-packed race.
A month on from his maiden podium finish in Hungary, Daniil Kvyat continued his strong recent run with a late surge to fourth place, the Russian salvaging a decent result for Red Bull after Daniel Ricciardo's RB11 broke down when in the podium hunt earlier in the race.
Kvyat late soft-tyre overtakes included a move on Perez, who eventually finished fifth having dropped out of podium contention with a second stop under the Virtual Safety Car when Ricciardo pulled into retirement at the Bus Stop chicane.
Nonetheless, fifth place represented Force India's best result since last year's Canadian GP and the team will be buoyed by the Mexican's storming getaway at the lights in the first race since the FIA's clampdown on driver communication at the starts.
Starting a season-best fourth, Perez was behind Hamilton coming out of La Source and drafted alongside the works Mercedes as they entered the long Kemmel Straight, even briefly nudging ahead on the outside, before the world champion held the line for the corner.
Meanwhile, on a circuit which was expected to favour their own low-drag challenger, Williams could only manage sixth with Felipe Massa. Valtteri Bottas, who lost ground from third in the opening laps, wound up only ninth after an already tough race was compounded by a drive-through penalty when the team's pit crew unfathomably fitted three soft tyres and one medium to his FW37 – a clear contravention of the rules.
Four-time Spa winner Kimi Raikkonen salvaged seventh in the sole-remaining Ferrari on a forgettable weekend, the Finn holding off eighth-placed Max Verstappen on the final lap.
On a weekend in which they racked up a record 105-place combined grid penalty, McLaren at least got both of their cars to the finish – but Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finished well outside the points and a lap down in 13th and 14th respectively.
Indeed, the fact that only perennial backmarkers Manor also failed to finish on the lead lap of the still-uncatchable Mercedes' underlined the challenge ahead for F1's once-dominant McLaren-Honda combination.
Belgian GP result
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1hr 23mins 40.387secs
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:23:42.445
3 Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:24:18.375
4. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1:24:26.079
5. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:24:34.384
6. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:24:35.670
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:24:36.090
8. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1:24:36.463
9. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:24:41.427
10. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:25:11.621
11. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:25:22.698
12. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +1 Lap
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +1 Lap
14. Jenson Button, McLaren, +1 Lap
15. Roberto Merhi, Manor Marussia, +1 Lap
16. Will Stevens, Manor Marussia, +1 Lap
17. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 32 Laps completed
18. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull,19 Laps completed
19. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, 1 Laps completed
20. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Laps completed
Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg, 1:52.416 on Lap 34