Lewis Hamilton wins Belgian Grand Prix to lead title race
Lewis Hamilton led from the first corner to win the Belgian Grand Prix with an error-free drive in difficult conditions as his rivals faltered at Spa-Francorchamps.
The McLaren man took the chequered flag for the second time in his F1 career at Spa, but unlike during his title-winning season of 2008, the result stood and Hamilton now leads the drivers’ championship with just six races remaining.
Pole-sitter Mark Webber was second for Red Bull after a poor start which saw the Australian reach La Source in sixth place, hampering his chances of extending his lead over Hamilton in the title race. Renault’s Robert Kubica completed a fantastic weekend for the team to take third place.
Felipe Massa was the only Ferrari to finish as team-mate Fernando Alonso crashed out, and the Brazilian finished fifth ahead of Force India’s Adrian Sutil, and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher who started 14th and 21st respectively.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Force India’s Tonio Liuzzi rounded out the top 10. Liuzzi was elevated after Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari was given a post-race 20-second penalty for cutting the final chicane two laps from the end while battling with Liuzzi.
“I’m ecstatic, it was a great weekend,” beamed a delighted Hamilton after his win. “A race like that can be a lottery, so I’m so happy and grateful to come out on top.”
Both Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button got off the line well as Kubica weaved around the Webber, and the Pole just managed to hold off Button around La Source, as rain started to fall on the opening lap.
As the train of drivers approached the Bus Stop chicane, the track was wet enough for a raft of cars to use the run-off area to get round.
Rubens Barrichello, celebrating a landmark 300th grand prix, suffered major disappointment unable to brake coming into Blanchimont. The Brazilian ran into the back of Alonso’s Ferrari, which put him out of the race, while Alonso carried on.
As the safety car came out, the leaders chose to remain out on slicks rather than switch to intermediates – a decision which proved to be the right choice as the shower blew over. With the safety car recalled after two laps, Hamilton increased his lead while Button and Sebastian Vettel passed Kubica.
Button suffered front-wing damage as he fought with Kubica and struggled with the balance of his car, unable to live with the superior speed of team-mate Hamilton, but the reigning world champion had enough of an advantage over Red Bull to keep Vettel in hand.
Hamilton had a lead of 11 seconds when the rain returned after 16 laps, but at the same time Button’s race ended courtesy of Vettel, who lost control under breaking while trying to get past, instead going into the side of the McLaren before recovering to the pits to change his front wing.
Button said: “All I felt was a really big bang in the sidepod and I lost drive immediately, I don’t know what he was playing at really.”
Vettel was handed a drive-through from the stewards for causing an avoidable collision – a penalty which would end any chance of the German keeping in touch with Hamilton and Webber. And it was later compounded by a puncture as he tried to overtake Toro Rosso’s Vitantonio Liuzzi for 11th place. Again Vettel recovered to the pits, but returned to the track in 20th.
With a quarter of the race to go, rain fell once again and Hamilton took a trip across the gravel at Rivage. But the 25-year-old managed to stay away from the barriers and keep it going to recover to the pits for intermediate tyres with the rest of the pack following suit. Kubica, however, overshot his pit box, and the resulting slow stop allowed Webber to jump him to take second.
With just five laps remaining, Alonso lost it on the exit of Les Combes, bringing another safety car period, as the Spaniard abandoned his car in the middle of the track.
With just three laps to go, Hamilton had the perfect restart to keep Webber safely behind him to record a much-needed victory and a return to the top of the championship standings.
Further back, Schumacher was on course to finish ahead of team-mate Rosberg, but the younger German was able to overtake Kobayashi and Schumacher to take sixth in the dramatic closing battle.
Hamilton now has 182 points, with Webber just behind on 179. Vettel (151), Button (147) and Alonso (141) all failed to add to their totals. The race for sixth place intensifies as Massa (97), Rosberg (94), and Kubica (89) all scored well.
Red Bull stay top in the constructors’ championship with 302 points to McLaren’s 304, well ahead of third-placed Ferrari with 238. The surprise form of Mercedes in wet conditions keeps them fourth with 132, with Renault close on 108, but with an F-duct system that works well.
F1 moves to Monza in two weeks’ time with teams set to ditch the F-duct systems at the low-downforce, high-speed circuit.