Belgian Grand Prix 2011: Red Bull’s Vettel cruises to victory
World champion tightens his grip on the title with Belgium triumph ahead of Webber and Button
Sebastian Vettel won his first race since June to lead Red Bull to their second one-two victory of the season in a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Jenson Button took a superb third behind Mark Webber after starting 13th on the grid, as team-mate Lewis Hamilton crashed out after a collision with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Fernando Alonso finished fourth for Ferrari despite leading the race at one stage as he struggled with the harder compound medium tyres, ahead of Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher who started last on the grid, and Nico Rosberg in sixth.
“We had reason to be confident it should be fine, but you never really know and there’s no-one walking up and down the paddock giving you a guarantee,” Vettel said.
“We didn’t feel too comfortable and both of us stopped fairly early, right at the beginning of the race. The main target was to see how the tyres feel after a couple of laps and to go from there, really, not thinking too much about the outcome.”
Vettel added: “I’m very, very happy with the result and very happy with the race, and how we managed the tyres in particular. So I think we need to learn from that and head now to the next race.”
A busy start saw Vettel’s team-mate Webber get a poor start off the line, while Rosberg got a great run around the inside of La Source to move up to second and then overtake his compatriot into Les Combes.
But Rosberg’s lead was short lived as Vettel was able to make use of his DRS advantage to come back at the Mercedes driver on the Kemmel Straight.
Red Bull’s biggest problem was potential structural damage on the Pirelli tyres, and both drivers pitted early for fresh rubber having been refused permission to change the tyres under park fermÃ© conditions, elevating Rosberg back to the front, with Felipe Massa, Alonso, and Hamilton battling behind.
Alonso then took the lead on lap seven as he swept by Rosberg down the Kemmel Straight, with Hamilton also getting past the works Mercedes on the following lap.
Clearly managing their tyres better, Ferrari stopped Alonso on lap eight, while Hamilton went to lap 11.
But the Red Bulls had their new tyres working better, with Webber produced a breath-taking move on the outside of Alonso into Eau Rouge after the Ferrari driver exited the pits.
And three laps later, Vettel regained the lead from Rosberg with a superb move into Blanchimont as Hamilton pitted.
Hamilton’s race was over just two laps later as he collided with Kobayashi on the run to Les Combes, with the McLaren hitting the barrier and resulting in the only safety car period of the race.
“I hit the wall pretty hard,” Hamilton said. “It’s a bit unfortunate ““ the team were in a good position.
“As far as I was concerned I was ahead of whoever it was I was racing and I got hit by them and that was my race over.
“That’s motor racing. There’s been a lot of races we haven’t finished this year so that’s just another one of them.”
Vettel took advantage to pit for another set of tyres, giving Alonso the lead. But Vettel was immediately able to overtake taking advantage of the DRS.
The championship leader was then able to build up a comfortable lead over Alonso, and his first win since June was even more likely as the Ferrari driver swapped to the medium compound, allowing both Webber and Button to get past.
Button enjoyed another superb race, coming from behind to move through the points. He possibly could have challenged for the win had he not suffered damage to his front wing early in the race after clashing with Adrian Sutil.
As the sole remaining McLaren, and with Alonso still struggling with pace, the 2009 world champion was able to cruise past Alonso with two laps to go for his sixth podium finish of the season.
Almost better than Button’s drive, was that from Michael Schumacher. Celebrating 20 years since he made his Formula 1 debut at Spa and taking advantage of starting on the medium compound on his first stint, he moved past most of the back-markers on the first lap.
At the end of the race and with the Mercedes duo in fifth and sixth, the drivers were given permission to race, and with Rosberg on the medium compound, Schumacher was able to make good use of the quicker option tyres to get past his team-mate.
Despite an early collision, Force India’s Adrian Sutil was again in the points in seventh place ahead of Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who is now tied on 34 points with the axed Nick Heidfeld.
Bruno Senna, who replaced Heidfeld in the car, could only manage 13th despite qualifying seventh following a collision with Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari at the first corner which resulted in a drive-through penalty.
Massa recovered from a puncture to take ninth for Ferrari, while Williams’ Pastor Maldonado bounced back from a five-place grid penalty for an incident with Hamilton in qualifying on Saturday to round out the top 10.
Vettel’s seventh win of the season moves the world champion on to 259 points, ahead of team-mate Webber on 167, with Alonso third with 157.
Button’s third place means he moves on to 149 points ahead of Hamilton’s 146, with Massa a long way off with 74 points in sixth.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull’s moved closer to the title with 426 to McLaren’s 295, with Ferrari in third on 231.
Belgian Grand Prix 2011 result
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 26mins 44.893secs
2 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:26:48.634
3 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren 1:26:54.562
4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:26:58.115
5 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:27:32.357
6 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:27:33.567
7 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:27:44.606
8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:27:50.969
9 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:27:56.810
10 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:28:02.508
11 Paul di Resta (Gbr) Force India 1:28:08.887
12 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari 1:28:16.869
13 Bruno Senna (Bra) Renault 1:28:17.878
14 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Lotus F1 at 1 Lap
15 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 at 1 Lap
16 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams at 1 Lap
17 Jerome d’Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing at 1 Lap
18 Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 1 Lap
19 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) HRT-F1 at 1 Lap
20 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 27 Laps completed
21 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) HRT-F1 13 Laps completed
22 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 12 Laps completed
23 Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Scuderia Toro Rosso 6 Laps completed
24 Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 0 Laps completed