Sebastian Vettel’s opportunistic first lap overtake on Lewis Hamilton proved to be the deciding factor at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as the F…
Sebastian Vettel’s opportunistic first lap overtake on Lewis Hamilton proved to be the deciding factor at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as the Ferrari driver took his fifth win of the season to reduce his rival’s championship lead to 17 points.
The performance of the Ferrari made Lewis Hamilton suggest that he could finish second to Vettel at all the remaining rounds and lose the title unless Mercedes responds with serious upgrades on chassis and engine. He added that the Scuderia has some ‘trick things’ going on in the power unit.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff called the result ‘humbling’ and said that the Mercedes was lacking in traction on the chassis side and power on the engine side.
In almost a carbon copy of the 2017 Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel’s golden chance to take the lead of the race came on the approach to Les Combes.
Unlike last year, the Ferrari had the power advantage over the Mercedes and was able to sweep into the lead on the opening lap of the race.
From there, Vettel was able to fend off an attack from Hamilton at a safety car restart – deployed for a frightening opening lap crash involving Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc – and controlled the race to secure his 52nd Formula One victory, to move into third place in the all-time wins list ahead of Alain Prost.
Hulkenberg was penalised with three license points and a ten place grid penalty in Monza after accepting all the blame.
“First lap, I had a great start, and then I’m not sure if Lewis saw me but he pushed me to the left [at turn one], but I knew my chance would be later on up the hill, and I think I timed it well,” said Vettel.
“Last year I was always ending up short, so it seems like it was better this year with a little bit less wing. Timing is crucial and I managed that perfectly I thought. As soon as I was ahead I was quite relieved.
“Obviously with the safety car it was the other way round.
“I had a good restart, a very good exit off the first corner, I kept it clean, there was a tailwind braking for the first turn.
“After that, it was a very smooth race, Lewis pushed hard, especially in the first stint, towards the end he was very fast. In the second stint, we turned everything down and could control the pace.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was able to profit from troublesome races for Ricciardo and Raikkonen and claim his first ever podium at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas took fourth place after starting towards the back of the grid, ahead of a brilliant ‘debut’ race for Racing Point Force India, who took fifth and sixth place with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon respectively.
At lights out, the championship rivals got off the line evenly and held position into turn one. However, Vettel made his straight-line advantage count, and he powered past the Mercedes on the Kemmel straight to take the lead.
The top two fended off an early challenge from the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, whilst the Red Bull of Max Verstappen ran in fifth.
Further back at turn one, Nico Hulkenberg’s out-of-control Renault clattered into the rear of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren and sent it into the path of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. The impact sent the McLaren over the top of the Sauber and scarily scraping along the halo.
All three drivers were out, and the flying McLaren also made contact with Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, destroying the Australian’s rear wing and forcing him into lengthy repairs in the pits. The opening lap carnage brought out the safety car.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was also caught up in the chaotic opening corner; the Finn was tagged by Ricciardo and sustained a left-rear puncture, dropping him down the order.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas also ran into the back of a Williams into turn one, damaging his front wing and prompting him to pit for repairs and supersoft-compound tyres.
At the restart, Vettel initially seemed to have Hamilton in close company, but a better exit out of La Source meant the Ferrari driver could keep his championship rival at arms length. He spent the next few laps building up a 3.5 – 4 second lead over the Mercedes.
Just behind, Verstappen set to work on passing the Racing Point Force Indias, and it didn’t take long for the pace differential to show. The Dutchman passed Ocon on lap seven on the inside of Les Combes, and passed Perez on the outside of Les Combes just three laps later, putting himself into third place.
Further back, the luckless Raikkonen appeared to still have problems with his Ferrari, and he eventually retired from the race on lap eight.
The other Finn, Valtteri Bottas, was making light work of the midfielders, scything his way into the top ten by lap 12 and passing Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly by lap 18.
If the second Mercedes was to challenge Verstappen for a podium, he already had to make up around 30 seconds to the Red Bull, or hope for other incidents.
With Hamilton’s tyres starting to blister, the Briton was one of the first drivers to make their one-and-only pit stop, pitting at the end of lap 21 for soft tyres. He came out behind Verstappen, but disposed of the Red Bull swiftly and minimising any time loss.
Looking to avoid an undercut, Ferrari reacted by bringing Vettel in on the next lap for soft tyres. Clean stops for both drivers meant the gap only came down to 1.5 seconds, due to Hamilton having one lap of fresher tyres.
With Mercedes’ biggest chance behind them, Vettel was free to extend the gap once again to around five seconds, whilst Verstappen’s pit stop a few laps later dropped him back down to thirty seconds off the lead.
Bottas was one of the last to pit (end of lap 29) and in doing so had managed to climb to sixth. He now had the two Force Indias of Ocon and Perez ahead of him, disposing of Ocon within a couple of laps of his pit stop.
Perez had a few seconds in hand over his team-mate, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Bottas from gradually reeling him in and overtaking for fourth place on lap forty on the Kemmel straight.
With Hamilton and Mercedes out of ideas, they turned their car down and allowed Vettel to cruise to his 52nd Formula One victory, with Hamilton over ten seconds away.
Completing a lonely end of the race, Verstappen took third place ahead of Bottas, whilst Racing Point Force India took their first points finish to surpass Williams for ninth place in the constructors’ championship.
The two Haas drivers of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen completed a solid race to move to within a few points of fourth-placed Renault in the WCC, whilst Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson completed the points-paying positions.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Race
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari – 44 Laps
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +11.061s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault +31.372s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +63.605s
5 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes +71.023s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes +79.520s
7 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari +85.953s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari +87.639s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda +105.892s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 1 Lap
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1 Lap
16 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault DNF
17 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari DNF
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari DNF
19 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault DNF
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault DNF
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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