Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel reduced Lewis Hamilton’s lead to 17 points at the top of the Drivers’ Championship by taking a dominant victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, securing his 52nd Formula 1 career victory.
After missing out on victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix before F1’s summer break, Ferrari headed to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps armed with a number of new technology updates, including an all-new reduced drag rear wing in order to attain maximum efficiency along Spa’s long straights where high top speeds are a basic requirement.
After topping all three practice sessions, Ferrari missed out on pole, with reigning champion Hamilton securing the top spot on the grid from Vettel while Acronis technology partner Force India put in an emphatic performance in qualifying, with drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez locking out the second row of the grid, lining up in third and fourth respectively for the race start.
Having a strong start from pole position, Hamilton led into Turn 1, hanging Vettel out wide on the outside of the tight right-hand hairpin in order to maintain the lead before proceeding towards the uphill left-right-left section of Eau Rouge and Raidillon. Tucking in behind Hamilton’s slipstream, Vettel quickly found a way past his title rival, attaining a higher top speed through reduced drag when running down the Kemmel Straight before out breaking the Briton into the quick chicane section of Turns 7, 8 and 9.
Following a three-car airborne crash between Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc at the race start, the safety car was quickly deployed, with the accident providing a perfect case study as to why cockpit protection should be a mandatory requirement in single-seater racing.
Diving up the inside of Vettel into Turn 19 after the end of the safety car period, Hamilton failed to clear the four-time champion and instead settled into a rhythm in second place, slowly dropping back from the scarlet red Ferrari and ultimately finishing as the second-best driver in Belgium when the chequered flag waved at the end of lap 44, crossing the finishing line 11.061s adrift of the winner.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen stood on the final step of the podium after starting in seventh place, battling his way through the field and executing a one-stop strategy, swapping his starting set of supersoft tyres for a set of longer-lasting softs in the second half of the race. Verstappen’s Renault-bound Red Bull compatriot Daniel Ricciardo failed to see the chequered flag after losing his rear wing amidst the carnage of the Turn 1 clash.
After facing a heavy penalty for changing all six of his power unit elements for the Belgian Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas fought back through the pack in Belgium to finish in fourth place although the Finnish driver’s race was far from plain sailing, striking the back of Williams Racing’s Sergey Sirotkin on lap 1 which caused him to pit at the end of the first tour of the circuit for a new front wing. This left the Finn fighting his way through the field, leaving the forest-scape of Spa with a haul of 12 points.
Force India’s strong performance from qualifying continued in the race, with the team securing a haul of 18 points when Perez and Ocon finished in fifth and sixth respectively, outscoring rival squad Haas F1 by eight points. Starting from third on the grid, Ocon enjoyed a strong start and was on the verge of claiming the lead on the opening lap of the race, running alongside Hamilton down the Kemmel Straight before bailing out of any attempted move which allowed Perez to move into the podium positions.
Perez lapped in third place up until lap 10 when he was overtaken by future podium finisher Verstappen. An overtake from Bottas on the Mexican with four laps remaining relegated Perez to fifth place.
Romain Grosjean fronted a 7-8 finish for American outfit Haas, with Magnussen claiming an eighth points finish of the season while Pierre Gasly took ninth place for Toro Rosso. Marcus Ericsson completed the top 10 for Sauber.
For Acronis partner Williams Racing, it was an encouraging day at the races, with the Grove-based team beginning to overcome its early-season issues. Sergey Sirotkin crossed the line in 12th place to claim his best result in Formula 1 after lapping inside the top 10 comfortably in the early stages of the race despite running damage. Lance Stroll claimed 13th position – his best finish since July’s British Grand Prix.
Formula 1 will return on September 2 for the Italian Grand Prix where the battle for the title at the pinnacle of motorsport will continue.
Top image: The start of the race, 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. ©Racing Point Force India.