Hamilton joins Mercedes, as McLaren signs Perez

After weeks of speculation, the much rumoured news story concerning Lewis Hamilton‘s Formula One future with the Silver Arrows proved to be true with the Mercedes Grand Prix team officially announcing their driver line-up for next season.

The 2008 world champion will drive alongside Nico Rosberg, taking over Michael Schumacher’s spot at the team.

It is unclear what plans are in store for the seven-time world champion. A possible advisory role at Mercedes will be ideal considering his amount of Formula One experience and knowledge.

As for the Hamilton and Rosberg partnership in 2013, this is an exciting driver line-up at Mercedes. Both are determined to lead the Silver Arrows back to championship glory in the sport and it will be fascinating who will have the upper hand in terms of outright speed.

For Hamilton, this move to Mercedes might seem like a gamble but the level of support from the German car manufacturer plus Ross Brawn’s leadership could guide him to world titles.

And so ends his relationship with McLaren. Hamilton has been with the outfit since making his Formula One debut back in 2007. After 20 victories with 48 podium finishes plus 24 pole positions and eleven fastest laps, Lewis will join Mercedes for a “fresh challenge”.

“It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter racing for the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team. Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning, which I share.

“Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships.”

As for his former team, McLaren announce their replacement driver in the form of Sergio Perez.

After two seasons in Formula One with Sauber, the Mexican will represent the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team in 2013.

His record to date includes three podium finishes including that ever-so-close victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix earlier this year.

Perez had been most strongly linked to a future at Ferrari, as part of its young driver programme, but its president Luca di Montezemolo said several times that he did not think the Mexican was experienced enough for a team like Ferrari.

McLaren obviously feels differently, and believes that it can harness Perez’s talent to fight for the world championship alongside Jenson Button in 2013.

“I’m thrilled and delighted to have become a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver,” said Perez.

“The McLaren name is one of the greatest in the history of Formula 1. For more than 40 years McLaren has been a team that every racing driver has aspired to drive for – I was brought up on the great stories of Ayrton Senna’s many world championship triumphs for McLaren – and I’m truly honoured that they’ve chosen me to partner Jenson from 2013 onwards.

Ferrari has definitely missed out on this exciting opportunity and it will be fascinating to see the combination of youth and experience at McLaren.

Vettel victorious in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel achieved his second successive victory at Marina Bay, benefitting from a non-finish from Lewis Hamilton to close down the championship points gap to Fernando Alonso.

This was Vettel’s second win of the season and Red Bull Racing’s thirty-first. The Milton Keynes-based team is now joint seventh in the all time Formula One records.

Jenson Button claimed second for McLaren, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso taking third place thereby maintaining his lead in the world championship.

Front-row starter Pastor Maldonado had to retire with hydraulic failure having battled with Alonso for the final podium spot.

Hamilton and Vettel ran in close company prior to the McLaren’s gearbox issue, although it seemed Lewis had this race under control.

Third-placed Button fell away at first, before regaining the lost ground as he got better tyre longevity than those ahead.

Vettel made his first pitstop two laps earlier than Hamilton, and though this initially looked costly as he dropped into time-consuming traffic, once he was in clear air his pace on fresh Pirellis was sufficient to make up all the time lost and keep him between the McLarens.

That position became the race lead on lap 22, when Hamilton was forced to stop the car with a gearbox failure.

Button then kept Vettel honest to the finish, with the race heading towards the two-hour limit.

The Red Bull driver stayed calm through two mid-race safety car periods: the first for Narain Karthikeyan sliding his HRT into the barriers at the tunnel entrance, and the second when Michael Schumacher smashes into Jean-Eric Vergne on the restart lap.

Those safety car periods resolved the third-place battle. When Maldonado, who had fallen from second to fourth at the start, pitted for a second time under the first caution, he rejoined tenth while Alonso stayed out and moved up to third.

That decision probably secured the place for Ferrari even before Williams ordered Maldonado to retire with a hydraulic problem before the green.

Paul di Resta kept the frontrunners in sight throughout to score an excellent fourth for Force India, outpacing fifth-placed Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.

Lotus took sixth and seventh with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean on its least competitive weekend this season.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa picked up a puncture on lap one, yet fought back to secure eighth. Along the way, the Brazilian overtook Bruno Senna with an incredible move that saw him bounce off the Williams and the wall before arriving at Turn 13 completely sideways but in front.

The safety car timing hurt Mark Webber’s strategy, and the best he could manage was to battle through to tenth, right on Daniel Ricciardo’s tail.

And yet, hours after the chequered flag dropped, the race stewards have added a twenty-second penalty to Mark Webber’s race time for overtaking Kamui Kobayashi off-track. The Australian drops down to P11, with Sergio Perez promote up to tenth.

Among other incidents, Nico Hulkenberg clashed with both Saubers on consecutive laps late on, with Sergio Perez the only one involved to get away without having to pit for repairs.

Also notable was Timo Glock’s P12, which moved Marussia ahead of Caterham in the constructors’ standings.

The Singapore Grand Prix wasn’t the most exciting race this season. More like a procession but the end results means the championship is building up to a dramatic finale.

Sebastian Vettel’s victory at Singapore means he is now 29 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso. While Lewis Hamilton’s non-finish means he has dropped down to fourth, 52 points adrift.

Singapore Grand Prix, after 61 laps:

1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           2h00:26.144
2.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +8.959
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +15.227
4.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +19.063
5.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +34.759
6.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +35.700
7.  Grosjean      Lotus-Renault              +36.600
8.  Massa         Ferrari                    +42.800
9.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +45.800
10.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +50.600
11.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +1m.07.100*
12.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
13.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +1 lap
14.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +1 lap
15.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
16.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
17.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +1 lap
18.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +2 laps
19.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +2 laps

Fastest lap: Hulkenberg, 1:51.033

*20-second penalty for going off track

Not classified/retirements:

Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari           41 laps
Schumacher    Mercedes                     41 laps
Maldonado     Williams-Renault             41 laps
Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth                 33 laps
Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes             25 laps

World Championship standings, round 14:

1.  Alonso       194
2.  Vettel       165
3.  Raikkonen    149
4.  Hamilton     142
5.  Webber       132
6.  Button       119
7.  Rosberg       93
8.  Grosjean      82
9.  Perez         66
10.  Massa         51
11.  Di Resta      44
12.  Schumacher    43
13.  Kobayashi     35
14.  Hulkenberg    31
15.  Maldonado     29
16.  Senna         25
17.  Vergne         8
18.  Ricciardo      6

1.  Red Bull-Renault          297
2.  McLaren-Mercedes          261
3.  Ferrari                   245
4.  Lotus-Renault             231
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            101
7.  Force India-Mercedes       75
8.  Williams-Renault           54
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         14

Next race: Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka. October 5-7.

Hamilton edges out Maldonado and Vettel to take Singapore pole

Lewis Hamilton took his fifth pole position of the season at Marina Bay, as the McLaren driver continued his mission to cut the points gap to his championship rival.

It was the 24th pole of his Formula One career and McLaren’s fourth straight top spot since Mika Hakkinen back in 1999.

Joining him on the front row is Pastor Maldonado, setting an impressive lap in the Williams. The Spanish Grand Prix winner managed to upstage defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Red Bull driver was quickest in all three practice sessions at Singapore, but when it mattered in the all-important top ten shootout, Vettel was unable to repeat that speed and had to settle for third.

Jenson Button was fourth fastest ahead of championship leader Fernando Alonso and the Force India of Paul di Resta. Mark Webber was seventh quickest for the moment, but that may change as the Australian is under investigation for allegedly impeding Timo Glock during Q1.

Hours after qualifying, the race stewards have decided to reprimand Webber for leaving the track twice during his in-lap at the end of Q3. As for his impending over Glock, no penalty was given so the Red Bull driver will start Sunday’s race seventh on the grid.

Romain Grosjean, back after his one-race ban, recorded the eighth fastest time despite a scruffy qualifying session. The Lotus driver still managed to qualify ahead of the Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, who both declined to set a lap time in Q3.

Grosjean, having set the quickest time of all in Q1, also tapped the wall with the rear of the car at Turn 14 at the beginning of Q2. He bounced back from his shunt though to go fourth fastest in Q2, behind Hamilton, Vettel and Webber.

The Lotus driver wasn’t the only one in the wall in that session. Bruno Senna damaged his suspension against the wall at the penultimate corner, the same place he’d brushed in Q1.

This was the third time the Brazilian had been in the barrier over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend and he will start Sunday’s race in P17.

Joining Senna were Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Massa in particular might have expected to progress further, but late laps from the Mercedes duo put paid to their hopes.

With news speculation surrounding Vitaly Petrov’s future at Caterham, the Russian put in a great effort in Q1. For most of it he looked like he might outqualify Toro Rosso’s Vergne and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi on merit to move into Q2.

But both of those drivers would eventually move ahead of Petrov, who lines up P20 ahead of his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, as the Toro Rossos injected some super-soft pace at the crucial moment (Ricciardo was seventh fastest overall in Q1).

Kobayashi however dropped out early as he was already in the pits as the Toro Rossos recorded their lap times. From being at the sharp end of the grid at Spa to the bottom in Singapore.

As for HRT, Narain Karthikeyan managed to outqualified his team-mate Pedro de la Rosa for the second time in succession. By a margin of nearly a second, as the pair occupied the last row of the grid.

Qualifying positions at Marina Bay:

1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m46.362s
2.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m46.804s
3.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m46.905s
4.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m46.939s
5.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m47.216s
6.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m47.241s
7.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m47.475s
8.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m47.788s
9.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             no time
10.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             no time
11.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m47.975s
12.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m48.261s
13.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m48.344s
14.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m48.505s
15.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m48.774s
16.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m48.849s
17.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     no time
18.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m49.933s
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m50.846s
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m51.137s
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m51.370s
22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m51.762s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m52.372s
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m53.355s

107 per cent time: 1m55.226s

Hamilton victorious at Monza, as Perez continues to impress

Lewis Hamilton recorded his first victory at the legendary Monza circuit after holding off a late charge from Sauber’s Sergio Perez to win the Italian Grand Prix for McLaren.

As for Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver extended his championship lead by coming through from tenth on the grid to third.

Alonso benefited from his closet title rival Sebastian Vettel receiving a drive-through penalty for forcing him off the track at Curva Grande.

The incident was very similar to what occurred between Alonso and Vettel last year and yet in this scenario, the latest rule changes means at least a car’s width must be given and so Vettel was penalised.

The Red Bull driver would later retire with a mechanical problem.

For much of the Italian Grand Prix, it seemed McLaren were heading to an one-two result thanks to their strong race pace.

Although Felipe Massa made a great start to immediately pass Jenson Button for second position and then pressure Hamilton into Variante del Rettifilo, the pole sitter was soon able to ease away. Button then overtook the Ferrari just before their pitstops.

But with 19 laps to go, Button was forced to park his McLaren on the approach to Curva Parabolica, with a fuel pressure problem.

That brought Massa back up to second position, but with his Scuderia team-mate Alonso catching him.

The championship leader had gained two positions off the start, before overtaking Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen in quick succession.

Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel then proved tougher opponents, though the Spaniard eventually passed both. Along the way, Alonso ended up on the Curva Grande grass as Vettel defended – a move that would earn the defending champion a drive-through penalty.

Vettel still looked set for sixth until being ordered to stop his Red Bull due to a developing technical problem five laps from the chequered flag.

Massa gave Alonso an easy pass into second position, but by then a new threat was looming.

Unlike all the frontrunners, Sergio Perez had started on the harder Pirelli tyres, allowing the Mexican to run until lap 29 before his first pitstop.

Perez rejoined in sixth, benefited from Vettel and Button’s problems, and then started lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the leaders as he thrived on the medium compound rubber.

Both Massa and Alonso were easily overtaken, and Perez then charged off after Hamilton.

The Mexican would run out of time to catch the McLaren, but still claimed his third podium in an excellent season.

Alonso and Massa finished third and fourth, ahead of Raikkonen’s Lotus, holding off the two-stopping Mercedes duo of Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

Mark Webber recovered from a slow start to get into the top six, only to spin his Red Bull out of Variante Ascari in the final laps and then retire.

Force India’s Paul di Resta took eighth position, while his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg’s charge from the back ended with a late technical problem.

Kamui Kobayashi and Bruno Senna completed the points-scorers for Sauber and Williams respectively after a last-lap problem for Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.

The latter’s team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne retired in dramatic style with an apparent suspension breakage approaching Variante del Rettifilo.

In the drivers’ championship, Alonso has extended his lead to 37 points over Hamilton, 179 to 142, with fifth-place finisher Kimi Raikkonen third on 141 from Vettel on 140, Webber on 132 and Button on 101.

As for the constructors, despite the double non-finish for Red Bull Racing – the first time since Korea 2010 – the team now have 272 points to McLaren’s 243, Ferrari’s 226 and Lotus’s 217.

Italian Grand Prix after 53 laps:

1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           1h19:41.221
2.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +4.356
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +20.594
4.  Massa         Ferrari                    +29.667
5.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +30.881
6.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +31.259
7.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +33.550
8.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +41.057
9.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +43.898
10.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +48.144
11.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +48.682
12.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +50.316
13.  d’Ambrosio    Lotus-Renault              +1:15.861
14.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
15.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
16.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
17.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
18.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +1 lap
19.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +1 lap
20.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +2 laps
21.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +3 laps
22.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +6 laps

Fastest lap: Rosberg, 1:27.239

Not classified/retirements:
Button        McLaren-Mercedes             32 laps
Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari           8 laps

World Championship standings, round 13:

1.  Alonso       179
2.  Hamilton     142
3.  Raikkonen    141
4.  Vettel       140
5.  Webber       132
6.  Button       101
7.  Rosberg       83
8.  Grosjean      76
9.  Perez         65
10.  Massa         47
11.  Schumacher    43
12.  Kobayashi     35
13.  Di Resta      32
14.  Hulkenberg    31
15.  Maldonado     29
16.  Senna         25
17.  Vergne         8
18.  Ricciardo      4

1.  Red Bull-Renault          272
2.  McLaren-Mercedes          243
3.  Ferrari                   226
4.  Lotus-Renault             217
5.  Mercedes                  126
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            100
7.  Force India-Mercedes       63
8.  Williams-Renault           54
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         12

Next race: Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay. September 21-23.

McLaren front row in Monza qualifying

Lewis Hamilton claimed his fourth pole position of the season, securing an all-McLaren front row with Belgian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button alongside him.

This qualifying result was McLaren’s 63rd front row sweep in Formula One, a new record in the sport’s rich history.

After setting the quickest time in the second and third practice sessions, Hamilton maintained his strong form to lap the high-speed Monza circuit with a time of one minute, 24.010 seconds in Q3.

That lap time proved unbeatable with Button eventually joining his team-mate just 0.123 seconds slower.

Jenson’s Q3 lap demoted Felipe Massa to third and yet this was the best qualifying performance from the Ferrari driver all season.

As for the championship leader, this was a disastrous session for Massa’s team-mate Fernando Alonso – who was only tenth – 1.4 seconds adrift. The Scuderia reported on Twitter that a suspected anti-rollbar failure was the cause.

Paul di Resta qualified an excellent fourth, although the Force India driver will drop down to ninth following a gearbox-change penalty.

His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg suffered an apparent gearbox problem at the start of Q1 and will start the Italian Grand Prix right at the back.

Red Bull Racing had another muted qualifying session. Sebastian Vettel could only manage sixth, while his team-mate Mark Webber did not even make Q3, missing the cut by 0.067 seconds as he took eleventh.

Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg sandwich Vettel in fifth and seventh.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified eighth for Lotus, ahead of the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi.

It was also a tough qualifying session for Williams. A mistake on the exit of the Ascaris left Pastor Maldonado P12 in Q2, but will become P22 on the grid due to his Spa penalties. Bruno Senna was only P14.

Romain Grosjean’s substitute Jerome d’Ambrosio was around 0.7 seconds off team-mate Raikkonen’s pace throughout qualifying, which left him P16 for his Lotus debut.

D’Ambrosio had a brief scare in Q1 when an error on his first run left him behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham and in danger of elimination, but he switched to the softer Pirelli compound and made the cut with his last attempt.

Qualifying position for the Italian Grand Prix:

1.  Lewis Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes      1m24.010s
2.  Jenson Button       McLaren-Mercedes      1m24.133s
3.  Felipe Massa        Ferrari               1m24.247s
4.  Michael Schumacher  Mercedes              1m24.540s
5.  Sebastian Vettel    Red Bull-Renault      1m24.802s
6.  Nico Rosberg        Mercedes              1m24.833s
7.  Kimi Raikkonen      Lotus-Renault         1m24.855s
8.  Kamui Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari        1m25.109s
9.  Paul di Resta       Force India-Mercedes  1m24.304s*
10.  Fernando Alonso     Ferrari               1m25.678s
11.  Mark Webber         Red Bull-Renault      1m24.809s
12.  Sergio Perez        Sauber-Ferrari        1m24.901s
13.  Bruno Senna         Williams-Renault      1m25.042s
14.  Daniel Ricciardo    Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m25.312s
15.  Jerome d’Ambrosio   Lotus-Renault         1m25.408s
16.  Jean-Eric Vergne    Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m25.441s
17.  Heikki Kovalainen   Caterham-Renault      1m26.382s
18.  Vitaly Petrov       Caterham-Renault      1m26.887s
19.  Timo Glock          Marussia-Cosworth     1m27.039s
20.  Charles Pic         Marussia-Cosworth     1m27.073s
21.  Narain Karthikeyan  HRT-Cosworth          1m27.441s
22.  Pastor Maldonado    Williams-Renault      1m24.820s**
23.  Pedro de la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth          1m27.629s
24.  Nico Hulkenberg     Force India-Mercedes No time***

107 per cent time: 1m30.076s

*Five-place penalty due to gearbox change
**Two five-place penalties due to infringements during the Belgian Grand Prix
***Failed to beat 107% time, needs a dispensation from the stewards to start

Button avoids Spa chaos to win

Jenson Button drove a faultless lights-to-flag win in the Belgian Grand Prix, avoiding the huge startline accident in which title contenders Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were eliminated.

With Sebastian Vettel coming through from tenth on the grid to second position, it means the defending world champion is now only 24 points behind Alonso.

The accident started when Lotus driver Romain Grosjean moved across the track on the approach to the La Source hairpin and squeezed Hamilton’s McLaren.

The two made contact and ploughed into the cars ahead in dramatic fashion. Alonso and Sergio Perez were also eliminated, while slow-starting front-row man Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado – who jumped the start – both picked up damage.

The onboard footage from Fernando’s car was scary and thankfully all four drivers escaped without serious injury.

Kobayashi and Maldonado were able to continue but the latter was soon out following a safety car restart clash with the Marussia of Timo Glock.

The chaos on the opening lap reshuffled the race order, with Button leading Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus, the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta, followed by Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and the Toro Rosso pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

The Red Bulls were delayed in the incident on the opening lap, leaving Mark Webber in P8 and Vettel P12.

Button charged away from the outset, making a one-stop strategy work to perfection as he followed up his maiden McLaren pole with his first win since the season-opener in Melbourne.

Raikkonen lacked speed early on and was overtaken by Hulkenberg and Schumacher.

An early first pit-stop helped the Lotus regain lost ground, but the best strategy appeared to be to pit once. A combination of this tactic and several early passing moves helped Vettel emerge in second position.

Schumacher also tried to pit once, but found himself under big pressure from two-stoppers Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.

This led to some spectacular racing, including Raikkonen overtaking Schumacher around the outside into Eau Rouge, as the seven-time champion twice managed to fight back past his rivals using DRS. Eventually he had to admit defeat and pit again.

By then Raikkonen was long gone and heading for the final podium spot, ahead of Hulkenberg, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, and Webber.

Schumacher eventually finished in seventh, as the Toro Rossos and di Resta fell back to the tail of the top ten.

Nico Rosberg and Bruno Senna also had to make late tyre stops, leaving them outside the points.

Caterham briefly looked like it might achieve an upset as Heikki Kovalainen emerged in tenth on lap one. But he soon fell back and would later have two spins and a pitlane clash with Narain Karthikeyan.

So a dramatic race at the Belgian Grand Prix with a frightening accident at the start, and yet in the end Jenson Button drove a brilliant race to take his second win of the season.

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is next and it will be fascinating to see if Alonso’s lead in the championship is reduced further.

Race results from Spa-Francorchamps, after 44 laps:

1.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           1h29:08.530
2.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +13.624
3.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +25.334
4.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +27.843
5.  Massa         Ferrari                    +29.845
6.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +31.244
7.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +53.374
8.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +58.865
9.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:02.982
10.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +1:03.783
11.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +1:05.111
12.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +1:11.529
13.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +1:56.119
14.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
15.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
16.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
17.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
18.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +1 lap
19.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +30 laps

Fastest lap: Senna, 1:52.822

Not classified/retirements:

Maldonado     Williams-Renault             5 laps
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               1 lap
Alonso        Ferrari                      1 lap
Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes             1 lap
Grosjean      Lotus-Renault                1 lap

World Championship standings, round 12:

1.  Alonso       164
2.  Vettel       140
3.  Webber       132
4.  Raikkonen    131
5.  Hamilton     117
6.  Button       101
7.  Rosberg       77
8.  Grosjean      76
9.  Perez         47
10.  Schumacher    35
11.  Massa         35
12.  Kobayashi     33
13.  Hulkenberg    31
14.  Maldonado     29
15.  Di Resta      28
16.  Senna         24
17.  Vergne         8
18.  Ricciardo      4

1.  Red Bull-Renault          272
2.  McLaren-Mercedes          218
3.  Lotus-Renault             207
4.  Ferrari                   199
5.  Mercedes                  112
6.  Sauber-Ferrari             80
7.  Force India-Mercedes       59
8.  Williams-Renault           53
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         12

Next race: Italian Grand Prix, Monza. September 7-9.

Button takes his first pole for McLaren

Jenson Button recorded his first pole position for McLaren with a fantastic performance in a dramatic qualifying session.

After racing with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team for three seasons, the 2009 world champion finally achieved the top grid result after 50 races. His last pole was at Monaco in his championship-winning year.

His lap around the challenging Spa-Francorchamps track was impressive one minute, 47.573 seconds.

Kamui Kobayashi claimed his maiden front-row start as he underlined Sauber’s speed with an amazing second position, while world champion Sebastian Vettel was unable to go any further than Q2.

Button put himself eight tenths clear of the 24-car field for much of Q2, then repeated that sheer pace to deliver a one minute, 47.686 seconds early in Q3.

One of the few drivers to do two runs, Jenson found even more time at the second attempt and delivered the ultimate pole position lap.

Kobayashi was three tenths adrift as he secured his career-best Formula One start, while his team-mate Sergio Perez also shone in fifth position.

After setting the pace in Q1, Pastor Maldonado was another star underdog as he took third for Williams. Although an impeding incident involving the 12th-place qualifier Nico Hulkenberg is under investigation.

Pre-race favourite Lotus could only managed fourth with Kimi Raikkonen and ninth with Romain Grosjean. The latter had a few scary moments just getting out of Q1 following a mistake and traffic issues with an HRT.

World championship leader Fernando Alonso could not repeat his FP3 performance and will start in sixth position.

As one McLaren took pole, the other was only eighth quickest, although Lewis Hamilton will gain a place when Mark Webber’s Red Bull is demoted five places from seventh due to a gearbox change penalty.

Force India’s Paul di Resta completed the top ten at Spa-Francorchamps.

Vettel was the most significant incident during a close Q2. Just two tenths separated him from his team-mate Webber, but that translated to seven positions, as last year’s Spa pole sitter and race winner ended up only P11, 0.012 seconds off a Q3 spot.

He was not the only big name to miss out. Felipe Massa trailed behind the sister Ferrari of Alonso by seven tenths as he struggled to P14. While Michael Schumacher, competing in his 300th Formula One race, could only qualify in P13 for Mercedes.

Already carrying a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3, Nico Rosberg was only P18 in qualifying after crossing the line moments too late for a final Q1 run.

Rosberg’s disappointment meant both Toro Rossos reached Q2, where they beat the Williams of Bruno Senna. The Brazilian pulled off an incredible save after sliding sideways across the kerbs through most of Pouhon, then had to pit for repairs and could not get above P17 when he rejoined.

While at the back, Timo Glock used Marussia’s upgrades to get a little closer to the Caterhams, but his team-mate Charles Pic was beaten to P22 by Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT.

Grid positions at Spa-Francorchamps:

1.  Jenson Button       McLaren-Mercedes      1m47.573s
2.  Kamui Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari        1m47.871s
3.  Pastor Maldonado    Williams-Renault      1m47.893s
4.  Kimi Raikkonen      Lotus-Renault         1m48.205s
5.  Sergio Perez        Sauber-Ferrari        1m48.219s
6.  Fernando Alonso     Ferrari               1m48.313s
7.  Lewis Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes      1m48.394s
8.  Romain Grosjean     Lotus-Renault         1m48.538s
9.  Paul di Resta       Force India-Mercedes  1m48.890s
10.  Sebastian Vettel    Red Bull-Renault      1m49.722s
11.  Nico Hulkenberg     Force India-Mercedes  1m49.362s
12.  Mark Webber         Red Bull-Renault      1m48.392s*
13.  Michael Schumacher  Mercedes              1m49.742s
14.  Felipe Massa        Ferrari               1m49.588s
15.  Jean-Eric Vergne    Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m49.763s
16.  Daniel Ricciardo    Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m49.572s
17.  Bruno Senna         Williams-Renault      1m49.958s
18.  Heikki Kovalainen   Caterham-Renault      1m51.739s
19.  Vitaly Petrov       Caterham-Renault      1m51.967s
20.  Timo Glock          Marussia-Cosworth     1m52.336s
21.  Pedro de la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth          1m53.030s
22.  Charles Pic         Marussia-Cosworth     1m53.493s
23.  Nico Rosberg        Mercedes              1m50.181s*
24.  Narain Karthikeyan  HRT-Cosworth          1m54.989s

107 per cent time: 1m56.622s

*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change