Sebastian Vettel has surpassed Formula 1 legend Alain Prost with his 52nd victory in a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix which featured a first-corner crash provided the major talking point.
Vettel slipstreamed championship rival and poleman Lewis Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight on the opening lap, drafting past the Mercedes as the Racing Point Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez almost made it four-abreast heading towards Les Combes.
Ocon backed out having pulled almost level with Vettel, which allowed Vettel to hold the lead from Hamilton as Perez swept around the outside of Ocon into third.
That happened just before the race was neutralised with the safety car following a massive first-corner crash in which Alonso was pitched airborne over Charles Leclerc.
Nico Hulkenberg misjudged his braking and locked up both front wheels on his Renault and slammed into the rear of Alonso, who was launched into the back of – and then over – Leclerc, hitting the Sauber’s halo device on the way down.
All three cars were eliminated on the spot, and the drivers emerged under their own steam.
This crash was very similar to Alonso’s 2012 crash in which his car was airborne after taking a hit from Grosjean.
Luckily the drivers in this smash escaped unharmed, in particular the halo did its job in protecting Charles Leclerc from the airborne Fernando Alonso.
Daniel Ricciardo’s rear wing was broken by the flying Alonso, which contributed to the Red Bull running wide through La Source and inflicting a right-rear puncture on Kimi Raikkonen’s the Ferrari.
Ricciardo and Raikkonen pitted for repairs before rejoining, although they did not complete the race – Raikkonen stopped a few laps later while Ricciardo, who fell two laps down as Red Bull worked on his car then returned to the garage with 13 laps to go.
The safety car was out for four laps following the crash, with Hamilton half-attacking Vettel into the final chicane at the restart but falling into line with a small lock-up.
Vettel quickly built a three-second lead that he maintained until Mercedes brought Hamilton in on lap 21, with Vettel following suit one lap later at exactly the halfway mark.
Hamilton’s rapid out-lap threatened to put him in position to attack Vettel but he caught the Red Bull of Max Verstappen at the end of the lap, which meant Vettel emerged out of DRS zone.
The Ferrari quickly re-established its healthy advantage, as Hamilton drifted back and eventually finished 11 seconds behind, meaning Vettel cut the championship gap to 17 points.
Verstappen scored a lonely third place having got ahead of the Force Indias early on, drafting Ocon on the run to Les Combes three laps after the restart and pulling the same move on Perez a few laps later.
Verstappen ended up half a minute behind the winner and roughly the same amount clear of Valtteri Bottas, who claimed fourth in the closing stages.
The Mercedes driver started at the back after exceeding his engine limit for the season by taking the manufacturer’s upgraded engine, but climbed steadily up the order and passed Perez with just a few laps to go.
That demoted the ‘new’ Force India team to fifth and sixth on its debut, as its 18-point haul immediately put the entry ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and just one point behind Sauber, which only stays ahead because of Marcus Ericsson’s tenth place finish.
The new Force India also matched the best points haul for a team on its F1 ‘debut’, equalling the 18 points earned by Mercedes (in 2010) and Brawn (in 2009, under the old 10-8-6-4-3-2-1 points structure).
Haas duo Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a quietly effective grand prix to finish seventh and eighth, which moved the team to just six points behind Renault in the fight for fourth in the constructors’ championship.
Carlos Sainz Jr’s P11 meant Renault failed to score for only the second time this year.
Newly-confirmed 2019 Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly bagged two points for Toro Rosso and Honda in ninth place, with Ericsson completing the top ten.
So a fantastic result for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel. This was payback after a disappointing end in the German Grand Prix by winning at Spa-Francorchamps.
Monza follows next weekend and this victory will give a positive feeling heading to the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari.
Belgian Grand Prix race results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 44 1h23m34.476s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 44 11.061s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 44 31.372s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 44 1m03.605s
5 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 44 1m11.023s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 44 1m19.520s
7 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 44 1m25.953s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 44 1m27.639s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 44 1m45.892s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 43 1 Lap
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 43 1 Lap
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 43 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 43 1 Lap
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 28 Retirement
– Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 8 Retirement
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 0 Collision
– Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 0 Collision
– Nico Hulkenberg Renault 0 Collision
1 Lewis Hamilton 231
2 Sebastian Vettel 214
3 Kimi Raikkonen 146
4 Valtteri Bottas 144
5 Max Verstappen 120
6 Daniel Ricciardo 118
7 Nico Hulkenberg 52
8 Kevin Magnussen 49
9 Fernando Alonso 44
10 Sergio Perez 40
11 Esteban Ocon 37
12 Carlos Sainz 30
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 13
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Marcus Ericsson 6
18 Lance Stroll 4
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 0
1 Mercedes 375
2 Ferrari 360
3 Red Bull-Renault 238
4 Renault 82
5 Haas-Ferrari 76
6 McLaren-Renault 52
7 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
8 Sauber-Ferrari 19
9 Force India-Mercedes 18
10 Williams-Mercedes 4