Vettel takes Spa victory after mayhem start

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

Drivers’ standings:
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

Constructors’ standings:
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

6 thoughts to “Vettel takes Spa victory after mayhem start”

  1. Belgian Grand Prix race review as reported by

    After being defeated in consecutive races going into F1’s annual summer break, Ferrari hit back in style as the season roared back into life in Belgium, with Sebastian Vettel brilliantly overhauling title rival Lewis Hamilton before leading the Mercedes driver home to eat into his points advantage.

    Vettel decisively claimed the lead on what was a chaotic first lap of the Grand Prix, in which a late-braking Nico Hulkenberg triggered an enormous crash at Turn 1 involving Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc. Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, also picked up what would ultimately prove race-ending damage in a separate incident.

    Once in front, Vettel didn’t cede his advantage at any point, expertly managing the pace to claim his 52nd career victory and 107th podium – two stats that surpass the great Alain Prost’s records. More importantly, he stemmed the flow of his title rival’s momentum, taking seven points out of Hamilton’s championship lead to trail the Briton by just 17 points heading to Ferrari’s home race in Italy.

    Hamilton was left to minimise the damage, driving a strong race to finish second – although he ultimately didn’t seem to have the pace to match the Ferrari around the power-sensitive 7.004km Spa track.

    Meanwhile Max Verstappen delighted the hordes of Dutch fans who’d crossed the border to watch their hero race by claiming a surprise third place – very much a welcome result, given Red Bull’s struggles for pace around the Spa track throughout the weekend.

    The man on the move throughout the Spa race was Valtteri Bottas, with the Finn making his way up from P17 at the start of the race – having taken engine penalties for a new Mercedes power unit – to P4 by the end of the race with a string of incisive passes, including taking Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso around the outside of Eau Rouge.

    Racing Point Force India enjoyed an impressive – ahem – debut race as well, claiming fifth and sixth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon after they’d started the race fourth and third respectively.

    It didn’t take long for the drama to unfold when the lights went out, with a massive incident that looked eerily similar to the infamous 2012 first lap crash. With Nico Hulkenberg massively locking up his Renault’s tyres going into the tight first corner at the start of the race, the German driver careened into the rear of Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren was sent flying over the Sauber of Charles Leclerc. All three drivers were out on the spot, with Alonso later remarking that the new-for-2018 head protection had been “a very good thing today”. The scrape marks of Alonso’s McLaren MCL33 on Leclerc’s halo would seem to back that assessment up…

    Further around La Source, Daniel Ricciardo, squeezed by the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, tagged the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, leaving the Finn with a puncture and rear wing damage that would see him forced to retire on lap eight. Ricciardo, meanwhile, was pulled back into the Red Bull garage, had his front and rear wings changed and was sent back out two laps down, managing 31 laps before Red Bull decided to call it a day for the Australian. To cap off the action, Valtteri Bottas was seen to rear-end Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams off the line. The Russian escaped major damage, but the Finn was forced into an early pit stop for a nose change and fresh rubber.

    The Safety Car was deployed, but crucially not before Sebastian Vettel had out-dragged polesitter Lewis Hamilton down the Kemmel Straight – as well as rebutting a challenge from the charging Force India of Esteban Ocon – to claim the race lead in a moment that would define the race.

    Once the Safety Car came in at the end of lap four, Vettel and Hamilton both made a decent job of the restart, but Vettel held onto the lead before unleashing his signature move that we saw so often in his Red Bull days, banging in a string of quick laps to eke out an advantage of nearly four seconds over Hamilton.

    Behind, Force India’s hopes of challenging for a podium were quashed by Max Verstappen, who pipped first Ocon and then Sergio Perez down the Kemmel Straight to make it up into what became a lonely third place – but a lofty one too, considering that Verstappen had expected no better than fourth ahead of the race.

    The second crunch point between Vettel and Hamilton came during the pit stop window. Hamilton was brought in on lap 22, coming out behind the Red Bull of Verstappen, while Vettel was called in by Ferrari a lap later. For a moment, it looked like Hamilton might use Verstappen to effectively tow him into the net race lead on his outlap.

    In the event, although Hamilton put in a mighty third sector while Vettel was in the pits, the Mercedes driver was ultimately held up behind Verstappen into La Source, allowing Vettel to emerge into the lead. From there, Vettel was able to dictate the pace at the front, cruising around to his fifth victory of the year, and his first since Silverstone back in early July. That haul of 25 points brings the gap to Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings down to 17 with a maximum of 200 still on the table before the end of the season.

    It will have been an especially pleasing victory for Ferrari. Not only was it their first at Spa since 2009, but, with both Ferrari and Mercedes having unveiled their Spec 3 engines at Spa, the victory will be seen by the Scuderia as a technological defeat of their rivals. After the race, a slightly dazed Hamilton confirmed as much, giving a clear assessment of Mercedes’ deficit to Ferrari.

    “He drove past me like I wasn’t even there on the straight,” said Hamilton, referring to Vettel’s lap one pass. “So we need to keep pushing to see if we can catch up…” That will be especially worrying for Mercedes given that we now head to Monza, both Ferrari’s home turf and a notorious power circuit.

    Others to have a happy day at Spa were Haas, who overcame their pace issues from Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions to claim a double points finish, with Grosjean in seventh and Magnussen in eighth. Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly will have been chuffed with ninth, while in Leclerc’s absence, Marcus Ericsson held up his end of the bargain for Sauber, bring the C37 10th after a solid afternoon.

    Stoffel Vandoorne, meanwhile, heads away from his home race with the ignominy of having been last in every single session of the weekend, having finished 15th out of 15 classified runners.

  2. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was left feeling mystified by Nico Hulkenberg’s start mistake at the La Source hairpin. has the news story.

    Fernando Alonso says he cannot understand how Nico Hulkenberg got his braking so wrong for the opening corner of the Belgian Grand Prix after their spectacular first corner crash.

    Alonso’s car was pitched into the back of and over the top of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber after Hulkenberg hit him from behind when the Renault driver missed his braking point for the La Source hairpin.

    In an incident that reminded many people of the start crash that earned a race ban for Romain Grosjean in 2012, Alonso said he was baffled by what Hulkenberg did.

    “Yet again a very big-time missed braking point,” Alonso told the BBC. “Last time Romain had a race ban. This time we’ll see.

    “It’s hard to understand how you can miss a braking point that much. You arrive at a speed where it’s impossible to negotiate the corner.”

    Images of Leclerc’s car appear to indicate that Alonso’s car did strike his halo, and Alonso was keen to praise the safety device.

    “The positive side is that we all three are okay, including Charles,” he said. “I flew over his car and the halo was a very good thing to have today.

    “I think for him it helped, looking at the replay. I was definitely happier that I had the halo. We don’t need to prove that it’s a good thing to have.”

    Alonso and Hulkenberg have been summoned to see the stewards after the race to discuss the incident.

  3. Nico Hulkenberg has been give a 10-place grid penalty for the Italian Grand Prix for his part in a first-corner crash in Belgium.

    The German braked too late for the first corner at Spa-Francorchamps and slid into the back of Fernando Alonso – pitching the McLaren over the top of Charles Leclerc.

    Following an investigation by the stewards, it was decided that the Renault driver had been guilty of causing the crash and would be moved down the grid for Monza. He has also been handed three penalty points on his superlicence.

    A statement from the FIA stewards said that: “The driver of car 27 [Hulkenberg] stated that he completely misjudged the situation and freely admitted it was his mistake.”

    Although Alonso had suggested that there were similarities between the Hulkenberg incident and the 2012 crash that earned Romain Grosjean a race ban, such a drastic punishment was not considered this time.

    In their explanations, the stewards pointed out that the penalty points system had been introduced as a mean of ensuring repeat offenders were sanctioned more heavily – something that was not in place six years ago.

    “It should be noted that since 2014 the FIA has introduced the penalty points system which takes into account previous offences by a driver and can lead to a race suspension if 12 points are accumulated within a 12 month period,” said the stewards.

    “This system was not in force when an incident not dissimilar to this, occurred in 2012.”

    Hulkenberg was clear that the mistake was wholly his, although he suggests he was slightly caught out by the aero disturbance caused by other cars around him.

    “It’s just incredible to find out again on lap one how sensitive these cars are with aerodynamics,” he said.

    “When you have a few cars that bunch up in front of you, how much grip and load you lose and when I hit the brakes I instantly locked up the front wheels and was then just sliding into Fernando.

    “Probably [a] misjudgement from my side, a bit too late on the brakes, a bit too keen. Frustrating for him [Alonso], for Charles as well, but also for myself.”


  4. Despite finishing in a credible fourth position, Valtteri Bottas has been penalised following his first-lap contact with Sergey Sirotkin. has the details.

    Mercedes Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas has picked up a time penalty and two penalty points on his license for colliding with Sergey Sirotkin at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix.

    Bottas piled into the back of Sirotkin’s FW41 on the approach to La Source after the start, damaging his own front wing in the collision.

    A safety car brought out by the big crash involving Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc at the same corner allowed Bottas to pit for repairs without losing too much time, and the Finn was able to fight his way through the pack to finish fourth.

    Sirotkin, whose car seemingly escaped without major damage, was 12th at the chequered flag.

    While the incident had no major consequences for either driver’s grand prix, the FIA stewards summoned Bottas after the race and elected to give the Finn a five-second penalty.

    The penalty did not impact Bottas’ Belgian GP result, as he’d finished over seven seconds ahead of fifth-placed Sergio Perez.

    “The driver of car 77 [Bottas] admitted the collision was his fault, that he had completely misjudged the situation and that the braking of car 35 [Sirotkin] caught him by surprise and that he should’ve left more margin,” the stewards’ notes for the verdict read.

    Bottas was also handed two penalty points on his license, taking him to fourth points overall for current 12-month period.

  5. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton commented that his Mercedes team needs to match Ferrari’s “tricks”. has the news story.

    Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes Formula 1 team needs to match the “trick things” that enabled Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to beat him to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

    Hamilton took pole in mixed conditions on Saturday and kept the lead off the line, but was passed by Vettel on the opening lap at the Kemmel straight.

    The German survived a subsequent safety car restart in the lead and went on to win by 11 seconds over Hamilton, cutting the reigning champion’s lead in the title race down to 17 points.

    Speaking immediately after the race, Hamilton said Ferrari was aided by “a few trick things on the car”, which enabled Vettel’s SF71H to breeze past him on the straight.

    Ferrari’s 2018 car has been subject to a number of investigations and clarifications over the campaign, and its hybrid system was looked into by the FIA – which ultimately declared it legal.

    Asked to clarify his comments the post-race press conference, Hamilton was keen to point out that he was not alluding to the SF71H being in any way illegal.

    “We all have trick things on our car. Trick is just a word for something special. I don’t know what’s on their car so I couldn’t tell you either way.

    “I’m not saying they are doing anything illegal. We all have something trick. It’s just something that brings that extra bit of performance.

    “They just outperformed us today. There are things they might have on the car that we don’t have and vice versa and we’ve got to find out what and improve on that.”

    Vettel’s winning margin was flattered by Hamilton and Mercedes opting to “save the engine” late on, but the Briton acknowledged Ferrari was faster both on the initial supersoft stint and in the second part of the race on softs.

    “In both stints he had a little bit more pace than me.

    “Towards the end of the first stint I seemed to be closing a little bit, able to match him, but in the end it made no sense [to push] – he was doing times I wasn’t able to equal.”

    Both Hamilton and Vettel ran upgraded engines at Spa.

    “We came here with a pretty good upgrade,” Hamilton said. “Generally every time we bring an upgrade they bring a bigger one.

    “We knew they were quick on the straights, they were quicker in qualifying in the first and last sector.

    “We’ve known for the last four races or so that they’ve had some things on their car that’s made them quicker on the straights. We’ve just got to work harder, I guess.”

    Vettel, for his part, suggested the difference in straightline speed between the two cars could’ve also been down to aero set-up.

    “I hope we have more power. If that’s the case, then well done to our engine guys,” he said. “We’ve been making progress especially for the last two years so that’s good news.

    “We ran a little bit less wing so were faster in sector one and sector three. Sector two a little bit slower.

    “I wouldn’t disagree that this year in terms of power we’re a lot closer. Last year we didn’t have a chance here. It’s good to see we’re making progress.”

  6. It had its supporters and its detractors when it was brought in for the 2018 season – but the scrape marks across the top of Charles Leclerc’s halo after his frightening first lap smash at Spa told their own story about why the system was implemented at the start of this year.

    The first corner crash was initiated by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who locked up his front wheels going into La Source after claiming that he lost front-end loading on his Renault in the dirty air of the cars in front of him. The German driver collected Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, sending it sailing over the top Charles Leclerc’s Sauber, but fortunately without injury to either driver.

    While Hulkenberg was later handed a 10-place grid penalty by the stewards for the following race in Monza, images of Leclerc’s car after the crash showed clear markings on the right side of the Sauber’s halo caused by Alonso’s McLaren.

    “Definitely, the halo probably helped today,” Leclerc told the media when asked about the crash, while Fernando Alonso called the incident “good proof” of the efficacy of the system, going on to compare the crash to the 2012 first-lap incident at Spa caused by Romain Grosjean. “It’s a good proof,” said Alonso. “We didn’t need any proof but it’s a good thing.”

    Away from the racetrack, 2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Hulkenberg was one of several former F1 drivers who took to Twitter to praise the system following the accident, writing: “We can end the HALO discussion now. It will save lives!”

    “After seeing this, we can say the halo is beautiful!” added Felipe Massa, a veteran of 269-Grand Prix starts, while former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton added: “And people still think race cars shouldn’t have them. We could have lost another fantastic talent today without it [the halo]”.

    Former Super Aguri racer Anthony Davidson was involved in testing the halo system before its implementation, calling it “the best solution for now” ahead of the start of the 2018 season. Analysing the crash for Sky F1, Davidson told viewers: “We all have to say and admit in a way that the halo did its job today and we now have to appreciate the reason why it’s on the car.”


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