Hamilton resists Vettel challenge to win Belgian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton beat his Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vetel in the Belgian Grand Prix to reduce the gap in the championship to seven points.

The Mercedes driver managed a late safety car and a tyre disadvantage to fend off the Ferrari with relative ease, as Daniel Ricciardo claimed a surprise third for Red Bull Racing.

Hamilton made a good start from pole position and built a 1.7-seconds lead before stopping for new soft tyres on lap 12 of 44.

Vettel ran two laps longer in the opening stint and rejoined two seconds behind Hamilton, who cleared Kimi Raikkonen the lap before Vettel pitted.

A great first full flying lap for Vettel took 1.2 seconds out of Hamilton’s lead and thrust the Ferrari into DRS range, but Hamilton responded immediately.

He built his advantage up to two seconds, before a safety car changed the complexion of the race entirely.

Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez had clashed on the run to Eau Rouge on the opening lap, then came together in more dramatic fashion on lap 29.

Fighting over seventh position, Ocon cut back on his team-mate exiting La Source, only for Perez to edge across and break Ocon’s front wing with his right-rear tyre.

That caused Perez’s tyre to deflate entering Eau Rouge and the pair littered the track with debris.

The field swapped tyres under the safety car period, with Hamilton taking softs to Vettel’s ultra-softs and then complaining over the radio as the safety car remained on track for three laps.

Vettel was tucked up underneath the Mercedes’ rear wing through Eau Rouge and Raidillon at the restart and pulled alongside as Hamilton defended on the run to Les Combes.

Somehow Hamilton hung on, and found enough speed on the slower tyre to bump Vettel out of DRS range and gradually extend his lead until the end to win by 2.3 seconds.

Ricciardo started the race sixth but made his way to the podium, at a track not suited to the Renault-powered Red Bull, with a blend of fortune and opportunism.

Max Verstappen suffered a mechanical problem early on and stopped at the side of the track exiting Eau Rouge, which handed Ricciardo fifth – and ultimately fourth as well.

Kimi Raikkonen failed to slow sufficiently under the yellow flags that were thrown while Verstappen’s car was recovered and had to serve a ten-second stop-go penalty.

That meant Ricciardo ran fourth under the late safety car, and used a slipstream and ultra-soft tyres at the restart to nail Valtteri Bottas’s soft-shod Mercedes into Les Combes.

Raikkonen dived inside Bottas at the same time to recover to fourth, as Bottas finished a muted fifth having run comfortably in third before the caution.

Nico Hulkenberg finished best of the rest for Renault with a quiet but excellent drive, while Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa took advantage of the messy race to claim seventh and eighth.

Ocon, who labelled Perez a “f***ing idiot” over the radio, recovered to ninth as Perez eventually retired, while Carlos Sainz Jr took the final point.

Fernando Alonso ran as high as seventh but gradually fell back down the order and eventually retired with an engine problem in his McLaren-Honda.

Belgian Grand Prix race result:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    44    1h24m42.820s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    44    2.358s
3    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    44    10.791s
4    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    44    14.471s
5    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    44    16.456s
6    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    44    28.087s
7    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    44    23h35m17.s
8    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    44    23h35m17.s
9    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    44    23h35m17.s
10    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    44    23h35m17.s
11    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    44    23h35m17.s
12    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    44    23h35m17.s
13    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    44    23h35m17.s
14    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    44    23h35m17.s
15    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    44    23h35m17.s
16    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    44    23h35m17.s
17    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    42    Not running
–    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    25    Retirement
–    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    7    Retirement
–    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    2    Retirement

Drivers’ standings:

1    Sebastian Vettel    220
2    Lewis Hamilton    213
3    Valtteri Bottas    179
4    Daniel Ricciardo    132
5    Kimi Raikkonen    128
6    Max Verstappen    67
7    Sergio Perez    56
8    Esteban Ocon    47
9    Carlos Sainz    36
10    Nico Hulkenberg    34
11    Felipe Massa    27
12    Romain Grosjean    24
13    Lance Stroll    18
14    Kevin Magnussen    11
15    Fernando Alonso    10
16    Pascal Wehrlein    5
17    Daniil Kvyat    4
18    Stoffel Vandoorne    1
19    Jolyon Palmer    0
20    Marcus Ericsson    0
21    Antonio Giovinazzi    0

Constructors’ standings:

1    Mercedes    392
2    Ferrari    348
3    Red Bull-Renault    199
4    Force India-Mercedes    103
5    Williams-Mercedes    45
6    Toro Rosso-Renault    40
7    Haas-Ferrari    35
8    Renault    34
9    McLaren-Honda    11
10    Sauber-Ferrari    5

Hamilton equals Schumacher’s pole position record at Spa

Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record tally of 68 career poles with a commanding performance in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps.

The Mercedes driver impressively broke through the one minute, 43 seconds barrier for the first time in Q2, and repeated the feat on his first run in Q3, leading Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by more than three tenths of a second.

Hamilton found even more speed on his second Q3 run, taking pole with a brilliant one minute, 42.553 seconds effort.

Vettel’s Ferrari languished in fourth after the first runs in Q3, but the world championship leader pulled things together on his second run, taking a tow from team-mate Raikkonen in the final sector to beat Bottas to the front row.

Vettel’s one minute, 42.795 seconds lap made him the only driver other than Hamilton to lap below one minute, 43 seconds.

Bottas improved to a one minute, 43.094 seconds best on his own final run, but struggled in the middle sector compared to his team-mate and ended up relegated to the second row.

Raikkonen held a provisional front row spot after the first runs in Q3, despite suffering unexplained vibrations from the rear of his Ferrari throughout qualifying, but “f***** it up” on his final Q3 run so aborted the lap and dropped to fourth.

Max Verstappen was best of the Red Bulls in fifth, almost half a second clear of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault comfortably beat the Force Indias of Sergio Perez – who complained of a loss of grip in Q3 – and Esteban Ocon to seventh.

Renault’s Jolyon Palmer looked set to qualify best of the rest behind the top three teams after setting the seventh quickest time in Q2, but he broke down at the exit of Stavelot on his out-lap in Q3, after losing gearbox oil pressure, so wound up P10.

Fernando Alonso missed out on the final Q3 spot by 0.084 seconds, despite the efforts of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne to give Alonso a tow along the Kemmel Straight on Alonso’s final flying lap.

Alonso then aborted the attempt, complaining of “no power” from his Honda engine at the exit of Pouhon over team radio.

Romain Grosjean found more than three tenths on his second Q2 run, but that was only good enough for P12, ahead of Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen – who went slower on his second attempt – and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr.

Grosjean felt he lost downforce behind Vandoorne’s pitting McLaren in the final sector, without which he felt he might have made the top ten.

Vandoorne was P15, but didn’t set a time in Q2 and will drop to the back of the grid with a 65-place penalty for two illegal engine changes earlier in the weekend.

This was a disastrous Spa weekend for Williams with both cars dropping out in Q1. Felipe Massa fell less than a tenth short of making the cut after a late improvement, knocked out by a better one from Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

Massa ended up P16, but will drop back thanks to a five-place grid penalty for ignoring double waved yellow flags in final practice.

Daniil Kvyat was P17 for Toro Rosso, almost seven tenths adrift of Sainz, complaining he had “no reference” after breaking down with an engine problem in the morning session. Kvyat will take a 20-place grid penalty for requiring an engine, turbo and MGU-H change before qualifying.

Massa’s Williams team-mate Lance Stroll was P18, but didn’t venture out for a second run in Q1 due to a rear wing problem.

Marcus Ericsson won the private battle of the Saubers to avoid being slowest of all in qualifying, beating team-mate Pascal Wehrlein to P19 by 0.465 seconds. Both will take grid penalties for gearbox changes.

So an excellent qualifying performance by Lewis Hamilton. Pole position was important for the Formula 1 title challenger and to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 is remarkable.

Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying results:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m42.553s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m42.795s
3    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m43.094s
4    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m43.270s
5    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m43.380s
6    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m43.863s
7    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m44.982s
8    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m45.244s
9    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m45.369s
10    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    –
11    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1m45.090s
12    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m45.133s
13    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m45.400s
14    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m45.439s
15    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    –
16    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m45.823s
17    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m46.028s
18    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m46.915s
19    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m47.214s
20    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m47.679s