Jenson Button took a straightforward victory at the Belgian Grand Prix today, leading Sebastian Vettel home by a massive 13.6 seconds.
This was the first victory for Button since the opening race of the season in Australia, and his first at the historical Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Vettel would have been pleased with his afternoon, despite being unable to challenge for the win today. His championship hopes have improved significantly – not just thanks to the 18 points he collected – but because Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton failed to collect any points after an incident in the opening corner, and the fact his team-mate Mark Webber finished only sixth.
Kimi Raikkonen joined Button and Vettel on the podium, whilst Nico Hulkenberg was an excellent fourth for Force India and Felipe Massa took fifth.
Some will remember the horrific crash at the beginning of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, where carbon fibre and wheels from a multitude of cars was strewn across the track following a chain reaction of collisions.
The opening few seconds of today’s race was not quite as bad, but it was still a nasty crash. Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean came together down the opening straight. Grosjean lost control of his Lotus, and collected Sergio Perez, whilst Hamilton ploughed straight over Fernando Alonso.
The races of Perez, Alonso, Hamilton and Grosjean ended there and then, and Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado – who also jumped the start – both had to come into the pits at the end of the first lap.
In contrast, Jenson Button’s fiftieth race for McLaren, and his first starting on pole position for the team, began well. He made a decent start, and got round La Source without incident, keeping his lead.
The safety car came out while marshals cleared away the debris from the first corner incident, and came in again at the end of Lap 4. The top five at the restart was Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Paul di Resta and Michael Schumacher.
Hulkenberg made a move on Raikkonen at the top of the hill on Lap 5 to get himself up into second place and one lap later Schumacher had overtaken Di Resta to take fourth. Daniel Ricciardo, another beneficiary of the accident chaos, then took fifth place from the Scot on Lap 10.
At the end of that tenth lap, Button had a comfortable 6.3 second lead over Hulkenberg. Schumacher barged his way past Raikkonen on Lap 11 to get himself up to third.
The Finn’s response to being overtaken by Schumacher was to come into the pit lane for his first scheduled stop, emerging in ninth. The new tyres had the desired effect, with his lap times beginning to tumble. Nico Hulkenberg, who was still second, responded by making a pit stop of his own, but Jenson Button stayed out to set a fastest lap. Hulkenberg emerged from the pits behind Raikkonen.
Michael Schumacher made his first pit stop at the end of Lap 19, just has his second place was coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel. The two nearly collided coming out of the bus-stop chicane as Schumacher cut across his compatriot to dive into the pit lane. Schumacher re-emerged behind Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Webber, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo, who had all also made a stop.
Jenson Button pitted on the following lap. He emerged back in the lead, ahead even of Vettel. The German came in for his first stop at the end of Lap 21, coming out ahead of Ricciardo and Schumacher.
The order after this first round of stops, Button had a lead of nearly 10 seconds from Raikkonen. Hulkenberg was third, but being chased down by Webber who was fourth. Vettel was sixth, and Schumacher was down in eighth. Button, Vettel and Schumacher all looked to be attempting one-stop strategies, whilst the rest would have to stop again.
The second stops began at the end of Lap 27, with Hulkenberg, Webber and Massa all coming in to the pits of their final sets of tyres. Raikkonen came in on the next lap to cover off Hulkenberg.
After that round of pit stops, and with all of the front runners supposedly running towards the end of the race, Button was leading by over fifteen seconds from Vettel, with Schumacher a further ten second back in third.
The seven-time world champion was coming under pressure from Raikkonen though, who was enjoying his new tyres. Hulkenberg was not far behind in fifth, and was also Webber close in sixth.
Raikkonen indeed got past Schumacher at the end of Lap 31 in the bus stop chicane, but then Schumacher re-took third place on the next lap through the DRS zone. Raikkonen got another attempt into Eau Rougue on Lap 34 and this time made it stick. He then headed off down the road, leaving Schumacher in the clutches of Hulkenberg.
Mercedes made a late change switch to a two-stop strategy with Schumacher after he had lost the place to Hulkenberg, but that dropped the German down to seventh, some twelve seconds behind Webber.
And the top seven remained in a status quo until the end of the race. Jenson Button, who had led for the entire race, through even the pit stop, took his second victory of the season, and his first at Spa-Francorchamps.