Nico Rosberg secured a much-needed victory at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday, leading from start to finish, but team-mate Lewis Hamilton claimed a podium finish despite starting at the back of the grid.
Rosberg was untouchable throughout the race, surviving through an early red flag caused when Kevin Magnussen crashed heavily at Raidillon, with the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS triumphing by 14.113 seconds from Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton made good progress in the opening laps as a number of incidents allowed him to run inside the top five, and he then passed both Fernando Alonso and Nico Hülkenberg to claim the bottom step of the podium.
The first incident came at the very first corner, with Max Verstappen starting an exciting, if not difficult afternoon with a sluggish start, with the second Red Bull losing ground to both of the Scuderia Ferrari drivers on the run down to La Source, only to then attempt to jump both of them on the inside.
Unfortunately for Verstappen, he was pinched into the inside by both drivers and broke his front wing, with Sebastian Vettel being spun around and Kimi Raikkonen suffering a puncture. All three drivers were forced to pit at the end of the first lap for repairs, leaving them all with a lot of work to do in order to recover good results.
Heading into Les Combes, two more drivers came to blows as Pascal Wehrlein hit the rear of Jenson Button as the McLaren-Honda driver was delayed by those battling ahead of him, with both being forced into retirement as a result.
Rosberg was left clear ahead of Hülkenberg, while Ricciardo moved into third, but the early race carnage was not done with yet when Carlos Sainz Jr suffered a puncture on the Kemmel Straight on lap two, which necessitated the brief introduction of the Virtual Safety Car as they cleared some of the debris of from the circuit.
The biggest incident was still to come however, when Magnussen crashed his Renault hard at Raidillon, bringing out the safety car while he hobbled away, and then a red flag while they repaired the barrier.
When the race resumed, Rosberg again led the way, with Ricciardo having moved ahead of Hülkenberg as the German had pitted just before Magnussen’s crash, while Alonso and Hamilton now ran fourth and fifth having started the race on the Medium tyre and running a long first stint.
Hamilton managed to pass Alonso with relative ease, and then closed the gap to Hülkenberg ahead of him, passing him for the podium, an amazing feat having taken a 55-place grid penalty this weekend for numerous engine changes.
It was not over for Hamilton however, as he made an additional stop to fall behind Hülkenberg again, but it was an easy move for the reigning World Champion to regain his podium position, and minimise his lose to Rosberg in the championship battle.
Hülkenberg secured fourth to equal his best ever result in Formula 1, and with Sergio Perez following home his Sahara Force India team-mate in fifth, this enabled the team to leapfrog Williams Martini Racing into fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Vettel recovered to sixth ahead of Alonso, who drove an excellent defensive drive for much of the race to hold off the challenge of the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa and the second Ferrari of Raikkonen.
Bottas passed Massa for eighth with a handful of laps remaining, with Raikkonen then following his fellow Finn through, making a pass on the Brazilian for ninth.
Verstappen’s afternoon did not improve as he ran a strategy that ultimately did not work for the Dutchman, who finished outside the points in eleventh despite having the vast majority of the support at the circuit. He also clashed again with Raikkonen and with Perez as he attempted to keep his rivals behind him, although none of the incidents were investigated by the stewards.
Esteban Gutierrez got the better of his Haas F1 Team team-mate Romain Grosjean to claim twelfth, with both drivers having run inside the top ten in the early laps before those who had been delayed early began to make their way back through the field.
Likewise could be said for Daniil Kvyat, who was as high as eighth in his Scuderia Toro Rosso before dropping back to fourteenth at the chequered flag, and for Jolyon Palmer, who was seventh before his Renault team-mates crash only to fall away from points contention to fifteenth.
Esteban Ocon brought his Manor Racing machine home in sixteenth, albeit a lap behind race winner Rosberg, but ahead of the Sauber of Felipe Nasr, who lost out to Ocon by just 1.156 seconds having dropped behind him when he was forced to take a five second penalty at his final pit stop for exceeding track limits.
As well as Magnussen, Sainz, Button and Wehrlein, Marcus Ericsson also failed to finish, retiring early with another mechanical issue on his Sauber having started from the pit lane.
But no one could touch Rosberg, who moved to within nine points of the championship lead held by Hamilton as they head to the final European event of the season next weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Spa-Francorchamps Race Result
|2||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||+14.113||18|
|4||27||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||+35.907||12|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India-Mercedes||+40.660||10|
|11||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull-Tag Heuer||+1:11.138|
|14||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Toro Rosso-Renault||+1:27.097|
|16||31||Esteban Ocon||FRA||Manor-Mercedes||+1 Lap|
|17||12||Felipe Nasr||BRZ||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 Lap|
|RET||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||ESP||Toro Rosso-Renault||Retired|