The summer break has seemingly allowed Scuderia Ferrari to regroup and refocus as Sebastian Vettel got his championship challenge back on track after taking victory in the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Despite Lewis Hamilton starting on pole position after capitalising on the wet conditions in Qualifying on Saturday, Ferrari had shown themselves to be the team to beat this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, and Vettel proved this by drafting passed the Briton on the opening lap down the Kemmel Straight.
The race was soon neutralised however after a big crash at La Source that ended the race for three drivers on the spot and compromised two others that would also be forced to call it a day before the end of the afternoon.
Nico Hülkenberg appeared to misjudge his braking point heading into the turn, with the German hitting the back of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren F1 Team car, which in turn pushed the Spaniard’s car over the top of top of the innocent Charles Leclerc. All three cars were out on the spot, with Leclerc in particularly extremely lucky to survive injured after Alonso’s car struck the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team racer’s Halo, with the evidence left for all to see.
Alonso’s out of control car also struck the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14, causing the Australian’s rear wing to break, while the tag from behind saw him strike Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari, causing a right rear puncture and floor damage to the Finn’s car.
Räikkönen attempted to continue on but returned to the pits not long after to retire due to the damage on his SF71H, while Red Bull fixed Ricciardo’s car, replacing both his front and rear wings and allowing him to re-join two laps down, although it became clear to them that it was futile to be in a position to score points so he also called it a day.
There was also contact further back when Valtteri Bottas misjudged the first corner and struck the rear of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams Martini Racing FW41, with the former suffering a damaged front wing in the incident that saw him pit at the end of lap two for repairs and a change of tyre.
The latter emerged unscathed from the incident and found himself running inside the top ten for the first time this season, although he would not find himself in a position to retain that for the whole afternoon.
Hamilton thought about making a move into the chicane on the safety car restart but thought better of it, however he was never truly close enough thereafter to mount a serious challenge as Vettel appeared to have the better pace, both on the Supersoft starting tyre and on the Soft, which both drivers changed to during their mandatory pit stops.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport driver attempted the undercut by pitting earlier than the German, but Ferrari reacted and kept Vettel in the lead by pitting just a lap later, with the fact that Hamilton found himself behind Max Verstappen perhaps contributing to the situation.
Once ahead again, Vettel was able to edge away from Hamilton with relative ease, eventually claiming his fifty-second career victory by 11.061 seconds, the win taking him ahead of Alain Prost and into third place in the all-time list of race victories, behind Michael Schumacher and Hamilton.
Verstappen started seventh but was soon up to fifth thanks to Räikkönen’s problems and a better start than Romain Grosjean, with the Red Bull driver then catching and passing the two Racing Point Force India F1 Team drivers, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez to run third. After that he had a very quiet afternoon but gave the many Dutch fans supporting him this weekend something to cheer about.
Despite his first lap contact, Bottas carved through the field like a hot knife through butter, ultimately also finding his way passed the two Force India drivers to finish fourth.
Force India’s day was an impressive one, with their first race under new ownership following the buy out by the Lawrence Stroll-led consortium seeing them secure eighteen points to move them off the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship standings. The first lap saw both Ocon and Pérez, from third and fourth on the grid, attack the leading duo into Les Combes, only for both to fall back behind Vettel and Hamilton, with the Mexican getting ahead of the Frenchman.
Neither Pérez or Ocon had an answer for either Verstappen or Bottas, but they were more than able to retain fifth and sixth, with the two Haas F1 Team drivers following them home in seventh and eighth, Grosjean ahead of the fast-starting Kevin Magnussen.
The combined results for Haas, coupled with the failure of either Hülkenberg or Carlos Sainz Jr., who finished eleventh, to score points means the American outfit are now only six points behind the Renault Sport Formula One Team in the Constructors’ Championship.
Pierre Gasly celebrated the announcement of his Aston Martin Red Bull Racing promotion for 2019 by putting his Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 into ninth, while Marcus Ericsson secured his fourth top ten finish of the season for Sauber in tenth.
Behind Sainz saw the Williams duo of Sirotkin and Lance Stroll, with Brendon Hartley fourteenth in the second Toro Rosso after getting delayed by the opening lap crashes, while Stoffel Vandoorne brought up the rear in his home race in the one surviving McLaren.
Vettel’s win means he has reduced the gap to Championship title rival to seventeen points, while just fifteen points separate Mercedes from Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship heading to the Italian Grand Prix this coming weekend.
Belgian Grand Prix Race Result
[table id=3366 /]