German world champion Sebastian Vettel took another step toward his fourth consecutive title August 25 as he swept imperiously to victory at the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix.
Held at the prestigious and historic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps deep in the Ardennes forest, the race is a favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike for its elevation changes and myriad challenging corners, not to mention the devilish climatic changes that can sweep across the region and disrupt racing.
Saturday’s qualifying session had been one of the best of the year, with rain throughout mixing up the established order. But it was still the usual suspects at the front as Lewis Hamilton once again demonstrated his Mercedes’ car superiority over rival Vettel.
When the lights turned green under a blue sky on Sunday, however, it was Vettel who went on the offensive as he ambushed his rival on the run up the hill out of the infamous Eau Rouge corner. Hamilton tried to close the door, but the German was through to a lead he was never to relinquish.
McLaren’s Jenson Button, winner of the race in 2012, was spearheading a mini-revival for the British team as they bid to bounce back from a frustrating season so far and vaulted from sixth on the grid to fourth on the opening lap. Nevertheless, the Briton was soon dispatched by a flying Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari, who was making his own comeback after qualifying a disappointing ninth on Saturday.
As the race unfolded, Vettel continued to stretch his lead at the front as Alonso began to hunt down Hamilton. The Spaniard made his move at turn one, the La Source hairpin, on the 14th lap and slid past the Mercedes to take second place as Hamilton misjudged his braking and ran wide.
Contrary to usual Spa form, the race was devoid of incident until Mexico’s Sergio Perez muscled French driver Romain Grosjean off the circuit at the end of the 200 mph Kemmel Straight, earning himself a drive-through penalty for his misdemeanor.
"Why the penalty? I did nothing wrong!" came the cry, as he protested his innocence.
But in F1, the steward’s decision is final — a fact driven home laps later when Venezuela’s Pastor Maldonado got embroiled in a four-car battle with the Force India duo of Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez.
The Williams man made contact with Sutil at the Bus Stop chicane at the end of Spa’s tortuous 4.3-mile circuit and veered across the track to enter the pits for repairs. With Paul Di Resta sweeping across the bows of the Williams, the ensuing contact ripped the back off the Scot’s car and left Maldonado with a 10-second stop-go penalty that dropped him even further down the order.
Despite warnings of rain late in the afternoon, none came to fruition, and Vettel duly wrapped up his fifth win of the season and his second Belgian Grand Prix victory to add to his 2011 triumph.
Alonso moved up to second in the championship with a fine second place in the race, as Lewis Hamilton’s third place did likewise in the title hunt. Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, erstwhile second-placed man, posted his first retirement from a Grand Prix since Germany in 2009 when his Lotus car’s breaks failed.
The victory leaves Vettel 46 points clear at the top of the Drivers Championship points table, while Button’s sixth place moves McLaren ahead of Force India to fifth place in the Constructors Championship.
The next race is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on September 8.