After being defeated in consecutive races going into F1’s annual summer break, Ferrari hit back in style as the season roared back into life in Belgium, with Sebastian Vettel brilliantly overhauling title rival Lewis Hamilton before leading the Mercedes driver home to eat into his points advantage.
Vettel decisively claimed the lead on what was a chaotic first lap of the Grand Prix, in which a late-braking Nico Hulkenberg triggered an enormous crash at Turn 1 involving Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc. Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, also picked up what would ultimately prove race-ending damage in a separate incident.
Once in front, Vettel didn’t cede his advantage at any point, expertly managing the pace to claim his 52nd career victory and 107th podium – two stats that surpass the great Alain Prost’s records. More importantly, he stemmed the flow of his title rival’s momentum, taking seven points out of Hamilton’s championship lead to trail the Briton by just 17 points heading to Ferrari’s home race in Italy.
Hamilton was left to minimise the damage, driving a strong race to finish second – although he ultimately didn’t seem to have the pace to match the Ferrari around the power-sensitive 7.004km Spa track.
Meanwhile Max Verstappen delighted the hordes of Dutch fans who’d crossed the border to watch their hero race by claiming a surprise third place – very much a welcome result, given Red Bull’s struggles for pace around the Spa track throughout the weekend.
The man on the move throughout the Spa race was Valtteri Bottas, with the Finn making his way up from P17 at the start of the race – having taken engine penalties for a new Mercedes power unit – to P4 by the end of the race with a string of incisive passes, including taking Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso around the outside of Eau Rouge.
Racing Point Force India enjoyed an impressive – ahem – debut race as well, claiming fifth and sixth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon after they’d started the race fourth and third respectively.
It will have been an especially pleasing victory for Ferrari. Not only was it their first at Spa since 2009, but, with both Ferrari and Mercedes having unveiled their Spec 3 engines at Spa, the victory will be seen by the Scuderia as a technological defeat of their rivals. After the race, a slightly dazed Hamilton confirmed as much, giving a clear assessment of Mercedes’ deficit to Ferrari.
“He drove past me like I wasn’t even there on the straight,” said Hamilton, referring to Vettel’s lap one pass. “So we need to keep pushing to see if we can catch up…” That will be especially worrying for Mercedes given that we now head to Monza, both Ferrari’s home turf and a notorious power circuit.
Others to have a happy day at Spa were Haas, who overcame their pace issues from Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions to claim a double points finish, with Grosjean in seventh and Magnussen in eighth. Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly will have been chuffed with ninth, while in Leclerc’s absence, Marcus Ericsson held up his end of the bargain for Sauber, bring the C37 10th after a solid afternoon.
Stoffel Vandoorne, meanwhile, heads away from his home race with the ignominy of having been last in every single session of the weekend, having finished 15th out of 15 classified runners – BY F1